Frostbite: Riding below zero

“Aren’t you cold?”

Me: “No; it’s all about Passion”

“How do you ride when it’s this cold?”

Me: “All the right gear”

SAMSUNGSome of you have probably had this conversation a few times. The looks of other drivers on the freeway, and my co-workers in the office is worth it; if the ride in itself isn’t already the best reward. Riding in the heart of winter in Ohio is challenging, but not necessarily difficult. I have tried several equipment combinations, paid for accessories, and paid for better gear in the endeavor to ride nearly year round.

If riding a motorcycle is like training for combat, riding in winter is like patrolling Baghdad.

There are countless articles listing the myriad of threats when riding a motorcycle in the winter; I’ll spare you the obvious details and list my biggest concerns.

1. Precipitation: If it’s snowing, the bike stays home. If it’s raining and remotely close to 32 F, the bike stays parked.

2. A water-main break: otherwise sunny day with dry roads will suddenly become the most horrifying environment to a motorcyclist in seconds, a mid-road skating rink.

All of the other articles are correct, there’s gravel, salt, and armies of unwitting drivers not looking for you. I always plan my route carefully, leave early, and typically only take main roads that I have driven in the past 48 hours. Riding below zero is nothing to take lightly, good planning, patience, and solid gear is essential.

Hard lesson learned: No one piece of bargain gear can “do-it-all”

In attempt to save money and gain respect, I rocked Carhartts, a ski mask, and hand warmers on the scooter back when I had it (yes, I wore a helmet). No matter how much money you save on a scooter, men don’t respect you; Carhartt jackets are awesome for work, but suck on a motorcycle; and the quest for sub-zero gloves continues.

6269_4824427025044_5856718359573500960_nI typically ride with an average GMAX helmet; a full face helmet is recommended, but I know guys that do it with half helmets and neoprene masks; not my bag. I will say that a ski mask or tall neck-gaiter is highly recommended.

What I’ve found that makes the biggest difference is water resistant clothing. A buddy of mine says: “Is it raining? Put your rain gear on; are you cold? Put your rain gear on!” True story, rain gear really blocks the wind and keeps the heat in. My complaint in the winter is typically the rain gear flapping in the wind on the freeway, along with the three layers necessary to keep warm. Polypropylene long-johns are worth their weight in gold. I have maintained a reasonable amount of comfort with just long-johns, jeans, and rain gear. It’s not the best combination, but it works in a pinch. Jacket has pretty much gone the same way; I have a textile (non-mesh) jacket I’ve worn year round till recently. With a quilted liner (not included with jacket), and sweatshirt, the jacket works below freezing, but it’s pretty bulky, and won’t last beyond an hour.

My most recent kit is a matching set of Firstgear; the Rainier Jacket, and Escape pants. Both are previous year models, so I can’t speak to what’s on sale as of now, but the quilted (removable) thermal layer and waterproof armored pants are excellent. From 24 degrees to over 55 degrees the pants are comfortable with all the vents closed and thermals in place. The jacket is also solid, but a microfiber long sleeve shirt is needed to keep warm on the freeway under 32. Thus far, I’ve only been in light rain, so I can’t speak to the “waterproofness”; but for cold weather it’s solid. Certainly there are companies like Aerostich that offer top of the line solutions. Admittedly it’s on my list, but it’s going to be a while before I have the pocket book for something like that.

As an Army Veteran, I have a set of combat boots for every day of the week, including Gortex winter boots. I don’t consider Gortex “Waterproof” when speaking of jackets and pants (Army experience, sorry, it’s just not), but as far as boots are concerned they’re warm and dry. Combat boots are readily available on various internet sources, but certainly there are better commercially available motorcycle boots.

Gloves is where the struggle begins; I have gone back and forth between waterproof leather gloves, and snowmobile gloves and thermal liners, I think I’m stuck buying heated gloves to combat the deep cold. Latex gloves under snowmobile gloves works pretty well down to about freezing, but neither that of the waterproof gloves, even combined with heated grips will keep your hands warm consistently below freezing. I have recently installed hand guards (like “bark busters”) on my bike, still not enough to cut the deep chill at 65 mph.

I have put off electric gear for some time (it’s bloody expensive), but I think that’s the last line of defense to stay on the road beyond half an hour below freezing. You can warm your hands on the engine… but it’s just not safe as a prolonged solution.

Now the last hurdle: riding in the snow


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2 Responses to Frostbite: Riding below zero

  1. Pingback: If it aint raining we aint training: first wet ride of the season | Moto Adventurer

  2. Pingback: First Gear TPG Rainier Jacket: Long-term Review | Moto Adventurer

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