For those of us in the frozen north and midwest we dream in many cases of being able to ride our motorcycles year round. We have a silent contempt or envy for the rare motorcycle or moped going by, even in 15 degree weather. Then we of course remember back to the coldest day that we rode on and are happy for the fact that we're not on our bikes. But the desire remains to pull your bike out of storage, jump on it, and have one more ride. Especially on those nice winter days where the sun's up, the road is clean, and you know you could have a wonderful ride.
I am here to tell you that you can be one of those individuals spending your winter fall or spring enjoying your bike. All you need to do is follow these simple steps and ensure that you have prepped by following the steps listed in this article.
Your budget will greatly influence how you prep to brave the frozen winter tundra. I will strive to give examples for both situations, but I belong to the camp that enjoys their bike and rides year round to save gas money and keep miles off my car as best I can. Get ready for the simple steps necessary to never having to put your bike away every again.
Now before we get too ahead of ourselves, its important that we go over the pros and cons of riding during the winter. After you know everything you are getting yourself into, you can fully appreciate what it means to be an all year rider.
Beside the obvious benefits of spending less on gas, insurance, miles, and maintenance, riding during the winter allows you to experience the snow covered landscape in a way that no one else has ever seen. On your motorcycle you can become a part of the white wonderland that whizzes by everyone else’s window. There is no greater experience than the amazing view.
Riding in the winter takes quite a bit more preparation, planning, and compromise than during the summer. If you are riding to work then you might have to look a little silly in front of your coworkers on occasion. The biggest con is the fact that if you skip some of these steps or fail to do them properly you might end up with hypothermia during your ride. There is no way to minimize the risks in riding your motorcycle while when your body is shutting down, but if you follow this guide, you will find yourself comfortably riding whenever you want.
If you have read through the cons and are still certain that this is what you want, I will make sure that you have everything you need in order to make that happen.
Start with the Right Jacket
Having the right jacket could mean the difference between being comfortable through the wind and snow or getting hypothermia while on your way to work (that is an actual possibility if you skip these steps). Your jacket is there to protect you mainly from the wind. When it comes to keep you warm there are lots of ways to stay toasty, but wind is your biggest enemy. You can find a reasonable windproof motorcycle jacket on amazon from $35 and up. I recommend not skimping on this step!
Your jacket needs to fit snuggly with the layers that you will be adding. If it is too loose then you may have air exchange take the warm air out of your clothing and bring the cold air in. That process can not only put a real damper on your ride, but it can also put you at risk. You could even go all out and get a heated vest or insert for your jacket for $100+.
The more frugal rider might want to use a jacket that they already have. If you do, make sure that there are no exposed surfaces, the zippers are all covered, your pockets are sealable, and your sleeves stay tight under your gloves. You can evaluate everything with shorter rides around the block to make sure that everything is working properly.
The Right Gloves to Avoid Frozen Knuckles
Losing control of your hands at 70 mph would not be the most ideal situation, so you need to keep your hands warm and comfortable to ensure blood flows normally. Depending on the size of your budget you can buy good quality heated gloves that connect to your battery, or inserts that go inside of your existing motorcycle gloves. If you don’t have $50-$90 to spend on a new pair of gloves, you can take windproof gloves, add warm inserts, and you can even use hand warmers to make them extra comfortable.
The great part of having main gloves, inserts, and warmers is that you can remove a layer if it starts to get too warm in the later part of the day. It could go from 12 degrees in the morning to 26-30 degrees in the afternoon so being able to adapt is absolutely essential.
Dress for Success (Choose the RIght Pants)
Your legs are going to have the most protection of any part of your body and will be wrapped around a heat source (ie your engine), but that doesn’t mean you can neglect them. Choose a high quality motorcycle winter pant. The pluses are the fact that most are armored but make sure to read the reviews. Remember that these shouldn’t make you sweat or feel uncomfortable since we are going to be talking about using layers a little bit later. Make sure that you choose waterproof windproof pants. These will make all the difference when the wind picks up on your ride or if you hit a puddle or two and have the potential for ice cold water to run down your leg.
Boots Can Make All the Difference
Do not grab a pair of your winter snow boots and hit the road! In your motorcycle safety class or pamphlet for rules of the road you might recall the fact that your boots are the most essential safety gear you have. If you don’t have the right boot you can’t brake, shift, or stand properly. Walk around in your current winter boots and you will notice that you can’t really flex your foot or have the proper road sense (you might have even found yourself tripping in your snow boots at different times). You can find a good pair of winter motorcycle boots on amazon for $40-$75. If you are not looking to spend too much (first please reconsider on this point) then you could find a pair of surplus army boots designed for similar purposes.
Before you add your shoes to cart, I recommend that you head over to your local outdoor outfitter and try wearing the potential shoe with the layers that you are going to be wearing and with your motorcycle pants to make sure that they fit properly, are warm, and have no exposed areas for wind and water to get in to. You can also find shoe covers that can go over everything and give you some extra protection. This can be a great way to protect your dress shoes from the elements.
Outer Layer Done, On to the Inner Layers
Just like if you went winter hiking, camping, fishing, etc… layering is your absolute best friend. Layers help you because if it starts to warm up you will be able to shed these excess pieces of clothing to ensure that you are protecting yourself the best you can. If wind is your outer layer’s worst enemy, then sweat is your inner layer’s worst enemy. Sweat is the body’s way of cooling down your core temperature, at 15 degrees that is not what you want to have happening.
More thin layers are better than a single big thick layer because they will allow you to better adapt based on what is happening that particular day. You can never have too many pieces of clothing because you can always remove clothing if it gets warmer, you however will not be able to put on more clothes than what you have brought. If something gets wet or sweaty, then you can easily remove the unwanted to make sure you are comfortable. This same principle can be applied to both your torso and legs.
Time for the Bike
Your tires are the first thing that will come into contact with road, and will be your first line of defense against the odd piece of ice or snow drift. Make sure that you have the best road tires that you possibly can on your bike. If you have racing slicks on, change these out as soon as possible. Your racing tires are designed to operate at much higher temperatures than you will most likely encounter during the winter months. You can find some great suggestions for your specific bike with specialized forums. An example for my Kawasaki Ninja would be www.zxforum.com. A quick google search can find a community for your specific bike. On it, you most likely can find previously asked questions or ask a question of your own.
All farrings are not created equal in this sense. A well designed and practical farring can displace wind and keep the laws of thermodynamics from making it a really cold trip. Most street cruisers have aftermarket farrings that you can find online or at your local motorcycle shops. You can also jump on to your bike’s forum and see if there are any suggestions for compatible pieces. You could even get a particularly handy friend to build you a fiberglass and plexiglass farring for your bike. Which way you end up going will greatly depend on what your budget is for your winter riding.
Your oil is the blood that keeps your motorcycle’s heart pumping while you are on the road. The problem is the colder the temperature gets, the thicker the oil gets. For many bikes, the oil you are currently using could actually cause your engine to seize like a heart attack. You can very easily avoid this problem by changing your oil out for a thinner or lighter weight oil. I highly recommend that you consult your particular forum to find the best oil for your specific bike.
Make Sure it’s Legal
Most people don’t realize that they might only be paying for insurance on their bike for half of the year. Before you roll your bike out of the garage, call your insurance company and make sure that your bike is insured for winter riding. Riding uninsured could cost you a ticket, fine, or even the loss of your bike in some circumstances. Don’t risk ending up having an issue with the law while you are trying to enjoy your winter travels.
You now have everything you need to make sure that you enjoy riding your amazing motorcycle even when it’s cold outside lol. The last few things that I wanted to hit is firstly, make sure that you are only riding the days you feel comfortable riding. Stick to the days where the roads are clear and the weather is forecasted to be adequate for riding.
Secondly, keep your bike clean during the winter months. One of the reasons motorcycles stay much more pristine than cars is the fact that they don’t come into contact with the water and salt during the winter. Keep your bike clean so that when the big thaw comes you won’t have to worry.
I hope you now have everything that you could possibly need in order to hit the road, even when the weather outside is frightful. Do your research and enjoy a unique experience that only a few get to enjoy.