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When you ask about how you should go about Winter Motorcycle Riding, a lot of folks will instantly reply; “Park your bike in the garage and wait for spring!”
It’s OK to be a fair weather biker… but just ’cause you don’t have the desire to develop the skills and equipment to pursue winter motorcycle riding, don’t let the air out of someone else’s tires! Park your bike and wait for spring.
The rest of us, are gonna climb on, and split the wind!
The simple truth is; Winter Motorcycle Riding can be done safely and sanely… all it takes is a little thought, a few pieces of proper equipment, some common sense, and a conscious, deliberate, concentration on riding your motorcycle correctly.
First things first; Make sure your bike is in top mechanical condition… its bad enough to ride a scooter in the summer on worn out tires… Do that in the winter and you’ll likely find yourself riding your butt on the asphalt.
Second; Outfit yourself for the weather. Dress in layers. You’ve heard it before and it’s, simply, the only way. Multiple, light, insulated layers are far warmer, and more adjustable to conditions, than a single, heavy layer.
I ride, from the skin up, and depending on conditions, cotton underwear, insulated ‘long-johns’, regular street clothes, wool sweater, ski type, High bib overalls, insulated vest, winter jacket, insulated gauntlet type gloves, a fleece hood, a full face helmet, wool socks and thinsulate insulated, gore-tex lined boots.
This gear keeps my winter motorcycle riding warm down to 20 degrees and less… this winter the coldest I’ve rode, without any considerable distress has been 10 degrees. I’m talking a distance of twenty miles and more.
On a longer ride you’re going to have to make more stops than you might in the summer, to warm up a bit, but you should still be able to rack up considerable, comfortable miles enjoying the shining times of winter motorcycle riding.
One of the critical requirements of your clothing is the outer shell. It has got to be tightly woven and wind proof. I’ve worn the heavy cotton Canvas Carhartt clothing, and quite simply, at something above 50 mph, the wind pressure starts leaking though, and you get cold. I’ve found the fine woven, nylon shelled, insulated coats and overalls vastly superior when it comes to turning the wind.
If you have the alternator to power the stuff, and dealing with all the wires and thermostats doesn’t get in your way… or the price tag… you can cut the layers… and invest in heated clothing… but the fact is… not that many bikes have the alternator power to run ’em… and you end up pulling the needed juice out of your battery…
I’ve found, here in Colorado, I ran ride just fine, with a grin on my face… wrapped up in totally ‘energy free’ winter motorcycle riding gear!
Once your bike is prepped and ready… and once you are dressed… how do you handle the road?
One word… Carefully and deliberately… OK… I can’t add real gud… but you get the idea.
First, folks driving those four wheeled contraptions are going to be startled to see a motorcycle rolling down the road when the thermometer is bangin’ down toward one digit! So you have to be extra alert… They’ll do even dumber things than usual.
Second, you’ve got to pay extra special attention to the pavement. Cold rubber just doesn’t have the traction that it has in the summer. You’ve got to keep your speed down… and ride with precision. Save the hot doggin’ for California Summers!
You don’t necessarily have to wait until the roads are 100% totally clear… but if there’s much ice or snow on it, you are well advised to wait until it clears a bit more. The manufacturers just haven’t perfected snow tires or chains for motorcycles yet… unless you count those wild men up north who race their bikes on frozen lakes…
… but running down the highway with those lethal lookin’ spikes in your tires is my idea of pushing a good idea too far!
What you do have to do is consciously pay close attention to the road. The sand is going to get kicked into the center of the lane, or off to either side. Where you need to ride is down the ‘tire tracks’ as much as you can, to stay out of the slippery sand, and other road debris.
Keep your speed down on the sweepers to make sure you stay in that track and not drift into the accumulated sand on the margins of your line.
If you’re rollin’ along and there, in the shade of a tree or a building, is a patch of ice or snow across the road… Don’t Panic! Stay away from the brakes! Keep the throttle steady. Don’t accelerate, don’t coast and decelerate. Just keep a steady hand. Watch your weight. Don’t lean one way or the other.
If you’re in a corner, you pretty much have to stand it up straight, to cross the bad spot, and then, once you’re back on dry pavement, get back into the turn.
My mantra is “soft hands”. Just stay smooth as you cross that, usually small, slick spot. You’ll come out, on the dry side, a wiser biker.
Pay attention to your condition as you ride, mental as well as physical. If you start getting too cold, it’s time to pull in for a cup of coffee and a warm up. Too cold and your reaction time as well as your basic judgment starts to freeze up, and that’s not the way to enjoy winter motorcycle riding.
If you make sure your bike is ready; make sure your motorcycle riding gear is up to snuff; and make sure your head is in the right place for Winter Motorcycle Riding; you too can enjoy the giggling you’ll do inside your helmet, as you witness the startled looks you’ll get from the folks coming the other way, in their cars, when they spot the crazy, fool, riding a motorcycle in the winter!