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winter motorcycle riding tips

By flood - Posted on 23 December 2008

winter motorcycle riding

When the mercury drops most of us give our bikes a good wash, drain the gas tank, put our bike's batteries on the trickle charger and all of the other things we need to do covered in our storage maintenance story, wipe away the tears from our eyes and wait until next season.

For those souls brave enough to withstand the cold - there are numerous things you must know about cold weather motorcycling that are different when motorcycling in temperate weather.

avoid snow / ice covered surfaces

Let us start with the most important point on cold weather motorcycling. Trying to balance a motorcycle on snow or ice is next to impossible! Avoid these road conditions at all costs. Also remember that the roads may be nice and clear when you first go out, but if the forecast is calling for a chance of snow - it is probably best to leave the bike at home. On that note, also remember that ice may have formed on the roads before you decided to ride (eg. frost developing overnight before you go to work in the morning). If there is a chance that ice or slippery conditions are still on the road - again, take the car, subway, bus, walk - anything but get on your motorcycle. Discourage the thought that "It will be okay this one time" because it most likely will not be okay.

Even when the roads are clear of snow they will provide you with less traction because the surface is cold as well as your tires. Cold tires as well as a cold surface will both provide less traction than hot tires and a hot surface.

Because of this it is best to 'warm up' the tires by riding around on some easy riding roads before taking sharp turns and braking aggressively.

You may find some motorcyclists who do ride in snow and ice conditions, however, these people are placing their lives in one of the most extreme conditions possible. They also usually ride motorcycles design for tough terrain, such as touring bikes equipped with knobby tires or even tires with metal spikes for traction. A street motorcycle with factory tires will not be able to perform at all on a snow covered road - no matter how experienced (and/or crazy) the person may be.

dress correctly

Motorcycling in temperatures below 10 C (50 F) will affect your riding ability if you are not properly dressed.

Ensure that you are not exposing any skin (think of yourself as an extremely body conscience person at the beach). Tuck your jacket sleeves into your glove cuffs, close all vents, and ensure pants are draped over-top of your boots.

A full face helmet, 3/4 length insulated jacket, winter gloves, wind-breaking pants, and insulated footwear are all essential wear when traveling on your motorcycle in cold weather. In addition to your protective gear, such as your helmet, motorcycle jacket, motorcycle gloves, etc. here's an example outfit that will be sure to keep you warm.


motorcycle silk balaclava

A balaclava is cheap, simple, and it works. And if you ever need to rob a bank... just kidding! You may need to find a thin wool or silk mask as a traditional ski mask may not leave enough room for your helmet to fit properly.

neck warmer

motorcycle neck warmer

One area that quickly gets cold when you are riding your motorcycle especially on a windy day is your neck area. Without proper gear, wind will make your neck cold and will also fly down the collar of your motorcycle jacket making you even colder.

A neck warmer that makes a seal with your helmet and your jacket ensures that this part of your body will stay warm.

long underwear

motorcycle long underwear

Skiers swear by it, and anyone else who spends more than an hour out in below freezing temperatures will tell you - long underwear is essential to keeping warm. It is another cheap and effective way you can keep yourself comfortable in the cold.

heated gloves

firstgear carbon heated gloves

When riding in cooler temperatures your hands will become cold quite quickly unless you have proper gloves. Even high quality insulated winter riding gloves will not keep your hands from becoming cold after a good 1/2 hr on your motorcycle. Some people may suggest all sorts of inventive ideas on keeping your hands warm; such as wearing two sets of gloves, putting your gloves in the dryer before going out, etc. The only effective solution to increasing hand warmth is investing in some form of heated gear.

Heated gear, such as a heated vest, gloves, or handlebar grips are extremely helpful to ensure you stay warm. The general concept of heated motorcycle gear goes like this: a wire runs from the vest / jacket, gloves, etc and connects to your motorcycle's battery to generate electric heat. A control unit is mounted usually at hip level for easy access to enable the rider to adjust the amount of heat.

We recently reviewed FirstGear's Carbon Heated Gloves. Heated gloves are sure to make your trip a warmer and more enjoyable one.

heated vest / jacket

Keeping your body's core warm is also important. In addition to heated gloves, there are several manufacturers of heated vests and jackets.

Here is our review of the tourmaster synergy heated vest Tour Master's Synergy Heated Vest - a product that will make your ride a warm and toasty one.

If you don't like the idea of being 'tied down' to your gear via wires - there are some heated gear available that is battery powered - such as warmthru battery heated gloves Warmthru's battery heated gloves. This allows you the freedom to move your arms around without having to worry about dangling wires. Also, you will not be placing an additional drain on your battery/alternator.


rev it cayenne pro pants

In addition to wearing long underwear, motorcycle pants that are wind proof are essential for a comfortable ride. When the ambient temperature is cooler than your body temperature wind will quickly rob heat from your body.

A good pair of well insulated motorcycle riding pants, such as Rev'It's Cayenne Pro Pants, will keep your legs warm during your ride while also providing you with abrasion resistence and armored impact protection.

Most textile motorcycle pant manufactuers will design their pants to attach to their motorcycle jacket equivilent model via a zipper. For example, the Rev'It Cayenne Pro Pants are designed to attach to the Rev'It Cayenne Pro Jacket. This helps to create a seal between your pants and jacket to prevent your body from being exposed to wind / rain. Consider this when shopping for armored pants.

feet warmers

chemical warmers

Nobody likes to get 'cold feet'. Your feet are going to get cold at some point if you are riding in cold temperatures and it is important to keep them warm as your feet regulate heat throughout your body. On your motorcycle it is especially important to keep your feet warm because they are needed to operate your gears and rear brake.

You can heat up your toes with inexpensive toe warmers that skiers use.motorcycle toe warmers These are pads that when activated, cause a chemical reaction that generates heat that last for several hours. You can use these pads for your feet, hands, or other areas of your body. Although they are inexpensive - the heat eventually disapates and the pads must be replaced once their heat expires.

If you want to get fancier, there are available, yes you guessed it - heated footwear. There are different types of heated footwear, the most common being heated pads and heated socks.

heated socks

Thunderbolt makes heated socks designed for extreme cold conditions. motorcycle heated socksThe Thunderbolt electric sock kit contains a pair of heated socks that attach to a rechargeable battery pack and control box. The socks are worn overtop of a liner sock or normal sock and inside your boots. A wire runs up out of the sock which is then followed up the legs to the battery and control box which is mounted at waist level to a traditional pant belt. The control box allows you to adjust the heat level and displays LED lights to show the heat setting and battery charge level.

gone with the wind

Not only does the ambient temperature play a key part in determining what to wear but also the wind chill factor.

That cool breeze that feels so good going through your vents on a hot summer's day has the same cooling effect on a crisp fall / spring day as well. This is referred to as 'wind chill'. Wind chill measures the temperature that it feels like, and as such, it does not affect objects (as objects do not feel). When the ambient temperature is below your body's temperature (37 C or 98 F) the wind will blow away heat from your body. Conversely, on a really hot day where the ambient temperature is above your body's temperature, the wind will blow hot air into your body. This is a common misconception that wind will always lower body temperature.

How can you tell how cold it will feel when you are on your motorcycle? You can use the below chart to determine how warm you should dress / prepare for your trip.

Wind Speed
WIND SPEED (km/h) how to measure wind speed
10 Wind felt on skin; leaves rustle; wind chimes begin to make noise.
20 Leaves & small debris constantly moving; small flags extended.
30 Dust, leaves, & loose paper lifted in the air; large flags flap; small tree branches move.
40 Small trees begin to sway; large flags extend and flap.
50 Larger tree branches moving; whistling heard in power lines; large flags extend and flap more wildly.
60 Whole trees moving; resistance felt in walking against wind; large flags extend fully and flap only at the end

Wind Chill Chart - Temperature (°C) / Wind Speed (km/h)
  5°C 0°C -5°C -10°C -15°C -20°C
5 km/h 4 -2 -7 -13 -19 -24
10 km/h 3 -3 -9 -15 -21 -27
15 km/h 2 -4 -11 -17 -23 -29
20 km/h 1 -5 -12 -18 -24 -30
25 km/h 1 -6 -12 -19 -25 -32
30 km/h 0 -6 -13 -20 -26 -33
35 km/h 0 -7 -14 -20 -27 -33
40 km/h -1 -7 -14 -21 -27 -34
45 km/h -1 -8 -15 -21 -28 -35
50 km/h -2 -8 -15 -22 -29 -35
55 km/h -2 -8 -15 -22 -29 -36
60 km/h -2 -9 -16 -23 -30 -36
65 km/h -2 -9 -16 -23 -30 -37
70 km/h -2 -9 -16 -23 -30 -37
75 km/h -3 -10 -17 -24 -31 -38
80 km/h -3 -10 -17 -24 -31 -38
90 km/h -3 -10 -17 -25 -32 -39
100 km/h -3 -10 -17 -25 -33 -40

take frequent breaks

After cruising for an extended period of time you will want to stop to get your body temperature back to a normal state. Take breaks more often than you normally would. Drink a hot beverage to warm yourself up from the inside out. Walk around a bit, do jumping jacks - you want to get your blood flowing to your extremities - being your hands and feet, since both are prone to frost bite and are also key in you being able to operate your motorcycle. Dream of warm places: a hot tub, a Caribbean beach, sitting by a roaring fire ... ahhhh don't you feel yourself warming up already?

tips to remember

You can extend your motorcycling season if you prepare yourself for the colder winter weather.

Motorcycling + snow/ice = disaster. Only go out on your motorcycle when the roads are clear of snow and ice. Be sure that any ice that may have formed earlier (such as overnight) has completely melted away before you set out on your journey.

Dress appropriately with insulated gear and ensure none of your skin is exposed. Heated gear such as heated vests, gloves, and grips can greatly help warm you up and make for a more comfortable ride.

When calculating the temperature to determine whether it is too cold or whether you feel you can brave the frigid weather - take the wind chill factor into account. Make sure to add the average speed at which you feel you will be traveling to the actual wind speed to come up with the wind speed to base your calculation. For example, using the above charts, if the temperature is 0C, and the wind speed is 20km/h, and you will be traveling down city roads averaging 60km/h - you should be prepared to ride in -10C degree weather.

Take breaks more often and warm up with a hot cup of coffee / tea / hot chocolate. When taking a break, move around to get the blood flowing throughout your body with special attention to your hands and feet.

Keep your hands warm and use your judgment to know when the conditions are unsafe. By the time the next motorcycling season comes around your skills will be sharp and your bike will be ready to go! Ride safe!