Bikers are acutely aware of the weather. We’re in it, most of the time, so the season means a lot more to us than your average commuter.
As such, when winter rolls around, there are steps we can all take to ensure a safer, more enjoyable cold season.
Here, I’ll show you 10 tips for the chilly motorcyclist, so you can prepare yourself and your bike, and take winter in your stride.
You might be preoccupied with winter-proofing your bike, but the first thing on your mind should be winter-proofing yourself.
If you plan on making a journey by motorcycle in winter, think about your physical state before you do.
Are you well-rested?
Have you eaten?
Missed out on this morning’s caffeine hit?
All are things to consider. Bottom line is, look after yourself and yourself will look after you.
A sluggish, caffeine-deprived brain is no use to anyone, and a malnourished or fatigued body is going to feel the detrimental effects of cold weather long before one operating at peak.
Preparing the Bike
Once your body is prepared for the rigours of winter riding, you can start thinking about your bike again (let’s be honest- you never stopped- but as long as you were eating in the meantime, we’re good).
There are a whole host of things you can do to your steed to make it winter-ready, ranging from the involved and expensive to the easy and cheap.
Let’s dive in.
If you’ve ever looked at a biking forum or subreddit this time of year, you’ll have no doubt seen this product mentioned dozens of times.
ACF-50 is an aerospace anti-corrosion formula (ACF- see) that many bikers swear by to protect their pride and joy over winter. A coat of this over a freshly cleaned bike will mean dirt and grime slide off with ease next time you come to wash it.
Perfect for keeping rock salt and road muck off rust-prone areas of your bike.
Available from all good retailers including SportsBikeShop
Motorcycle batteries have a hard time in winter, especially when stored outside, as the reduced temperature will negatively impact the reagents in the cell and mean the battery can struggle to hold its charge.
There are two ways to combat this, and the first is by far the easiest- ride your bike! A regular run out (under load, no use leaving it on idle for 15 minutes), will keep your battery charged- just the way the manufacturer intended.
The other option, and more suitable if you have other things to do, is a trickle charger. This relatively cheap piece of kit plugs into the wall and then the terminals on your battery, and will monitor and maintain a healthy level charge for you, no riding required…
See our guide to the best motorcycle battery chargers.
As you well know from our Chain Tension Guide, looking after the part of your bike that makes it go is very important. Almost as important as the bits that make it stop, even.
In winter, this sentiment is all the more true.
Cold weather and winter roads take their toll on those metals that corrode, and your chain is no exception. As such, you should step up your chain maintenance routine when the temperature starts to drop.
Regularly check tension- every time you ride if you can- and make sure to stay on top of chain cleaning and lubrication.
Be diligent over winter, and a good chain and sprocket set can last years. Be negligent, however, and you’ll find yourself with a broken chain, at the side of the road, freezing cold and stranded. Don’t ask me how I know this!
You’re already doing pre-ride checks, but winter is the time to start paying attention to them.
Check all the usual suspects- lights, brakes, chain, fluids and tyre pressure, but be meticulous. Not only are the checks themselves more important in the cold months, but the cold months make the checks more difficult.
Often it will be dark and cold, and it’s easy to be tempted to rush through your pre-ride. Don’t.
Cold weather means cold rubber. Stay on top of your tyre pressures- they’ll change as the air inside expands and contracts due to temperature changes. They’ll also take longer to get as sticky as you’re used to, so be cautious in the bends when you first set out.
Consider a tyre pressure monitoring system if you want to save time.
Or at the very least have a quality tyre pressure gauge on hand.
There’s winter gear for a reason. You could spend thousands on an all-weather rigout and probably should if you’re planning on heading to Siberia for a cross-country adventure.
In most countries though, where winter means no more than -10c, you can get away with layering.
Personally, I use the same gear all year round, the only thing that changes is what goes underneath.
In Summer, it’s just a t-shirt, but come autumn the layers start to multiply. Thermal undergarments, a neck warmer and a basic motorcycle balaclava are your friends. They’re cheap and cheerful but will make all the difference on a short-to-medium commute.
Such a lifesaver, they get their own section. There is no reason not to install heated grips. Not only do they, you know, heat your hands, they also provide a much-needed morale boost on a crisp winter’s morning as you ride to work.
Let’s not forget the dexterity needed to ride a bike, either, that cold weather can quickly sap heat out of your hands, even though a thick glove. Heated grips will keep your joints supple and digits nimble enough to safely operate the controls even in the bitterest cold.
Prices range from the dubious to the astronomical, check out our guide to the best motorcycle heated grips to find the right option for you.
Couple them with handlebar mitts and you’ll be sweating on the M62 in mid-January.
Fitting heated grips often constitutes ‘modification’ in the eyes of an insurer, which can void your policy if not pre-agreed.
If you’re planning on installing some, check with your provider first. If in doubt, take your bike to a dealership or trusted mechanic and ask for their advice.
Not exactly cheap but there is a whole range of heated clothing available for the rider with a bit of spare cash. Check out the reviews below to find the right options for your budget:
Don’t Forget The Feet!
The extremities are going to get cold, once you’ve taken care of the fingers concentrate on getting the right gear for your feet.
Start with a pair of waterproof motorcycle boots and look for some decent quality motorcycle socks to go with them. No need to spend loads but investing in the best you can afford will pay in the long run.
Visibility is one of the most important aspects of motorcycle safety all year round. In winter, though, being seen becomes even more pertinent. Be sure to consider the earlier nights when you plan your journeys, and stay on top of cleaning your gear to be as visible as possible.
There is also the option of adding extra lighting to your bike, like this set from amazon. This relatively cheap mod will give you a massive boost in visibility on the road, and look cool to boot.
If you do add extra lights to your bike, however, make sure you check local traffic laws before going out on public roads.
On the Road
Once you and your bike are ready for the winter, there are a few more things worth thinking about when you get out on the tarmac.
0°c is pretty uncomfortable when you’re stationary. When you’re moving at 40mph, any exposed skin will feel the equivalent of -9°C. Ouch.
Wind chill is an often overlooked aspect of cold weather anything, and motorbikes make their own wind, so think through your route before riding and work out what the real temperatures are going to be.
Also see our guide to riding a motorcycle in the wind.
Black ice can be deadly. It’s hard to spot and extremely slippery. If you find yourself riding in sub-zero temperatures, and the risk of black ice is high, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of dropping the bike.
- Go slower. Seems obvious, but it makes a big difference.
- Be gentle with the controls. Riding a bike is about smooth inputs, put your skills to use.
- Back brake for stability. Dragging your back brake will help keep the bike upright.
Respect the Conditions
Evaluate your journeys before you make them. Adjust your ride according to your environment. Winter riding is all about limits. If you push yours, or those of your bike, you’re going to have a bad time. Stay within them, though, and riding in even the harshest conditions winter can muster becomes possible, or even easy.