10 tips to riding safe and warm in winter

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.

Winter riding

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 RIDINGMt Wellington in Winter - beware of ice

1 UNDERWEAR

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.

Oxford Motorcycle Accessories ChillOut range of winter gear
Oxford ChillOut range of winter gear

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 warm is a good addition to stop that sneaky breeze down your back.

3 EXTREMITIES

You can wear the warmest jacket and pants, but if you’re 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 0 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.

Barkbusters BBZ-01
Barkbuster BBZ-01ter,

5 BIKE MODS

If you want to spend a bit more money, you can also add grip, 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, pulling 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.

8 HYDRATE

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.

Fatigue
Avoid alcohol, but spicy foods are good

9 ALCOHOL & COFFEE

They 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. Alcohol and caffeine 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

winter
Infographic supplied by Motorcycle Lawyer Arizona

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.

8 Comments

  1. It’s all about the merino! Merino is the most effective insulator for it’s minimal bulk, which means it’s easy to layer it up under your riding gear.
    I’ve been loving my merino jumpers from Uniqlo. At $30 and woolmark approved, they are a no brainer. As a bonus, merino doesn’t pick up odours.

    Big woolly jackets are great, but remember to warm your legs too. While we feel the cold more in our torso, insulating the legs improves circulation on cold days, which affects the entire body.

  2. I’ve done a bit of Sub Zero riding, you sort of get into the hang of it. 560ks of -3°C wasn’t too bad with a bit on sun on us, -7°C sleeting was different story – icicles on the bike and 1/4″ ice all over my wife’s back.

    Generally if it is dry and sunny riding down around zero can be quite pleasant – the bike generally runs better in the denser air and with the right gear you can be very comfortable.

    It really depends on moisture level in the air. I rode up from Boonah to Toowoomba most days last week. Crisp but okay with heated grips.

  3. This is a bit off topic but the thing I found most interesting was your mention of a BMW R65, I purchased a BMW R65LS back in 1985 and I still have it. I don’t ride it much now that I have retired and purchased an Indian Chieftain in October 2015.
    I haven’t seen many BMW R65s on the road, and only a few for sale on bikesales.com,

  4. The biggest problem is not when it’s cold but warm then gets cold. You may go out on a nice day and freeze on the ride home because you left all the warm stuff at home. Keep some garbage bags tucked some place on the bike for emergencies like this,
    There are also those thin waterproof jackets and pants that can fold up into a little pouch and fit in a pocket, They are great for wet weather but they can also make the difference between frozen and warmish. By the way tracky dacks work better under the jeans as the denim blocks more wind so it will keep the heat in. Same goes with everything else keep the wind out and the heat stays in.

  5. If you go for a cold morning ride, get dressed quickly in your bike gear, don’t wander around the house in shorts and Tshirt for an hour getting ready and having breakfast, as you need to make up that lost heat.

  6. Nothing better than plug in heated gear on a cold wintery ride :-). They are well worth the investment if you are doing alot of cold weather riding. We use the Gerbig heated jacket and gloves and it keeps you warm as toast. The jackets zip right up under your neck and once you pop your normal jacket over the top you can ride in most conditions. We rode up through Canada last year and even beside the glaciers we were still nice and warm. The jackets are not bulky, so you don’t need to ride around with so many layers that you look like the Michellin man.
    They do drain the battery but we have had no issues so long as we disconnect before turning the bike off.

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