There is no doubt that a warm rider is far safer than one who is frozen solid in the winter chill.
Being too cold can lead to shivering, exhaustion, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech, drowsiness, low energy, slow reaction times, and stiff and sore joints. None of these is advisable for a rider to stay safe.
There is nothing macho about braving cold conditions that bring on hypothermia. Riders who don’t prepare for the cold are a danger to themselves and others.
Warm and comfortable riders are more alert, more supple, better able to deal with emergency situations and therefore safer road users.
Not that safety is much of a concern for these guys in the annual Red Bull Twitch ‘n Ride!
There’s cold and then there is bitterly cold with black ice and other dangers. A little bit of cold can be invigorating, but prolonged bitter cold is dangerous and could even lead to permanent frost bite damage.
So we have provided a list of 10 hot tips for staying warm and comfortable in the coming winter months.
But first, here’s a tale from my early years of riding before the invention of many rider products to keep us warm.
I used to ride from Ipswich to Toowoomba after work about 1am on Saturdays to spend the weekend and in winter that would include sub-zero temperatures. My riding gear consisted of jeans, tracksuit pants over the top and sometimes even fishing waders over them, army boots with two pairs of woollen socks, a shirt, jumper, newspaper in between and a padded leather flying jacket, woollen balaclava, woollen gloves and rubber dishwashing gloves over the top.
I could hardly move and I certainly couldn’t feel the levers very well, yet I was still bone-cold on my naked BMW R65.
One night I came across roadworks on the highway with limited warning signs and I couldn’t move my frozen feet or right hand to hit the brakes and wash off speed. The bike slewed, bucked and kicked but miraculously made it out the other side of the 100m stretch of thick gravel. I was lucky.
10 HOT TIPS FOR WINTER RIDING
Motorcycle and outdoor outfitter stores sell a wide range of thermal underwear which is thin but effective. It will keep you warm without having to put on several layers of bulky clothing and limit your free movement. The Oxford ChillOut range is particularly good and includes long underwear, balaclavas, glove liners, knee warmers, socks and neck tubes.
2 GEAR UP
Today’s riding gear features materials that keep you warm without having to be extra bulky. You usually pay for what you get, but good quality textile gear is usually warmer than leather. A nice leather jacket may cut the wind, but the leather can get cold and stiff. Make sure the sleeve, neck and ankles can be tightly closed as the wind and cold can get in. A neck warmer or scarf is a good addition to stop that sneaky breeze down your back.
You can wear the warmest jacket and pants, but if your extremities are still cold, you will not be able to work the levers properly. Get good quality winter gloves and wear warm, woollen socks to keep you fingers and toes from going numb. Just because gloves are thick doesn’t mean they are warmer. Usually the price you pay relates more to effectiveness than thickness.
4 WIND CHILL
Estimating wind chill is a complex calculation involving ambient temperature and wind speed, but at 0C degrees ambient temperature, travelling at 100km/h on the highway, you will be in -17.4 degrees. Do your best to get out of the wind. Difficult on a naked bike, but you can at least tuck your legs into the tank, crouch down a bit and maybe slow down a bit. Some bike modifications you can make are a quickly detachable windscreen and/or handguards like Barkbuster BBZ-01 shrouds. While many people recommend newspapers down the front of your shirt to cut wind chill, plastic bubble wrap is even better! Keep some in your panniers, just in case.
5 BIKE MODS
If you want to spend a bit more money, you can also add handgrip, seat and even foot warmers to your bike, although these will all draw power from the battery so you might also need to consider an alternator and/or battery boost.
6 STOP OFTEN
We can all brave a quick ride home in near-freezing temperatures, but a long ride in the cold will numb your fingers and toes which is dangerous to you and other road users. Stop frequently, have a warm drink and thaw out the extremities. Find public toilets with hand blow dryers which will quickly thaw out your fingers. If you are constantly shivering, pull over for just a couple of minutes and move around briskly to get your blood pumping.
7 STAY DRY
Even fine mist can soak your clothing and amplify the effects of wind chill, so consider wearing a waterproof layer or at least spraying your gear with water repellant.
When we’re cold we don’t feel as thirsty as when we are hot, so there is a tendency to not drink enough. That can lead to fatigue, so stay hydrated.
9 ALCOHOL & COFFEE
Alcohol and coffee may go down nice and warm, and make you feel like they are heating up your insides, but they can be a danger in the cold. They increase the blood flow to the skin which may make you feel warmer, but it is actually causing you to loose body heat. Alcohol also affects your judgment which may already be impaired by the cold.
10 EAT WELL
Our metabolism slows when we are cold so we start to shiver to create internal heat. Good nutrition helps keep you warm as your body heats up to burn calories. Eat food loaded with nutrients, antioxidants, and immune-boosting powers to fight off the cold. Carbohydrates, fruit, soup, ginger and spicy foods are particularly good. Hot foods tend to make you feel warmer, but a piece of fruit can be just as effective.