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  • Writer's pictureACBT London

Winter riding Pt. 3

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Riding your motorcycle safely in winter.

A cabin in winter snow
The ACBT London office in winter.

Welcome to the third and final instalment of our series of blog posts about riding your motorcycle safely in winter.

The first post was all about your motorcycle. The second was about your kit and this, the final one is about your riding. So far we have learned how to look after our motorcycle to ensure that it is in a safe condition to cope with the demands of riding at this time of year.

We have also learned about the importance of wearing the right kit. The old Scottish saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather…just the wrong clothes” is so applicable to motorcycling. And in Scotland they know a thing or two about weather.

In the UK winter officially begins on the 21st December and ends on the 20th March so, sadly, we still have a fair bit of it to go as I write. As we are halfway through we thought it’d be appropriate to discuss how we may need to adjust our riding to deal with the very unique road and weather conditions.

To ride or not to ride…that’s the question.

motorcycle instructor and trainee training on motorcycles on a cold dark rainy day
Motorcycle training in winter...glamorous!

I’m out on my bike every single day, all day. It’s my job and I can’t avoid it. Part of the glamour of being a motorcycle instructor is that I get to enjoy the wind, the rain, the sleet, the cold, the dark, and, for about three or four days each year, the heat.

You may not lead as glamorous a life as me with my windswept and interesting line of work. We can’t all be suave and debonair. Actually most of the time I look like I’ve been dragged you’re a prickly hedge backwards.

Sometimes it’s very challenging but I love it. I get to spend all day every day playing with bikes. As long as I’m wearing the correct kit I don’t really care what the weather is. Except, that’s not quite true.

The most important aspect of my job is safety. My safety, the safety of my trainees and of other road users. The weather report is my friend. The very first thing I do is to check the weather forecast. The night before and then again each morning. If the weather will affect safety we cancel the courses, simple as that. We have some of those “smart” speakers in the house and each morning I get up and ask “Perplexa” what’s the weather today?”. Invariably she’ll get it wrong. A decent weather report is a useful tool. I need to make a decision as to whether to ride or not. If you are a commuter on your bike you may have an alternative means of travel to work, you may even be able to work from home as many do these days.

If you’re a delivery rider the weather report will be just as important to you as it is for me. The prospect of a ten hour shift in miserable conditions is not a decision to be taken lightly. And I get it, if you don’t work you don’t earn but, does the prospect of a day’s pay outweigh the risk involved? I can’t make that decision for you but it is a choice that needs to be made. If you’re a fine weather rider only, the choice is more straight forward although in the UK “fine” days are few and far between.

I guess what I’m trying to say is make a judgement call based on safety. That should always be your prime motivator. Is it safe to ride? Yes or no? Simples, don’t take chances.

Changeable conditions.

But what if the weather deteriorates whilst you are at work for example or during a ride? One of the problems with winter weather is its unpredictability. Many times over the years I’ve left for work on a chilly but perfectly rideable morning and during the day it’s started snowing. Now I have a big choice to make. Do I leave the bike at work and take the train home or do I chance the ride? Is it safe? If I leave the bike here overnight is it even going to be here tomorrow when I return or would some scroat have stolen it?

What if I make it home by public transport but the weather deteriorates further and I can’t move the bike for several weeks? This happened to me one year. I had to leave the bike at work under a covering blanket of snow for two weeks. Luckily at Police Headquarters we had a private car park but, what if my bike is in a parking bay in the middle of town? Is it safe? And by this I mean is it safe to attempt the ride home? Can I reasonably expect to make it home in one piece?

Choose the right roads.

A residential crossroads in winter snow
Side roads aren't gritted and more dangerous.

This is a crucial choice to make. The only advice I’d give is that if you choose to ride home don’t be tempted to use the “quiet” back roads. Quite the opposite. Use main roads, preferably bus routes.

Bus routes are gritted and if the buses are running that day, as long as you stay on those routes, there’s a chance you can get home and, if not, at least you may get as close to home as possible.

Usually the council will grit bus routes, roads with schools and hospitals. Quiet side roads are not gritted and can be extremely dangerous.

A gritted road will provide more grip but it should still be treated with respect. Ride as if on a very wet road but be careful as black ice is invisible. Be aware that you may not be able to make progress as efficiently as other traffic with more wheels on the road and therefore greater traction and stability so, concentrate on what is going on around you and be prepared to move over to let traffic go past you if necessary. Better to stop many times on your way home than having some inconsiderate or, frankly, poor driver too close to your rear end. Be extra careful at junctions, either joining main roads or leaving them.

Take care in all the weather.

In part 2 we discussed the varied effects that other types of weather, not just the fluffy white stuff, can have on you and how they can affect your safety. They also affect the state of the road and the behaviour of traffic on that road as well as visibility. For example a bright winter sun low on the horizon shining on a damp road can magnify glare rendering you invisible to other traffic and preventing you from seeing other traffic depending on the position of the sun.

The correct speed.

Taking care is not about riding slowly. For example, on a wet road, there is no reason why your speed should be overly reduced. On a 30mph road it is still possible to carry that speed if appropriate but be careful when engaged in A, B or C: Accelerating, Braking or Cornering. On our training courses, be it CBT, DAS or more advanced courses we discuss about selecting the correct speed for the road and how there are three factors to take into account the speed at which to drive.

This isn’t always necessarily to do with the relevant speed limit. What’s the condition of the road? How is the weather affecting it? What’s the volume of traffic? Reducing your speed by just a few miles per hour could be the difference between serious injury or survival. We discuss this in detail during our training.

Failing to plan is planning to screw things up.

A 250cc Honda motorcycle in rainy weather
It's raining...again!

We also explore the importance of anticipation and planning.

In my opinion these are two extremely important factors in riding safety and we look at them in detail during our training courses. Look far, the further you look the earlier you will identify hazards and plan sooner.

The further you look the sooner you will be able to identify traffic signs, road markings, directions etc making it easier to plan much earlier. Even more important in adverse weather.

Smooth as a pair of velvet underpants.

Riding smoothly is always essential, but more so in challenging weather conditions. Smooth throttle, brake and clutch control is paramount. In really poor conditions it may help to change gear earlier than usual. Braking may have to be done earlier and for longer in particularly wet or slippery roads. At the approach to junctions reduce speed sooner. Take care with the front brake, remember what we teach about the two instances when you should never use it.

A snowy road in the Scottish Highlands
Smooth operation of controls is essential in hazardous conditions

If on a main road be careful at the junction with side streets. Not everyone on the road is careful or pays attention to the conditions. If traffic is approaching side streets rolling off the throttle a little sooner will give you a safety buffer if the vehicle fails or has difficulty in giving way to you. Just don’t roll off too much to encourage someone to pull out and always be aware of what is happening behind you.

Are you sending clear signals? Does every road user know what you intend to do, what you are up to or where you intend to go? Broadcast your intentions effectively. Giving correct information is just as important as receiving it. What about your separation distance? How close are you to the vehicle in front? How close should you be in different road and weather conditions? If you don’t know the answer to this question you really do need to engage in some further training. If you have been following these posts and you cannot answer that, everything you have read up to this point is useless if you do not observe a safe following distance!

We hope you have found these posts useful. We are interested in you being a safe rider primarily. If you feel unsure about winter riding contact us we may be able to help. Need some specific training? Then ask about how we can help with our hourly lessons or confidence building courses to sharpen your skills. If you have passed your test consider further training, it could save your life. See this blog post.

Riding in winter may not be as enjoyable as riding in spring or summer but it can be just as rewarding if done safely. Stay safe on the road and don't forget in around ten weeks it'll be spring! Having said that, in thirty to forty weeks time it'll be winter again!

Safety during winter training.

Image of a Keeway Superlight 125cc motorcycle on a cold, frosty, sunrise morning
Beautiful morning...but freezing!

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.

Our contact details: ☎️ 0208 331 1103 📧 📱 07594 799340

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Gift vouchers

A custom Moto Guzzi V7 scrambler motorcycle
Send gorgeous personalised e-Gift cards

Whatever the season and whatever the reason you cannot give a better gift than the gift of safe motorcycling.

We have a range of e-Gift cards that may be ordered direct from our website and redeemed against our training courses. Simply choose the value of the voucher and personalise it with your own message!

Next issue: We look forward to the Spring and summer season. Read it here!

©️ 2023 ACBT London Rider Training. No part of this article may be reproduced without permission.

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