One of the best things about owning a motorcycle is the freedom it affords. You can ride it anywhere a car can go, as well as dart down alleyways, if you prefer. You can park it pretty much wherever there is space, and since you're traveling light, you're always ready to rev up and go. With the wind in your face as you motor down the highway, you can almost believe that you're flying. But as the weather slowly turns from summer to fall and settles into winter, that same wind that gave you such freedom is now slowly chilling you to the bone. And there's nothing that ruins a ride more than being cold and uncomfortable. In fact, you might be tempted to garage your motorcycle for the season.
But that hardly seems like a fun option and, to be honest, you'd miss the old bike and the road during those long months of winter. If the thought of forgoing your rides for several months saddens you, then take heart, as there are plenty of ways to ride throughout the winter while protecting yourself from the elements and staying warm and toasty.
Start With Your Base Layer
The best place to start in your journey to a warmer ride is as close to your body as possible. Having a good base layer is one of the more important aspects of keeping warm on cold rides, because it's the last layer of protection you have against the cold and biting winter winds you'll face. A base layer can be anything from basic cotton long johns to more advanced fleece underwear. You want something that'll not only keep you warm, but also will feel good against your skin as you put in the miles.
Material aside, the most important thing about your base layer is the fit. You'll want that first layer to be snug while still allowing you the freedom to change positions on the bike and walk around on your rest stops. A close-fitting base layer will actually keep your body warmer, since there is less air that can flow between the clothes and your body. Less air means that your natural body heat will be retained longer.
Install a Windshield
By far the biggest enemy to a motorcyclist on the road in cold weather is the wind. It will literally chill you to the bone, and at 60 mph (96 km/h) or more, it hits you like a bucket of ice water if you aren't prepared. One of the best ways to protect yourself from the wind is to avoid it as much as possible. An easy way of doing that is to install a windshield on your bike.
A windshield on your bike functions the same as a Viking's shield used against the mighty ax; it deflects the majority of the blow and keeps you safe at the same time. With a windshield on your bike, most of the cold air you're rushing through at 60 mph will be simply diverted around you instead of hitting you straight on. The upside is that you'll avoid the worst of the wind and will stay warmer as a result.
A windshield is an easy accessory to install. You can do it yourself or take it to any major dealership. Once it's in place, you'll find that the difference, in terms of how much wind is actually diverted, is huge.
Wear a Full Motorcycle Helmet
Think of your motorcycle helmet in much the same way you do a haircut. In the summer, when you're riding through heat waves shimmering off the highway, it always feels better to have as little going on up there as possible. That way you can enjoy the feel of the air on your face and get the true essence of a motorcycling trip. But, as the winter rolls around you're much more likely to let your hair get a little longer to help keep your head warm. And, because heat escapes from your head, it's a good idea to protect yourself as much as possible.
That's why a full motorcycle helmet is such a good idea come winter time. While the full helmet is going to keep the heat from your head trapped and thus keep you warmer, the face screen will also protect you from the harsh winter winds you'll be riding through. So, while you might have to give up a little bit of freedom, knowing that your winter locks help ward off the cold should more than make up for it.
Put on a Scarf or Balaclava
As we have mentioned throughout, the biggest thing to worry about when you're riding in cold weather is the wind. The problem with wind is that if there is a gap in your clothing, the wind will force its way in there and gnaw away at your warmth until your teeth are chattering and you totally regret ever rolling that dang bike out of your garage. So, in order to avoid both the wind and the regret, you'd better make sure you cover every inch of yourself with some sort of clothing or another.
One of the most common areas where gaps occur on a rider is around the neck, and because your jacket will extend only so far up and your helmet so far down, there are bound to be some spots that don't get covered. That is where a good scarf or balaclava will be a lifesaver. By wrapping the garment of choice around your neck, you're sure to keep the wind at bay. If you want to go the extra mile (and since you're riding your motorcycle, you might as well) go ahead and wrap your scarf around you head as well as your neck. Doing so will help you out twofold, because you'll not only keep the wind out of the gaps around your neck, but also, you'll provide an extra layer of warmth inside your helmet.
Pay Special Attention to Boots and Socks
The cold will send your body into survival mode. What that means, in part, is that most of your blood is going to rush to your major internal organs so they'll keep pumping along to make sure you're still alive. As that happens, the blood flow to your extremities, such as your feet, will decrease, and with less blood, you'll have less warmth. That means that in cold weather your feet are far more likely to be affected by the cold than other parts of your body. Therefore, it's very important that you keep them nice and toasty.
The two best items to keep your feet warm are a good pair of boots and some snug and comfy socks. When you're searching for a good pair of boots, make sure that they are wind- and waterproof to keep all that cold air and rain away from your feet. Also, make sure they're comfortable, because after some long miles you don't want sore feet when you're walking around the restaurants and rest stops along your journey.
Socks should be wool to keep your toes and feet very warm inside your boots. Also, you can layer a couple of pairs of socks if you want to guarantee that your feet will stay toasty, letting you concentrate on enjoying the open road.
Invest in Good Gloves
Along with your feet, the part of your body most sensitive to the cold is your hands. But, just any old mitten won't do once you hit 60 mph (96 km/h), and the wind really starts to cut through any of your clothes that aren't up to snuff.
So, what should you look for in a good riding glove? First, make sure it's windproof. Anything else will be pretty much worthless on your rides, and keeping that cold air off your hands is of the utmost importance. Second, look for gloves that have some sort of clasp or elastic at the wrist so you can close them tight around the long sleeves of your jacket or base layer. Again, this closure is to keep the wind out. Finally, look for insulated gloves that will help keep you warm throughout your ride.
If you're finding that no amount of insulation or wrist clasp is helping, you can always try a somewhat unconventional route. Before you put on your riding gloves, slip on a pair of common latex gloves like those you would find at a doctor's office. The latex won't breath, and thus will keep the warmth of your body close to your skin where you need it most.
Consider Electrically Heated Clothing
Is the cold still getting you down? Maybe it's time to enlist the help of technology in your battle against the elements.
Technology has plenty to offer when it comes to riding your motorcycle in the cold. With heated clothing, you're sure to be warm, toasty and snug as you rack up the miles on your hog. Think of a portable electric blanket that looks and fits like a vest or jacket. See, electrically heated clothes have wires running throughout them that, when charged by your motorcycle's battery, actually heat up. When they're properly heated, they transfer said heat to your body, ensuring that your ride is as comfortable as possible. In addition, you can get a gauge that shows how much of your ride's battery is being used, so you can make sure not to burn up too much energy in your pursuit of warmth.
Choose a Weatherproof Jacket and Pants
Once you've done your duty of layering, it's time to think about the outer garments that will work to keep you warm on your rides. Look for a shell set that includes both jacket and pants, because that will ensure you're covering the majority of your body and keeping those gaps down as much as possible.
A good jacket will be made of a synthetic material such as Kevlar or Cordura, a synthetic blend or leather. All these materials will do a good job of deflecting wind, but leather doesn't protect as well against rain. No matter which you choose, make sure you look for something that has elastic cuffs along the wrists, waist (for both jacket and pants) and ankles. These cuffs will make sure that you don't get any errant wind slipping through your clothes and making you cold.
Finally, the shell set should allow freedom of movement. This bit of extra room works on two levels. First, you're able to move freely while on and off the bike. Second, more room means you can add more layers underneath. And remember, more layers typically mean more warmth.
Add a Jacket and Pant Liner
Sitting right underneath your jacket and pant shell should be a solid liner that will keep you on the road longer. This liner is going to be key in keeping the wind off your body and also trapping any heat from your body.
Look for liners that are made from fleece or some other thermal material. For your upper body, a nice fleece vest is a great choice. The more layers you have on your torso, the better. When it comes to pants, you have a lot of options, which include trousers that have a fleece or flannel lining. That fleece or flannel lining will mean that as little wind as possible is making its way into your clothes and ruining your ride.
If you find yourself on the road and are still getting a bit of wind on your chest, you can try an old secret that has been around for many years in both the motorcycling and bicycling worlds: newspaper. Stuffing a bit of newspaper in your shirt is a great, cheap and easy fix to too much wind as you ride. It's hardly a long-term solution, but it will work in a pinch if you're cold [sources: Motorcycle Cruiser, Sound Rider].
When thinking about items that will keep you warm on your ride, you probably nailed the need for warm clothes, gloves and a nice snug helmet. But you might have missed the best source of heat out there: your own body. Your body produces a great amount of heat, and while it's important to have the right clothes to trap that heat, you also need to make sure you're fueling that heat source with food. As important as gas stops are for your bike, so are food breaks for your body. When you're riding, make sure to eat a great breakfast, a hearty lunch and plenty of snacks along the way.
When you eat, your body has to process all that food. As it does so, your body will produce more heat than if you're riding on an empty stomach. In the battle to stay warm, you'll need to use all the energy you can muster to stay warm, and food is a great way to keep that heat burning.
Make sure to eat hearty, but healthy, by getting a good dose of protein and some carbs that will ensure not only that your body works hard to process your meals, but also that the food is doing your body some good in the long run. So stay away from the sweets and fuel up to ride long and warm throughout the day.
What motorcycle accessories will help me stay cool? Read about motorcycle accessories for hot weather at HowStuffWorks.
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- Motorcycle Cruiser. "Riding a Motorcycle in Cold and Snow." February 2009. (May 20, 2011) http://www.motorcyclecruiser.com/streetsurvival/riding_in_cold_and_snow/index.html
- Open Road Journey. "Cold Weather Motorcycle Riding: Wind is Your Enemy." 2011. (May 20, 2011) http://www.openroadjourney.com/articles/103.asp
- Palladino, Jerry. Ride My Own.
- Sound Rider. "Cold Weather Riding Gear." 2011. (May 20, 2011) http://www.soundrider.com/archive/products/cold_weather_gear.htm