Motorcycle Riding in Winter: What You Need to Know

When the cold weather blows in, many motorcycle enthusiasts figure it’s time to store their bikes for the winter. And it certainly is easier to ride when the weather is nicer and the temperature warmer. But winter riding is possible if you take a few precautions. If you hate the idea of waiting months before you can ride again, read on. Our guide to motorcycle riding in winter will help you get prepared.

Layering for Warmth

If you’re going to brave the open road in colder temperatures, just throwing on a jacket won’t do. You’ll need proper cold weather gear, starting from your base layer. Choose moisture wicking items with full sleeves and full-length pants. Under Armour is a popular brand, but you can also find similar items for much cheaper if budget is a concern.

Choose middle layers made of wool, fleece, or other warm materials. The number of layers you wear depends on your preference and just how cold it’s going to be. There are items made specifically for riding, but you may also find that winter camping and hiking gear would be a good fit.

For your outerwear, the most important quality is waterproofing. When riding in subfreezing temperatures, getting wet isn’t just annoying, it could be life threatening. This is one area where going cheap is probably a bad idea. Be ready to spend a little extra to ensure your comfort and safety. You can choose a one-piece suit or jacket and pants. Just make sure they’re waterproof.

For your other items, including gloves, socks, boots, headgear, and scarves or neck warmers, follow the same basic advice. Inner layers should be thermal and moisture wicking. Outer layers should be waterproof.

You can also choose battery-operated heated gear, such as the jacket inserts and gloves made by Harley-Davidson. Opinions vary on this, and you can probably get by without it as long as you layer properly. But if you find it comfortable, this may be a good option for more extreme temperatures.

So to recap, your essential winter gear includes:

  • Moisture wicking base layers
  • Fleece or wool middle layers
  • Waterproof outerwear
  • Gloves, socks, hats, scarves, and boots that meet the same standards
  • Optional heated gear for extra comfort

Don’t Forget the Helmet

Keeping your face and head warm is essential for winter riding. So is making sure your face shield doesn’t fog up. Simply put, a full coverage helmet is the only smart choice for winter riding. Not only are you protected from injuries, you also keep your head warm with very little fuss. Make sure to choose a helmet with an anti-fog face shield and you’re good to go.

Prepare Your Motorcycle

Now that you’re dressed and ready to go, you need to make sure your bike is too. Regular maintenance is your first step. Change your oil and filter and make any other adjustments that are needed. If your bike is water cooled, check your antifreeze. Check over everything and fix or replace anything that could put you out of commission. Don’t forget:

  • Brakes – front and back
  • Battery
  • Electrics
  • Clutch
  • Tires and tire pressure

You know your bike best. Make sure everything is ship shape and ready to go.

You may also want to invest in accessories to protect you from the elements, like a larger windshield and hand guards.

Slow Down and Increase Following Distance

Winter riding is riskier than warm weather riding, and you never know what the road may bring. Be cautious and drive a little slower than you normally would. This will increase the time you have to react if something happens and allow you to navigate tricky road conditions better. You should also increase your following distance. Especially if conditions are icy, you want plenty of time to react to unexpected situations.

Reduced Friction on Cold Tires

Cold tires will have less grip on the road. While tires to heat up once you get going, even a brief pause can cool them down quickly. Always be aware that traction may be reduced and ride accordingly.

Stay Warm and Hydrated

Even with the best gear, you will still lose body heat riding in very cold temperatures. Make sure you stop frequently to warm up. And while you’re there, drink plenty of water. You may not feel thirsty when it’s cold, but your body still needs to be hydrated.

Get Out of the Snow

While an experienced rider can navigate ice, salt, and other winter road conditions, if it starts actively snowing, it’s time to pack it in. Snow creates treacherous and slippery roads, but, more importantly, it significantly reduces visibility. This means you can’t see what’s happening in front of you, and other drivers may not be able to see you. Other drivers often have trouble spotting motorcycles even in good conditions. During a snowstorm, visibility will be much worse.

If you’re too far from home when it starts snowing, stop somewhere until conditions improve. It’s better to wait it out than to have an accident trying to drive through a snowstorm.

Have a Towing Service

If you don’t already have a relationship with a motorcycle-specific towing service, now is the time to make some connections. You don’t want your first call to a shop to be when you’re stranded on the side of the road in subfreezing temperatures. Call local businesses to find out their policies and introduce yourself. This way you won’t be surprised by complications in the worst possible moment.

Check Your Insurance

Before you head out on the frozen open roads, make sure your insurance policy covers winter riding. There are many different types of policies, and some include stipulations as to which months of the year you are covered to ride. If you weren’t planning on winter riding when you bought the policy, you may not be covered. Check your policy and speak to your agent if you’re not sure about your coverage.