Winter riding tips

winter trees

Published on 28 October 2017 by Robert Drane

With the right gear, a little preparation and some minor changes in riding style, winter riding is perfectly feasible. BMF's Motorcycle Rider magazine takes a look at how best to stay safe on the roads this winter….


Wear the right gear

Invest in specialist winter riding gear. The principle is simple – a protective outer layer to keep out the cold and wet and a base layer to keep in the warmth. If you are wet and cold, you tire more easily and your attention is distracted from riding. The key is layering – more is not necessarily better. Use a good quality base layer of thermals from a specialist motorcycle or outdoors supplier. Merino wool or silk are good, cotton and other fabrics less so because they do not ‘wick’.

For all but the most extreme conditions, a good base layer, then a thermal fleece and a textile jacket – GoreTex or similar – will be sufficient and will allow free movement. Ensure the sleeves, ankles and neck can be tightly closed without restricting movement. An outer waterproof layer is essential in wet weather, or keep the waterproofs available in case ‘cold and dry’ turns to ‘cold and wet’.

Neck tubes keep draughts and wet from entering and should be considered essential.

One-piece leathers form a good barrier but may not allow the space for layers underneath and can get cold and stiff, unlike modern textile jackets and trousers.

Good quality gloves and socks are essential for keeping the extremities dry and warm; modern technology has created thermally efficient gloves and liner gloves provide extra insulation in particularly cold conditions. Consider carrying a spare pair of gloves to allow one dry pair in case the first pair become too wet and cold.

A well-fitting helmet with effective ventilation to reduce fogging is another essential; make sure you know how the ventilation works – you don’t want to be experimenting with this on the move – and consider a visor anti-fog treatment.

Heated clothing is effective in extreme conditions, but make sure you consider the draw on the alternator and battery. Reflective gear can also dramatically increase your visibility to other road users.


Make sure your bike is ready

Consider a good sized screen – easily detachable versions are available and will significantly reduce wet and wind chill as well as aiding visibility. Handguards and bar muffs are effective in keeping hands warm and dry; heated grips and to a lesser extent seats and even foot warmers are available and worth considering.

Check your bike before setting off. Are the lights and indicators working and clean? Is the battery in good condition? Are your tyres in good condition and at the right pressure? Is your bike coated with anti-corrosion spray? If water-cooled, are the hoses in good condition, the radiator clear and the system filled with the correct level of antifreeze? Consider carrying some emergency essentials – spare gloves, handwarmers, thin waterproofs, a rag for wiping screen and visor and even bin liners can all be life savers and most bikes have somewhere these can be tucked away. Make sure your breakdown/accident recovery is up to date and you have the contact number (and phone!). And don’t work up a sweat before setting off – if you need to wrestle your bike out of the shed, do it before you dress for the ride.


Adjust your riding

Winter riding conditions demand respect – grip is reduced, visibility is lower and your attention is diverted by the wet and cold.

Choose the appropriate speed – generally, as high a gear as possible will reduce wheelspin and breaking traction – and give yourself space to adapt, adjust and slow down by increasing the distance between you and other road users. Signal earlier, anticipate the road ahead as much as possible to minimise abrupt changes in speed or direction, and make contact with drivers using their mirrors to ensure you are visible. Keep a loose grip on the bars, look straight ahead and not down at the road, and avoid sudden movements by anticipating road conditions as far ahead as possible.

On a long ride, plan ahead so you know where and when you are able to stop and warm up along the way by taking a hot drink and using toilet hand dryers to warm your hands when you stop for fuel. Consider drinking hot soup if it is available rather than coffee (and definitely not alcohol) to reduce dehydration and blood flow to the skin, which will increase heat loss.

Finally, consider taking some advanced rider training – there is always something to learn no matter how much you think you know, and most instructors teach a system of evaluation and action (for example SEE – Search, Evaluate, Execute) for use in all road conditions.

Take care – and happy riding. See you in the spring!

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Main image by Bert Kaufmann from Roermond, Netherlands (Misty winter afternoon) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons