Winter is the time of the year when many riders go into hibernation. Motorbikes get locked in garages and riding gear gets stored in closets, for at least a few months.
Sunlight is gone by 5 p.m. Fog, ice, and cold rainstorms are common adversities. Riding in winter is something that not many people are willing to do. It’s uncomfortable and worse, dangerous. Motorcycling is, for most of us, a pleasant activity to do in our spare time. A lot of us see no point in suffering hypothermia in order to keep two wheels spinning.
There are, however, a few brave men and women who will dare the hostile climatic conditions and keep riding through the toughest season of the year.
There have been several inventions to help them do this without falling victim to hypothermia.
Hands may be affected most when riding in by cold climates. Ordinary gloves are clearly not sufficient to keep your fingers warm for a long period of time in cold air. The first and most efficient way to prevent cold hands is heated grips, a marvel of technology that can keep hands from freezing in frigid conditions in winter and throughout the year.
This system could be bought and fitted on pretty much any motorcycle, with a relatively small investment, and almost no modification to your bike structure.
When heated grips are not enough, I definitely recommend hand covers; they don’t look so cool at first sight, but once you try them you won’t want to ride without them.
Hand covers (almost) completely eliminate the windchill factor, which is the main cause of hypothermia while riding.
If heated grips and covers are not enough for you, I highly recommend heated gloves; these are of great support for people that already suffer from cold hands or have poor blood circulation in their hands particularly. Heated gloves are usually quite affordable and can be easily found in any auto-moto shop or online. The most modern ones work with batteries and have LEDs that indicate charging status and heat strength.
Feet are another big victim of winter rides.
Since your legs are usually even less mobile than your hands, feet get pretty cold pretty quickly. Feet have only boots to protect them from wind, cold, and rain, so they take the prize for most exposed part of your body while riding. Although layering seems like a good idea, I felt that it never really helped me resolve the issue of cold feet. Wearing 2 or 3 pairs of socks may actually restrict blood flow and make keeping your feet warm even more difficult. The way to go seems to be instead heated soles, electrically heated (like gloves) to provide your feet with some warmth while riding.
This system doesn’t work against windchill, which will hit your boot constantly while you’re moving no matter what, but they will provide a source of heat at the base, similar to the way heated grips do with your hands.
Your head is another big one of course. Body heat dissipates from the head, so keeping your skull warm is a key factor while riding.
If you don’t have a windshield fitted on your motorcycle, you are going to deal with some serious wind and, in this sense, you’ll need to equip your neck and head with some protective layers.
Balaclavas are the most common solution for this kind of issue, but in my opinion they are not very efficient at keeping your head warm (unless electronically heated).
One little cheap trick that I use quite frequently during very cold days is to wear my hoodie on my head even with my helmet on. Also wearing a very thin beanie seems to work quite well in this sense. Beanies tend to move quite a lot though.
Since fogging (caused by warm breath) and ventilation are a problem in winter, I recommend keeping the chin vent open and just wear a thick neck warmer. A scarf or a windproof neoprene thing will work. Here, layering is the way to go. Also fitting an anti-fog visor is a good idea.
Legs are the underdogs of this freezing competition, since we do not really care much about them usually, compared to other parts.
The quadriceps, the biggest muscles in our body, provide enough blood flow to leave our legs, most of the time, in decent condition, even under long cold rides. Also, the angle in which those muscles hit cold air, and the presence of motorcycle fairings, help these to stay a bit warmer, compared to other body parts.
Some motorcycles also tend to heat up right on the legs because of mufflers or engine position, which helps a little bit in winter, but obviously is not so great in summer.
Knees, contrarily, get frozen and stiff pretty easily, since they get exposed to windchill constantly and directly, like our feet. Good practice (for safety reasons, too) is to wear hard and thick knee pads under or over your riding pants; these prevent cold air from hitting our joints and leave us with a pleasant sensation of mobility afterwards. Even if you ride with jeans on, your knees will be able to sustain a lot more cold air with knee pads on, compared to riding without.
If you don’t feel like having knee pads on top of your jeans, some ski/snowboard pants would do the job. Alternatively, the good old thermal leggings, underneath your jeans, are a good solution, together with your rain gear on top, to break that cold wind coming through.
This part is usually the most crucial, but may be less likely to get cold, somehow, for all the layering. Vital organs are concentrated here so usually just a good riding jacket will do the job for most of us.
If you feel that your jacket is not preventing cold air from coming through, I highly recommend to wear your rain jacket on top, to block that cold wind.
Another great solution is to wear a heated jacket or vest, underneath your gear. The cheap way to go is instead to use heated pads (unfortunately single-use).
There is another fancy optional, which you can equip your bike with: a heated seat.
Not a very common feature to add to your bike, but certainly a plus to have if one parks his/her motorcycle outside, for long periods of time. Old school guys are probably twisting their noses, thinking about heating their seat electronically, when they know that can have a nice sheep skin to sit on.
Aside from all the props and layering it is usually common practice to ride sensibly slower in winter, unless you have winter tyres.
The slower you go, the less wind will hit your body and consequently, you’ll stay warmer longer.