Well, the clocks have just gone back, British summertime ends for another year & that means the winter is approaching fast. You have no control over the winter weather so it could be one day over the coming weeks just before putting the bike away for the winter you will need to reach for the winter riding gear to take a trip out on the bike.
You may be one of those bikers who has to use the bike over the winter because you work as a pizza delivery boy, a courier or a patrolling police officer, paramedic or breakdown recovery patrol, but if you don’t know how to prepare, what to buy or what to use, maybe this top 10 list will help.
Also as well, take a look at our winter riding tips
1 Prepping the bike.
Often in winter many bikers will remove some delicate body panels just to prevent them getting damaged if the bike falls over or because of road salt, but also you il need to make sure all your lights are working, darker nights means you will need to use the lights more & help see where you are going. Remember as well that winter & autumn daytimes have low level sun, so it may be an idea as well to keep a pair of sunglasses in your pocket. The best defence for the bike is to keep moisture out of everything electrical. With this in mind it may be an idea to spray a water repellent lubricant such as WD40 in the electrics where water is likely to reach. Also consider keeping a can of damp start under the seat just in case. Also if you polish the bike with auto polish than spray some WD40 on a cloth & wipe it down this will also help stop water or ice from settling on the bike, also it will help stop dirt sticking as well in some cases. make sure your tyres are in a good condition – more tread will help disperse slush in much the same way as they can handle the rain & be aware ice may settle in the tread so keep a blunt screwdriver on standby to remove any ice from the tread pattern.
2 Prepping yourself.
Cold weather riding can be daunting, if not a little uncomfortable. It’s not impossible though… some say character building. Be sure to always eat before going out in the cold to help with winter warmth & if you can, take a warm shower or bath before putting on your biking clothes to help trap the warmth. It may also help to get upthat bit earlier to prepare or so you can hae 10 minutes to warm yourself up when you arrive at your destination. Although this may also seem a bit counter-productive, but it may be an idea to keep a bus timetable or taxi number handy.. if you deem it to dangerous or to cold to ride there is no shame in taking another form of transport to get home & coming back to collect the bike when the weather improves, if that’s the case also consider if the bike needs to be left at work or at a friends house for a day or so, will they mind you leaving it plus you need often to be sure the bike can be left securely & safely.
3. Winter clothes.
Often, on any motorcycle ride, the first part of your body you notice getting cold will be your hands & feet. Summer gloves with thin leather offer very little insulation from the cold. You may need to use a thinsulate or Gore-tex lined glove as well as more often in winter revert to a gauntlet style pair so that no wind or rain can seep into your sleeves & although the boots you wear may be substantial for safety, for warmth you may need to invest in some winter boots or use thermal socks to keep warm or a waterproof under-boot or over-boot lining to help keep your feet dry – wet feet get cold quickly. Using any thermal lined bike clothing will help keeping your entire body warm on or off the bike. Thermal underclothes that won’t restrict movement are another option because remember heavy winter jackets and trousers may limit some of your flexibility.
4. Heat packs & hand warmers
Some bikers are taking to using heat packs, these are a gel pack that you usually break a seal that causes a chemical reaction that releases heat or in some cases a hand warming pad that you can pre-heat in a microwave & store in a themally insulated tin clipped to the bike or on your belt which if stored properly should stay warm for a good few hours. You can often find such items fairly cheaply in outdoor shops such as camping suppliers or fishing shops. these are quite handy to keep in your inside jacket pockets, or inside your clothing releasing heat or use a hand warmer if you need to stop to warm your hands & maybe even your feet. Some bikes also now take to having heated seats as an optional extra. These days you can buy heated clothes, simple battery operated warmers or even a vest to keep your body warm.
5. Head & neck area
Your helmet will kep your head dry & often will keep it warm, but if you need to keep your head warmer when temperatures drop, consider using a balaclava. For most of us, our hair is enough to keep warm,but those of us that are missing some hair on our heads a balaclava may be necessary. Your head is one prt of the body where you lose the most heat, so keeping it insulated helps maintain your warmth. Make sure you choose a balaclava that uses a suitable material for biking that won’t be prone to wind penetrating the weave of the cloth but not so thick that it affects your breathing. Your neck also needs protecting from the cold as often it can be exposed to the cold, even if you have your clothing fully zipped. Using a roll-up neck warmer, scarf or a polo-neck jumper will also help to insulate and keep cold air from going into your jacket. When you put on your neck warmer, you will instantly feel a difference in the warmth.
Clothing layers help keep you warm & inner layers can trap air which your body can warm up to help that insulate your body but it also needs the outer shell that protects you from the wind as well as the cold. Often though sometimes when you are moving quickly enough air can rush in through any gaps. Many biking trousers or leathers come with a half zip on the back below the belt-line, also many bike jackets come with another half-zip on the lower half of the back panel of the jacket – the two halves can be zipped together to help keep your back warm & pull everything together. Also consider using braces on your trousers, this may not win you many fashion awards, but it will help keep your trousers up & prevent gaps if your beltline starts to slip. Also sometimes using elastic bands on cuffs & trouser bottoms can help seal in the air. Some tips above mention about neckwear, but it’s important that warm air can’t leave through a large hole in the neckline, so if needs be use a scarf to seal the gap.
It may surprise you just how often bikers have a helmet or jacket vent open. Some bikers also don’t realise they have vents in their clothes until they tart to feel the cold when the temperatures drop, so make sure you check areas where vents are likely to be such as on your jacket’s arm pit area, the back below the shoulder-blade area, or up near the collarbone area. Vented trousers are not so common but it doesn’t hurt to check the back or thigh area of your trousers.. sometimes those extra zips that seem to do nothing are often there to act as vents. You may also have vent holes in the front, top and back of your helmet. If needs be, using duct tape can help seal vents.
8. Heated Grips
Adding a set of heated grips is an easy upgrade that you can perform yourself or have a local dealer install. Heated grips typically have many options & settings so you can set the temperature to suit the weather so always look at what’s available before you commit to buy. Usually the cheaper & often budget heated grip sets it’s just a pair of heating elements and no grips which comprise a set of elements you wrap around or inside the existing grip or the optional set with the replacement grips with the heating elements inside. Always be aware though that the grips use your bikes electrical system so you may need to upgrade your battery or consult a dealer to see if your bikes alternator & electrical system can cope with the additional current drain because your battery will be used more in winter to power lights, more power will often be used to start the engine on a cold morning & it may be your battery needs an occasional overnight charge so you are not left stranded.
9. Don’t be afraid to improvise
As we’ve said in the winter riding tips article, things like brown paper, newspaper or cardboard etc can be used inside your jacket to cover your body to trap a layer of air. You can slide paper into your trouser legs or use tights or leggings to protect you from the wind. Plastic bags or rubber gloves can also be used to block the wind and keep you dry. I’ve even seen some bikers cut holes in a bin liner bag for head and arms to wear it as a vest. Get out of the cold and get some shelter as soon as possible, while you wait for the weather to improve. If you can’t afford expensive winter clothes, or don’t need to ride in winter that often as the bike goes away before Christmas until the springtime, improvising a little can help keep the costs down.
10. Consider the route.
Make sure you plan a sensible route to match the predicted weather forecast, take a (charged) mobile phone with you, some money in case of emergencies and take heed of the advice listed above. Think of the worst possibility and be prepared. Carry some basic tools & spares parts if you can just in case you need to make some basic repairs – such as to change a spark plug in case the engine won’t start or the plugs carbon up from riding on the choke more & of course lightbulbs may need to be changed so make sure you can get the lenses off & get to the bulb. The worse the weather, the more likely you are to get a puncture or lose traction because of debris on the road so pick your route carefully because some autumn leaves or wet road conditions create havoc with grip & also fallen branches or twigs with thorns as well as shards of glass hidden under the autumn leaves could make their way through the rubber & cause a puncture & often this happens at the most inconvenient point of the ride