Thursday, March 12, 2009

Riding in Cold Weather

Here's some of things I've learned to do/use when planning a ride in cold weather. If you don't ride when it's not warm and sunny, don't bother reading further.

What's cold weather? For me, it's anything from 50°F and below. What follows has worked for me through almost three winters of riding. I ride any day where the roads are clear or close to being clear.

Courtesy of:

Layers. This is key, one layer, no matter how insulated and windproof won't do it. Layers trap heat and keep you warm. Not to mention, when things warm up, you can shed layers.

Your outer layer must be windproof. My Air Mesh Kevlar riding gear vents so well that I make sure my first "inner" layer is a windproof insulated liner. In a pinch, wear your rain gear to keep the wind off you!

I ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time) anyways, but I see folks who sometimes don't wear a helmet, wear one in cold weather. It really helps keep you warmer and protects your noggin! I've no comments re the bikers who wear a wool cap, face mask or ski masks instead of a helmet in cold weather.

Heated grips are really nice. Get some if you motorcycle does not have them. Some folks prefer electric gloves, some prefer hand guards and heated grips. Find something that works for you in terms of maintaining warm hands since cold fingers and hands mean slow and stiff manipulation of your hand controls. Your hands, will usually get cold first.

What I've found best to keep my hands warm? Hippo Hands (google it) or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Basically, it's windproof cloth covers that go over your grip, you slide your lightly gloved hands into them and they keep the wind off your hands. If you've heated grips, your hands are nice and toasty as well. LINK.

Courtesy of:

Keep your body core warm, and your extremities will stay warm too. The body, when it senses its core temperature dropping, tries to save itself by shutting down warmth to your arms and legs, and of course your hands and feet. This is why you'll feel the cold at your hands and feet first.

If your motorcycle can handle it in terms of power output, install a power socket for an electric vest. These things are great when riding in sub-freezing temperatures. I use the voltmeter on Brigitta, my 1987 R80, to monitor the charge state of my battery since this model of motorcycle has a pretty "weak" alternator. If you're not careful, you will drain your battery and you will come to a stop, not good.

Don't forget, ambient temperatures may be above freezing but add in the windchill factor when riding and things get cold quick! Google the term "windchill factor" and you'll find charts to help you calculate how cold things are going to get.

If you're trapped out riding by unexpected cold weather, and you don't have your stuff with you, you can in a pinch just put on your raingear (which you should carry all the time). As your insulating inside layers, get some newspaper, wad it up and stuff it inside your riding jacket, to help keep the heat from your body from escaping. The key is to keep the wind off you with the rain gear and the heat next to your body with whatever insulating material you can find.

Courtesy of:

Get a neck cover such as the Maxit Headgator. I can say enough good things about this simple clothing item, you can make it into a hat, cover your face almost entirely, use it to shield your neck from the cold/wind.

Black ice can form when the ambient temperature is above freezing. I found this out the hard way. If the road looks wet, and the temperatures are below 40 with no sunshine, I'd turn around back to drier roads. Waiting an hour can make all the difference sometimes. I now carry a small infrared thermometer to quickly measure the temperature of the road when I'm stopped at a light, it can alleviate some worry, but use your own judgement!

Use dish soap, or one of the many anti-fog solutions on the market to keep your helmet visor and/or your eyeglass lenses from fogging up. Not being able to see is not good thing! I use something called cat-crap on my glasses and plain old dish soap on my helmet visors. Put some one, wipe it all over, let dry and buff off. Use a microfiber cloth to prevent scratches! There's also anti-fog inserts that you can buy.

If you're going to ride long distances in cold weather, get a good windshield for your motorcycle, you will think it money well spent on those cold days. Motorcycles with fairings are better than naked bikes for the same reason. Maria, my 2004 R1150RT tends to be my motorcycle of choice on cold days due to the great wind protection her fairing and windshield give me. Not to mention her alternator can handle the loads imposed by my electric vest and heated grips!

Remember to hydrate, you will lose water through evaporation even in cold weather.

Hypothermia is no fun, can lead to fingers and toes being lost and eventually kill you because you lose the ability to think clearly, this is kind of key when riding a motorcycle. Be prepared and you'll enjoy riding year-round with little or no issues when it comes to cold.

That's all that comes to mind for now, please leave a comment if you've tips I've not mentioned.

Harry Martin's Site: LINK


DaveM said...

and finally, if the forecast says 'chance of snow' LEAVE THE BIKE AT HOME.

Steve Watson said...

Redlegs, I've been following your blog in my rss reader for a couple of years. I wanted to finally say 'Hello'.

I recently picked up a K75 and would love to visit sometime.

Charlie6 said...

Dave, I am starting to sense you don't like riding in the cold....

Steve, a of the bloggers I follow has one, calls it should check out his's on my list of blogs: Twisted Roads. Re visiting, sure....perhaps a ride sometime if schedules permit.

Rick said...

Good info, I have never understood guys riding in the cold with out a helmet. Nuts!