Despite the fact that spring is technically around the corner, it snowed this week, and it’s not at all unheard of for Dayton to experience snow in April. That said, this topic has come up quite a bit in the past week; obviously quite a few guys in my circle of riding friends are chomping at the bit to get back out on that road. “Winter Riding” tips may be viewed as a little “late” considering that we’re on the verge of spring, but cold spring mornings apply to this theory just that same as winter afternoons.
Prepping the Rider
First off, you can absolutely run out and buy top of the line Klim gear or an Aerostich Roadcrafter. While I don’t have any of that stuff, I’m sure their street credit is likely founded; my method is more about making small purchases and combining them with your existing gear to extend your riding season, or worst case, get you out of a jam on short notice.
1. Layer up
Base layers are all the rage now from a lot of the moto-gear manufacturers. I admit, I have invested in a dual material Triumph thermal, but for the longest time I’ve used polypropylene and/or micro-fiber long-johns under my riding jacket and pants. Obviously you need to make tactical decisions with your thermal layers; you need to keep the heat in, but also have the mobility to operate the motorcycle. Under 40°F I usually throw on a thermal layer between my jacket and T-shirt; under 32°F I usually go with a long sleeved shirt in lieu of the T-shirt; and under 25°F I start getting into apocalypse mode, which usually involves at least a sweatshirt.
2. Use your rain suit
Some of you are probably thinking, “I thought he said winter weather?” Cutting the wind is your number one priority, fortunately the wonderful water resistant qualities of your rain suit also work to block the wind. Using a rain suit as a winter garment even gives you options, you can layer up with thermals under your motorcycle gear, and if you still get cold you can put your rain gear on over it. On the other hand, you can use your rain gear as an additional layer under your motorcycle gear. I personally prefer the latter because I hate the sound of my rain jacket fluttering in the wind (on top of the extra wind resistance), but folks with traditional textile gear may also prefer this method as mesh jackets are all but useless in winter.
3. Get a good set of Gore-Tex boots
If you have perused “The Gear” section of Moto Adventurer, you may have seen some of these items before. I have recently acquired a set of SIDI Canyon Boots; ultimately I bought these boots because I needed a good waterproof Adventure/Touring boot, however, considering their Gore-Tex waterproof nature, they also double as excellent cold weather boots. Needless to say, you don’t necessarily need “Adventure” boots, but a good set of waterproof boots will help you cut the cold air.
4. Wear a solid set rain gloves, and don’t forget the squeegee!
Are you detecting a theme here? Same story, winter weight gloves, and definitively waterproof. I have a cheap set of rain gloves I picked up at a local dealer a couple years ago; those go a long way when it’s above 40°F, but when things get close to freezing, you’re going to need some dedicated winter gloves, maybe even electric, but more on that in a minute. The other important piece here is the squeegee. Yes, I’m all about the squeegee; it’s super convenient in the rain, however the winter piece here is fog. On more than one occasion I have left the house at around 35°F and foggy. As I rode out of the humidity of the river valley, the temperature actually dropped and the fog literally froze to my face shield, which is where the squeegee comes in. Just be prepared.
5. Install a “Pinlock” or dual lens visor
Segueing from my fog and squeegee comment, fog on the inside of the visor is another problem you need to be prepared for. When it’s 40°F, cracking the visor for additional airflow to clear the fog isn’t all that bad. However, once it’s sub-freezing, the frozen air stings pretty bad in your eyes; at those temperatures, I don’t recommend cracking the shield above 10 MPH if you can avoid it. I had a Dual Lens visor for my GMax helmet that was 99.9% fog-proof, rain or cold weather. At some point here soon, I will be getting a Pinlock visor and insert for my new Scorpion EXO-AT950 helmet for all the same reasons.
6. Wear a neck gaiter or balaclava
From about 55°F and down, I wear my neck gaiter religiously (some readers probably already do this as well). As I started accumulating better gear and my cold weather riding tolerance increased, I also picked up a motorcycle specific balaclava. The neck gaiter is great, but I actually found that the skin under the helmet vents started to sting from the little bit of air that squeezed through. The Schampa “Pharoh” facemask is constructed with two materials, a comfort thermal layer over your head that is also covered by the helmet, and a wind breaking chin curtain to block the brisk air below the chin bar. It takes a little getting used to, but the full face coverage also helps keep the visor fogging down.
7. Wear Latex gloves in a pinch
A few weeks back I published “How cold is too cold to ride?” That day was pretty nuts, but it was one of a short list of days I actually put on a set of latex gloves before putting on my normal winter riding gloves. The latex helps lock in some of the body heat while not sacrificing a whole lot of flexibility and “feel”. This “trick” isn’t going to buy you a substantial amount of additional comfort, but when it’s 7°F outside, every bit counts.
8. When all else fails, buy heated gear
In my case, the extra money I’ve saved by not buying a ‘Stitch, I’ve invested in heated gear. I will even go as far as to say that heated gear was an arm and a leg just a few years ago, but these days heated gloves are only a few dollars more than a lot of standard winter gloves currently for sale. I currently have a set of Tour Master Synergy 2.0 Heated Gloves along with a Tour Master heated vest. I admit, I have recently resorted to using the heated vest, and I stand by my previous opinion, the lack of heated sleeves makes no sense at all. I expect I will be upgrading to the heated jacket liner as soon as possible. For “cold blooded” folks, you can also invest in heated pants, and even resort to heated socks and boot insoles if you so choose.
9. Chap stick… seriously
I hate Chap Stick, with a passion. It’s all waxy and gross; can’t stand it. This one isn’t necessarily about staying warm, however, after a long morning in frigid temperatures, I know I’m desperate to do something about chapped lips. It’s gross, and a goofy topic to be discussed among “men”, but find some at a service station, and put it in your (exterior) winter jacket pocket; you can thank me later.
Preparing the Bike
Without going into a long spiel about the concerns of corrosion, T-CLOCS, tire grip, and air pressure, let’s assume you already understand the importance of those things, and focus on trying to stay warm. There are a few extra farkles you may want to invest in to extend your riding season.
10. Slide on some heated grips
This may sound very European, but I don’t understand why more motorcycles don’t have heated grips fitted as “standard”. I have pretty much decided that heated grips are a “must” for every bike I own. I had a set of Bike Master heated grips fitted on the Speedmaster. Those were pretty decent down to about freezing, but fell short not long after. I now have Oxford Heaterz on my Scrambler, which are superb. Based on my current experience, heated grips are more effective, and get more use than heated gloves. Beyond prepping for extreme cold, you’ll find yourself wearing your summer gloves sooner in spring, just because you can turn up the heat a little. Just keep in mind your bike’s alternator capacity before plugging in every electric item you can buy; I suspect most modern machines can handle it, but I doubt your ’82 Nighthawk is prepared for that kind of draw.
11. Bolt on some hand guards or “Hippo Hands”
Hand guards are another “must” on my “winter motorcycle” (which is currently my only motorcycle…). Hand guards come in many shapes and sizes; from the off-road “Bark Busters” type, to the winter wind protection variety. Longtime followers of the blog will also recall my DIY piece on hand guards for the Speedmaster. Crafty folks can buy acrylic sheets from the hardware store and bend them to suit their needs; it’s not much for crash protection, but it will at least keep your hands warm. I’ve also heard lots of stories about folks cutting up bleach bottles and strapping them to their bars to stay warm. In my case, push is rapidly approaching shove, after my whole single digit excursion, I will probably be investing in a set of motorcycle “mitts”. A lot of folks call them “Hippo Hands”, but several brands make these mitts, including Bike Master. They’re pretty affordable, and from what I’ve heard, paired with heated grips your hands are downright cozy. If I’m going to attempt more single digit rides, a set of mitts may be the only way to get it done while keep my fingers intact.
12. Invest in a windshield or fairing
This probably goes without saying; guys at the helm of a “Wing” are probably saying “Winter? What’s that?” However, for the rest of us mortals, wind management is a lot easier with a good shield. I’m somewhat of a hold-out in this department (I prefer the fly screen), a “good shield” is probably going to be one of the most expensive items you purchase to stay warm. I personally would rather have the heated gear, however if you’re cold blooded, you might want to put a little extra in the budget.
13. Clip on a throttle lock
Similar to the comment about latex gloves, if you don’t have a throttle lock, get one. You may never ride long enough to use it on any normal day, but on a cold morning, having the ability to reach down and “grab the jugs” is invaluable. Throttle locks aren’t particularly complicated (or reliable) devices, but they’re cheap, and they’ll give your throttle hand a break long enough to give it a little warm up to tide you over until the next service station.
This is obviously not a completely comprehensive list of “sniffle” gear, but it covers the vast majority of Motorcycle accessories I use or plan to buy. I’ve told others, the biggest secret is having a positive attitude, layer up (in waterproof gear), and make routine stops. You’ll probably be surprised how much more comfortable you are with something as simple as heated grips, which, like most of these items, won’t break the bank.
What “tricks” do you use to stay warm?
Balaclava and my first heated vest (Widder) have been HUGE for me personally when riding in the cold (one of those, “How did I manage without these before?” moments). I wore big bulky (but still good movement) Widder electric gloves for the sub-freezing days and that worked well, but never cared for the wires. Heated grips help, but they only do so much in the freezing temperatures (inside hands hot, outside hands frostbite) and don’t work well with heavily insulated gloves.
After several years of riding in the cold, it was when I got my Tiger that I realized that heated grips work best with hand guards. Previous bikes with heated grips where super nice on chilly days, but didn’t cut it on the harsh ones. The hand guards/deflectors have made all the difference.
There’s chilly, there’s harsh, and then there is sub-Arctic. In the incredibly bad stuff, I’ve manage to cope with electric chaps. I found them to be overkill for anything else. But I also found that riding in single-digit temps or less, motorcycle fluids do not flow well (like fork oil), tires never heat up (even dual-sport tires) and zero-degree clean pavement is not much different than ice. I just don’t do it anymore.
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Cold weather, you mean like when it gets down to 60 degrees?
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It’s all relative right?
This is really good, I’ve ridden all winter too and was just about to do a write up of the balaclavas I’ve used to compare cheap universal vs moto specific expensive.
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I bought my neck gaiter when I was on active duty, I’m sure it was dirt cheap at the Post Exchange. The Schampa Balaclava is only like $30; it’s worth its weight in gold. No way I could ride sub-freezing without it. My scalp was burning one day last year.
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I agree, especially if your helmet vents still let air through when closed. Head insulation is mandatory.
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Agreed. That GMax 54S was a great helmet, especially in summer. Obviously it vented well, which didn’t pay off in winter.
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I’m going to look forward to your review of the AT-950, I considered it before I got my Nexx XD-1.
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I’ve had that idea in the back of my mind. There don’t seem to be too many of those helmets out there. I may cue that up here shortly. Thanks for bringing that up!
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