Winter Riding Pt 2.
Updated: Jan 28
Safe winter riding through the winter months.
Welcome back to our blog. In the previous article we began to discuss riding your motorcycle in winter and the various issues that affect your safety. We discussed that there are two “partners” involved. Your motorcycle and you. Both of you are equal stakeholders in the success and safety of your winter riding exploits. In part 1 we discussed your motorcycle so now, let us turn our attention to you, the rider.
During our CBT courses many trainees are concerned about the safety of riding in winter. Many people actively dislike it and some don’t even venture out at all until the weather improves in late winter or early spring. If you are in the latter camp a word of caution. Before venturing out again have your bike checked over and maybe consider a refresher course. Knowledge fade can occur during protracted periods away from the bike. Reaction times can be slower and planning and observation techniques, two of the most important tools in your safety toolbox can be forgotten. If you are going to be away from your motorcycle for some months call us and we can help with a short refresher course, or even just an hour or two of lessons to sharpen up before embarking on your riding. You can book these courses/lessons here.
We’d be lying if we said we actually like riding in winter. No one does, of course we prefer warmth and sunshine, long periods of daylight and dry roads. There’s no reason, however, why riding a motorcycle during the winter months shouldn’t be as rewarding as at any other time of year.
There’s no such thing as bad weather…
Billy Conolly, the utterly brilliant comedian, often commented on a well known and popular Scottish saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather…just the wrong clothes”. That phrase could have been coined by a motorcyclist about motorcycling, talk about hitting the nail on the head.
During element A of our CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) courses we discuss the importance of clothing and equipment, in a general sense. We discuss how we start reducing the risks involved in motorcycling the moment we get dressed, before we even sit on the motorbike. This applies as much to a novice embarking on their CBT as much as it does to a more experienced rider engaged in their DAS training as it does to someone who has been riding for years.
During the winter months though we not only need to be concerned about protection from the effects of a collision or coming off but also with the climate. Anyone who has ever completed a training course with us will be aware of how the weather not only affects the grip available but also how it affects your control of the motorcycle and your ability to see and be seen. We explored the importance of visibility in this blog post.
So what actually is “bad weather”? It’s the stuff we don’t like isn’t it? The cold, rain, wind, ice, the dark. No-one ever mentions the sun and that can also be your enemy in winter. If you are riding early on a sunny winter’s morning and the sun is rising in front of you, do you think the vehicle behind is able to see you? And what about at sunset? If you can’t see the vehicle behind you can the driver in front see you? At it’s peak in winter the sun sits much lower on the horizon and this can affect your vision. Add a damp or wet road and it becomes a mirror that multiplies the effect of the glare.
In the UK we can pretty much experience any of those climatological features listed above at any time of year, not just winter, so if you are worried about winter riding you have probably already experienced some of it at different times. It’s just more regular and pronounced between, say, November and March.
All the gear all the time.
In periods of long adverse weather conditions it is even more important to wear all your gear. You stand a higher chance of losing control of your motorcycle or having a collision in the winter months because of the effect of the climate on your riding environment. Which bits of kit are the most important? All of them. We discuss the reason why on our training courses.
You have a choice with kit. You can either have separate summer and winter equipment or you can have one set that does everything. Most modern textile suits have removable thermal layers and vents that can be opened or closed to control the temperature so you can remain warm in winter and cool in summer. In the UK, throughout the year it rains so keeping dry is just as important as keeping warm. If you are wet you will get cold and do not underestimate the danger of wind chill. Most textile suits also offer a modicum of water proofing.
This is the temperature of the air around your body in real terms as you move through it. On a January morning you leave for work and it is 1°C. By the time you reach work an hour later the ambient temperature can be as low as -10°C. That is a massive fluctuation of temperature. It can also happen in spring or summer. Last July we left for a road ride at the end of a CBT course and it was 18°C. Fifteen minutes later, the skies darkened and it pelted with rain for a brief time. The temperature had dropped to 11°C. In a quarter of an hour we had lost 7°C. In the summer. It was cold.
So is your kit ready for winter?
If not, neither are you. Let’s look at the essential equipment from the bottom up.
Boots: As always boots should be above the ankle. They should have a grippy sole and be tough as…er…old boots. Are they warm enough? Cold feet equals loss of efficiency and control. If not consider warmer socks. It is possible to buy heated socks these days. They’ll not keep your feet warm for all day riding but can help on your commute to work. Some heated clothing may be connected to the electrical loom of the motorcycle for more sustained warmth. On a budget? Put a plastic bag over your socks and then into the boot. You may laugh but we’ve all done it, and it works. And no, a Fortnum & Mason carrier bag is not better than one from the local Co-Op! Try to allow wet boots to dry naturally or the leather will crack.
Trousers and Jacket: Textile is better than leather in winter. Leather doesn’t have the thermal and waterproofing qualities you need. It also takes forever to dry whereas a textile suit can get really wet and the following day it’s dry enough to wear again. It’ll have a thermal layer and a waterproofing one. How effective these are depends on the quality of the clothing you wear. Some things cost more for a reason. “Buy cheap buy twice” my old dad used to say. If you have been camping you will know that tents are produced in different “D” categories. This refers to the density of the weave on the fabric. So, for example, a 600D tent is not as water proof as a 2000D tent. This same scale applies to textile clothing. The higher the “D” figure of your jacket or trousers, the ore protection it offers in a downpour.
On a budget? Army surplus is a great alternative. Tough and durable and a lot of it is Goretex. Just be aware visibility is important and military equipment is kinda designed to be the opposite. However, even a decent quality suit will eventually let water through in prolonged periods of rain. A good, lightweight waterproof over suit will help. Not just with waterproofing but also with temperature control. It will reduce the wind chill factor especially if it is windproof. My advice is to buy a two piece suit. One piece suits are a pain to get in and out of. Make sure it is breathable. There’s nothing worse than being dry on the outside and wet on the inside. Retailers of clothing for outdoor activities often stock suitable garments as they are designed for physical activity in adverse weather.
Heated suits are available too. USB chargeable or plug-in types that connect to the motorbike’s wiring loom. You are also able to buy individual vests or bodywarmers that are heated too. I know many a rider that uses these and swears by them, as opposed to swearing at them. Which is what we do to inferior equipment. I hate feeling trussed up on a motorcycle and tend to wear less bulk. I prefer thin layers under my suit with the oversuit than wearing thick bulky items. Thin layers trap body heat more efficiently than heavy hoodies or woolly jumpers under your suit. Many scooter riders opt for those blanket things. I’m not a fan but they do work.
Gloves: Your summer gloves will be rubbish in the winter time. They will get wet and cold and your fingers will go numb which, in turn, can result in loss of control. What do you need in winter? Dry hands and warm hands. Easy to say, not easy to achieve. The trouble with winter gloves is that they are bulky and can make operating controls awkward. Heated grips are an option and are much better than when they first appeared on the market. I had a set fitted to a bike some years ago and it didn’t matter what power setting I used, the output was either zero heat or fires of hell blazing hot. I have heated grips on my bike and they are fantastic.
The trouble is they tend to heat the palm of your hands and fingers still get cold. I also have handguards fitted which deflect the wind and can reduce wind chill. Many riders opt for handlebar muffs. They may look daft but they are effective at keeping the worst f the weather off your hands. They also allow the rider to wear slightly thinner gloves, which I like for better control. On a budget or caught out by a freak downpour? A pair of “Marigolds” under your riding gloves will keep your hands dry even if the gloves are soaked. Just maybe don’t go for the ones with the feathery cuff…or do, whatever floats your boat!
Snoods/balaclavas: Personally I’m not a fan of snoods and don’t wear them. I have tried them and I do understand the potential benefits but I just can’t get on with them. A snood is a neck tube that can keep your neck warm. There is sense in this as your jugular vein or carotid artery are both in your neck. They carry blood to the brain and back to the heart. In their exposed position they can be affected by cold temperature which in turn cools the blood and you can quickly lose core body temperature. A snood can alleviate this by keeping your neck warm. I am hot blooded so I don’t need them and I find them uncomfortable. I just don’t suffer the cold as much as other people. A lot of riders also wear balaclavas these days. I have worn them in the past but, again, I’m not personally a fan and am happy with the weather protection offered by my helmet but I do understand why so many riders use them. Most of your body heat is lost through the head so it is important to keep your head warm and they also sell heated balaclavas.
Helmet: I like a system (flip up) helmet in winter. It allows me the protection I need with the flexibility of being able to open it if needed and the drop down sun visor helps at times of bright low sun when I need to make adjustments with glare on a regular basis during a ride.
During CBT we discuss the pros and cons of different types of helmets and much is down to personal preference. For me as an instructor with my daily work related riding however the flippy helmet is the more convenient type.
Make sure your visor is clean and deals effectively with misting. The “Pinlock” system is in my experience the most effective anti-mist device on the market. I’ve used the sprays and wipes before but they need to be applied every day.
A “Pinlock” insert will last several months before it neds to be replaced so is much more practical long term as it can see out the winter. I have no connection with “Pinlock” in case you’re wondering, just recommending because it is effective. It is really important that your visor is also free of scratches. If it is, replace it. Scratches can refract light which can dazzle when riding at night or in bright sunlight. Avoid fitting communications devices to your helmet. They can distract. In winter time you need higher concentration levels and that phone call is never going to be as important as your riding safety and you could be committing an offence. Many forget this, but a phone is there for your convenience, not the caller’s.
Safety during winter training.
On the subject of safety, if you have booked a training course in winter and are concerned be advised that we inspect the site and the surrounding area first thing in the morning. If we have any concerns for your safety during training we will cancel the course and let you know, either through our Whatsapp or by calling you direct. It is important that you have your mobile switched on the morning of your training course as early as possible. If you changed your mobile number in the period between booking and your training date let us know as soon as possible.
Be aware we can only carry out the safety inspection each day as we are not weather forecasters. That early morning call is unavoidable. If you haven’t received a call and / or message from us on the morning of your course then consider the training is going ahead. Any concerns or problems please call us as soon as possible. Don’t just fail to turn up and then get in touch several days later as you may lose your course fee.
Winter affects your motorcycle and it affects you the rider. It also affects the road so our next issue, part three, the final instalment of our series about winter riding will discuss techniques we can implement to ride safely through the winter.
If you wish to book your CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) you can do so below. If you wish to book individual lessons or other forms of motorcycle training click here.
If you are interested in DAS (Direct Access Scheme) to pass your A1, A2 or A category motorcycle test then click here. If you need more information on the different licence categories read our blog here.
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