Riding year round in all 4 seasons is something we all hear about, but if you’ve ever pulled your bike out of storage and hit the road in temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit you probably know how brutal it can be without the proper gear or accessories. Going into cold weather riding without being prepared will surely end up in a short ride, which might be all you need to get your fix in the off season.
Depending on where you live, riding in temperatures below freezing, even under 50 degrees feels significantly colder due to the wind chill. The best solution for cold weather motorcycle riding is to wear cold weather gear head to toe including: full face helmet, balaclava, insulated leather or textile jacket, windproof riding pants, and boots. Heated jackets, gloves, boots, or even hand grips would make your ride extremely comfortable, especially with the addition of a windshield.
Here is a simple wind chill conversion chart for reference when riding a motorcycle in cold weather:
- Riding at 60 mph in 50° F weather will feel like 39° F
- Riding at 60 mph in 40° F weather will feel like 25° F
- Riding at 60 mph in 30° weather will feel like 10° F
Block The Wind
A windshield does a lot to move air around you as you ride. It’s an obvious accessory worth mentioning, but there are those who don’t like those quick-detach wind shields, but you probably won’t see them putting miles on their bikes in the cold. Even a small fairing on the front will help push air and reduce buffeting making the ride a bit more enjoyable. Those little fairings available on the newer Harley Iron 883 Sportsters even make a noticeable impact, so you really don’t need to attach a giant windshield on your bike.
Full Face Helmet
A full face helmet with a face shield, or even a ¾ helmet with a face shield will be your best friend for a comfortable ride in temps below 50°. If you’re a beanie or half helmet type of rider then consider grabbing something a bit more comfortable that allows you to ride in cooler weather with less fatigue, less stopping, and inevitably a safer ride. One tip for wearing a full face helmet in cold temps is to opt for a double pane or pinlock shield to protect against fog. A lot of newer ADV touring bikes have accessory ports for heated shields and other accessories. A heated shield is assurance that your helmet won’t fog up.
Wearing something that covers your neck from the wind like a head wrap, balaclava, or scarf is probably necessary if you are going out to ride for a longer trip.
The amount of jackets currently available with insulated liners, venting, removable layers, and so on really make it easy to ride in virtually all seasons - for a price. While most mid tier to higher end leather jackets will have a removable lining, there are also lots of newer textile jackets on the market that offer similar protection for any riding style that are also waterproof. In parts of the world that get snowfall, you might want to consider a riding jacket that will be your go-to for cold weather (winter), spring and fall. Do not wear materials that melt when subjected to abrasion. This includes polyester and polyester blends with a few exceptions.
Here are some popular abrasion resistant materials to look for in proper riding gear:
- Leather (not suede or fashion leather)
- Waxed cotton/waxed canvas
A lot of motorcycle boots offer some different kinds of protection compared to normal hiking, hunting, or work boots. Motorcycle boots are designed to control the bike and protect against torsion with the addition of molded soles and supports. Steel toed work boots would about the closest to a riding boot than some others. Keep in mind that much like what was required during an MSF course or motorcycle skills test, at minimum the boot should cover the ankle.
Get good abrasion resistant gloves. Leather being the most popular material, but again there are gloves out there that utilize new age textiles or a combination of leather and textile. It’s hard to really prioritize what part of your body to protect the most. Protective headgear is not something to want to overlook as most motorcycle accident fatalities are related to head trauma, but protecting your hands is equally as important as they are what you use the most to physically control your bike.
Upgrading your bike with heated grips and a heated seat is not a bad idea if you are going to be a cold weather regular. Upgrades will be more involved than simply obtaining them, and the added cost is something to consider. If you’re familiar with the luxuries of modern snowmobiles with heated seats and grips, then you might have an appreciation for how much they impact riding in the winter.
Heated accessories might not be for you if you are only going to be dusting off the bike on those oddly warm days during the winter months to cure your itch for riding. However, you might find yourself braving the cold more often if you do have them in addition to other gear.
Water cooled bikes should have their coolant changed at least every two years as a general rule. Stay on top of all fluids and check any hoses for crimping, cracking, or any other damages. Keep your drivetrain clean. Check/change your oil. You might need to change the oil to something more appropriate for cold weather (reference your manual). Clean and lube your chain, check the health of belts, stay on top of shaft fluids. Check lights and brakes.
Road salt sucks. If you are riding on pavement with any amount of road salt you will be cleaning your bike often to keep it as rust and corrosion free as possible.
If you use a Battery Tender, or some kind of trickle charger be sure to plan ahead and make sure you can get your bike started. Cold weather tends to kill battery life.
Always give your bike a good look over. Here are a few things to check before riding :
- Tire pressure, tread, tire damage
- Fluids: oil, coolant
- Look for leaking or seeping oil/fluids