ICE ICE BABY
..MOTORCYCLES AND WINTER? YOU CAN DO IT!
Well reluctant as I am to mention the C world – whether you love it or hate it, it is fast approaching and with it the weather is deteriorating and the chills and rain are setting in for the long haul.
So now is the time to start thinking about how to survive the cold months on the road on two wheels. When on long journeys in winter your greatest enemy is the cold. It will make you tired more rapidly, thus reducing your concentration so you need to think about how to keep warm. Try reducing your speed by 10-20 mph for starters, this reduces the windchill factor dramatically. There are many other tips around from motorcyclists including the old despatch rider’s one of stuffing newspapers down your clothes for insulation but there are now modern things you can do as a most people just read stuff on their computers – not nearly as warm when stuffed down your trousers. Here are a few ideas for you.
The wicking witch of the west
MIDDLE BITOne of the keys to comfortable winter motorcycling is layering to keep the midriff cosy. Start with base layers with long sleeves and legs. Get a wicking base layer which will keep you warm while allowing the skin to breathe and keeping you dry. If it’s not too cold you can just wear a fleece over your base layer but if it is serious weather on the road, put a woolly thing in between and a waterproof wind proof layer over that. Gore tex is good as it is fully waterproof and breathable as well, so it doesn’t get too wet under it. If you can afford one piece leathers or a one piece insulated suit this will keep you warmest as there are no nooks and crannies for the cold air to get in - if you can't afford this though there are other ways to achieve warmth! Try to block up any holes which wind can get into, as riding a motorcycle at speed on a cold winter day is like standing in a force 8 gale.
FEETFor your feet, boots and gaiters are needed with nice thermal or wool socks inside. The gaiters just provide that extra sensible bit of waterproofing to keep the rain and the freezing winds out. Similarly wicking socks are great and better than soggy feet.
HANDSGloves are a must – and try to get your sleeves going over your gloves as the water runs off the jacket then and not into the glove. Make sure you buy a really good pair of gloves as frozen hands make for a horribly uncomfortable winter. There are some great quality modern gloves on the market which are thermal and fully waterproof and you can wear inner gloves - thermal or silk - as well for extra warmth. It's always a good idea to carry a spare pair of gloves around with you in case your gloves get soaked through and then you have a pair to change into for the ride back - you will love yourself when you put the dry pair on! Muffs on the handlebars are really good for extra protection too.
WIGGLIN’Extreme cold will always strike at your body's extremities first, ie fingers and toes. The key to minimising this is blood circulation. When stationary take your hands off of the handlebars and levers allowing the blood to flow freely, you could also flex your fingers and/or clap your hands and wiggle your toes inside your boots as best you can to aid blood flow.
NECKNeck tubes are brilliant to keep the drafts and drips out – especially thermal ones - and are better than a scarf as they don’t unwind and fly away and can be pulled comfortably up over your nose where they will happily stay and keep the cold air out when you breathe in.
Get a HEADA good well fitting helmet preferably with a fog free visor, is a must to keep the cold wind at bay, with ventilation to let the steam out!
Keep your head warm, it makes a huge difference. There are balaclavas on the market which are either made of cotton, silk, or man-made materials and are brilliant for keeping your head nice and warm inside your helmet. They are pretty cheap as well so for a small cash outlay you can keep a cosy noggin! Specially worth considering if you are follicly challenged!
HOT, HOT, HOTThese days there are a plethora of heated products such as heated handlebar grips and heated clothing which you can buy to keep the chills out and the technology has got much better so that they are pretty reliable now.
ON THE BIKE...For warmth
The best thing for the cosy factor on a bike in winter is a big windscreen and handguards. Heated aftermarket grips are a big help in winter – there are a lot about online and they are really easy to fit.
Foam lever sleeves are also a great cheap investment - they can be slipped over your brake and gear levers so that your hands are more insulated from the cold metal and they only cost £1.99 a pair. This can help prevent White Finger which is exacerbated by vibration and cold and causes the blood to drain from your fingers leaving them white and extremely painful! Obviously riding a motorcycle in winter involves uber vibration and cold wind and cold metal levers, so good hand insulation is really important - especially as you need your hands to be fully operational when you are riding a bike!
Make sure your anti freeze is fresh and topped up well – you don’t want to risk your radiator freezing or cracking. Likewise check out your hoses for cracks or weak points you particularly don’t want to break down in winter when you are not near home – its cold!
TYRESWhen it is cold obviously your tyres will be colder and the colder they are the less grip they have. Once you are riding the traction will increase in correlation to the tyres warming up and accelerating and decelerating will keep them warm, but on an icy road any stop can cool them down in double quick time. So make sure they are in good working order before you set off, with a good healthy depth of tread for adequate grip. You never know what will come next in winter, conditions can change rapidly so always make sure your tyres are up to any job before you leave home and check tyre pressure too so that you maintain optimum traction. Also look out for cracks and deterioration in your tyres so that you can pre-empt any problems which are on their way to happening.
SLIP SLIDING AWAYIf you see salt watch out it is very slippery not only will it rot your bike but it will trip you up too so avoid it as much as you can if possible. Salt is not good for your motorcycle, so keep your bike as clean as you can – give it a wash down every opportunity you get in winter and get any crusty metal-eating residues off it.
SNOW NEWS DAYMotorcycles and snow don’t really go. Keep a close eye on the weather forecast in winter and if anything other than a light dusting of snow is forecast then don’t use your bike – unless you want to put snow tyres on it and make a sport of it! If any reasonable amount of snow falls then motorcycling becomes deeply unpleasant and you risk having to abandon your bike by the roadside if you can’t ride it – or worse falling over on it.
ICE ICE BABYIf you see anything which looks at all icy don’t even go there it’s deadly. Mostly invisible but deeply treacherous – what can you do? Best thing is to make sure your tyre pressure is perfect before every winter ride and give anything suspicious a wide berth. Keep your speeds down and your stopping distance up, this will give you more room to manouever should anything untoward happen. Visibility is mostly worse in winter, the weather is often bad and darkness falls earlier so make sure that you take this into consideration and drive to the conditions. Keep looking well ahead so that you have plenty of warning and reaction time should you need to stop in a hurry.
Keep warm, ride safely and have a good winter!
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