Winter is approaching fast, and for many motorcycle riders that means getting their bike ready for storage until warmer weather comes again with spring. This is especially true for those riders who live in colder regions like New England or the upper Mid-West.
But for some especially dedicated bikers, winter’s chill isn’t enough to keep them off the road on two wheels. This is especially true these days, when more and more gear designed for the winter riding seems to be hitting the market every year. And when it comes to winter riding, that gear is key – it takes more than just dedication to avoid frostbite at 60 miles per hour.
If you’re a diehard biker determined not to sit out the winter, you need to make sure you’ve got the right gear and accessories to ensure your own safety and comfort on the road. Here are some of the absolute essentials.
Getting Your Bike Ready for Winter
Before you even think about stepping on your bike in winter, you need to make sure it’s well-maintained and up for the challenge. Keep these tips in mind if you plan on riding in winter:
- Get your bike tuned up, lubed, and charged: Even in the best of conditions, cold weather is harder on your bike than summer temperatures (the battery in particular). Not only will getting your bike tuned up and maintained before winter make sure it stays running till spring, but it will keep you off the side of the road in winter while you wait for AAA.
- Check the brakes: Well-functioning brakes are always crucial, of course, but this is especially the case in winter. The last thing you want when you find yourself behind a minivan fishtailing on black ice is a set of brakes that aren’t working 100%.
- Consider new tires: As tires age, their tread wears down, reducing friction on the road and making spills more likely. This is especially the case in winter. Another thing to keep in mind is tire pressure. Cold air contracts, and tire pressure goes down in winter as a result; don’t go out on underinflated tires.
- Add some winter weather mods: Certain modifications to your bike can make winter riding a lot more tolerable, regardless of what you’re wearing. Windshields and hand guards reduce wind chill on your face and hands, and heated seats and grips can provide added warmth on your motorcycle’s points of contact.
Now let’s take a look at the gear you’ll need to stay cozy on your winter rides.
Core-Warming Essentials: Outer Layer, Insulation, and Base Layer
The basic principal of staying warm in winter weather is the same on your bike as off: layer up! On a motorcycle, that means you’ll need at least three layers to cover your core and upper body.
- Outer Shell: As the name suggests, this is your outermost jacket, and should be both windproof and waterproof to protect you from the elements. Any good-quality weatherproof winter coat could do, but it’s best to get a jacket that’s made especially for riding, with armored joints to protect you in the case of a fall.
- Insulation Layer: While your outer layer keeps the elements out, the insulating layer underneath should work to keep your body’s natural heat from escaping. Heavy cotton or fleece are good options, but might be too bulky to accommodate the ease of movement that’s needed while riding. Many modern synthetic fibers provide a good alternative, and some jackets now even come with battery-powered electric heating built-in.
- Base Layer: This is the layer that sits directly over the skin. Light cotton or standard long underwear is one option, but many modern fabrics provide light, breathable base layers with additional features like moisture-wicking and additional wind resistance.
Below the Belt: Winter Riding Pants
The basics for your upper body are the same for your legs. Weatherproof outer layers (preferably with abrasion resistance and built-in armor to protect in a fall) should be worn over insulation and a comfortable base layer like standard motorcycle riding jeans.
Some manufacturers make winter motorcycle pants with outer layers and insulation built-in, ideal to wear over normal riding jeans or other base layers.
One option to consider is a one-piece winter bodysuit, or a zip-together jacket and pants combo; this will have the benefit of keeping the wind from creeping into the gaps between the clothes on your upper and lower body.
Protecting the Extremities: Gloves, Boots, and Helmets
Nowhere on your body is more vulnerable to the extremes of winter weather than your fingers and toes, making good winter boots and gloves an absolute necessity when riding.
- Gloves: When you’re gripping your handlebars, your hands are on the front lines against the oncoming wind chill. Insulated, weatherproof gloves are a must-have for any winter ride, not only to prevent discomfort or even frostbite, but to keep blood flowing and hands responsive when braking or shifting.
- Boots: Winter riding boots should be waterproof and insulated at the very least. Taller boots are also advisable, as they will reduce the likelihood of cold air creeping in and affecting your feet and toes. Heated insoles are also available, which will provide extra warmth against even the most frigid conditions.
- Helmets: There’s no way around it: a full-face helmet is a necessity when riding in cold weather. A full-face helmet with the visor down is the only thing that will keep the bitter wind out of your face and eyes. A neck warmer, thermal balaclava or a plain winter hat can also provide addition protection and insulation.
Winter riding can be great fun, but not without the proper gear. The outline above is a good starting point, but be sure to shop around to find the gear that you’re most comfortable in, and if possible take a few test-rides around the block before you hop on for a long-distance winter trek.
Finally, gear or no gear, be sure to adjust your riding to the conditions. Take it slow, stay off the road in bad weather, and be on the lookout for patches of ice or snow in the road.
Author: Peter Cunningham