Bikers love to ride, plain and simple. Regardless of the weather or time of year, it’s hard to not want to jump on your motorcycle and take a road trip. Riding a motorcycle in winter is a very different experience than riding in any other season. Weather conditions can be hazardous, and the cold wind in your face is brutal.
If you’re still willing to tough it out and hit the road, let’s look at a few tips you’ll need to know to make your winter ride as safe and fun as possible.
How to Safely Ride Your Motorcycle in Winter
1. Make Sure You Have Winter Tires
If you’ve ever spent any time riding in the cold, you know that cold tires result in limited traction. Having the right tires can make the difference between an enjoyable ride or total disaster. So make sure you have motorcycle snow tires that are designed to handle cold weather conditions.
If you don’t have the money for an extra set of tires, at least make sure that your tires have adequate tread that can handle cold surfaces. It’s also important to increase the heat in your tires. The simplest and safest way to do this is to accelerate and decelerate quickly for a few minutes at the start of the ride each day.
2. Wear the Proper Gear and Layer
Wearing the right gear is everything when it comes to the cold. And this means from the inside-out. Start with underwear. Visit your local bike shop and check out their wide range of thermal underwear. Keep in mind that a layer of high-quality thermal undies can help limit the bulky clothes you have to wear to keep warm. Modern riding gear is made with materials that keep you warm yet reduce bulk in order to increase your range of motion.
Remember that you get what you pay for. Invest in quality textile gear. After all, a nice leather jacket might look cool and help cut the wind, but it also gets cold and stiff. The next factor to be aware of is your neck and ankles. You’ll want gear that closes off these areas to keep the cold out and the warmth in. This means having good thermal socks, boots, and winter riding pants. And invest in a good neck warmer or scarf to keep the chilly breeze from sneaking down the back of your neck.
3. Prep Your Bike for the Season
Getting your bike ready to ride in the winter is mostly about protecting your body from the frigid elements. Riding in the cold is a million times more pleasant when you outfit your bike with handguards, a windscreen, and wind guards to shield your legs from the wind.
We recommend investing in heated grips. This might seem like an extra expense, but it makes riding in the chill a pure delight, and installation is…well…a breeze.
Another thing to consider is your motor. If your motorcycle is water-cooled, make sure the antifreeze is fresh and properly mixed. Check the condition of all the hoses and plugs, and go ahead and change the motor oil.
4. Make Plenty of Stops
When conditions are cold, a smart rider knows to stop often and stretch your legs. This is key to keeping your blood circulating properly. Long rides in near-freezing temperatures will make your fingers and toes numb. That’s dangerous not only for you but for anyone else on the road.
Whenever possible, pull over and warm up with a hot drink. Give your extremities time to thaw. Use public restrooms to get out of the wind and warm your hands at the hand dryers mounted on the wall; nothing makes a ride less comfortable than stiff, frozen fingers.
And if you find yourself constantly shivering while riding, pull to the side of the road and walk around for a few minutes until your blood starts pumping again. This not only helps keep you comfortable, but it’s also healthier for your extremities.
5. Eat Well and Stay Hydrated
Believe it or not, your metabolism is an important factor in your ability to stay warm. The higher your metabolism is running, the warmer your body will be. Thus, when you get hungry and your metabolism slows, you’ll start to shiver in an effort to generate heat. One of the keys to staying toasty is to load up on foods packed with nutrients, antioxidants, and carbs. Soup, fruits, and spicy foods are awesome for this. Hot foods instantly warm you from the inside-out, and fruit is surprisingly every bit as effective.
Another thing to not overlook is the importance of staying hydrated. The wind in your face can be incredibly dehydrating, which can result in fatigue. So always keep plenty of water within reach while on the road. Keep in mind that coffee and alcohol might go down nice and warm, yet they can actually be a danger in the cold. Coffee increases blood flow to the skin but causes you to lose valuable body heat, and alcohol impairs judgment.
6. Slow Down
When it comes to enjoying the safest possible ride during cold weather, one of the simplest tips is to slow down. This might sound a bit obvious, but many riders are in such a hurry to move on down the road that they often sacrifice safety for speed. It’s vital to remember that during cold weather, everything is different. This includes the way your motorcycle moves and reacts. It won’t brake as smoothly or quickly; it will also corner, swerve, and accelerate differently. Our advice is to slow down and take it easy so that you can live to ride another day.
7. Make Sure You Have a Good Towing Service
Accidents are called accidents for a reason; they always happen when least expect it. And that’s when you are going to need a tow service to come to the rescue. A smart motorcycle rider will research reliable towing services in the area who can get to them in a hurry. We recommend becoming a member of the American Motorcycle Association and taking advantage of the organization’s Roadside Assistance.
Whatever service you decide to use, make sure they’re outfitted to properly transport your bike; otherwise, it might up on its side in the back of a flatbed.
8. Be Prepared for Limited Visibility
One of the primary hazards of riding during the winter is decreased visibility. Whether it’s fog, wind, rain or snow, a lack of visibility is a significant danger to anyone navigating the road on a motorcycle.
Proper visibility allows you to see a potential threat well in advance so that you have time to react. A potential threat could be anything from on-coming traffic and ice to standing water or any other obstacle lurking in the road. Ideally, you need to be able to see at least 15 seconds ahead. Thus, when visibility is low, you’ll have time to reduce the speed.
And when it comes to following the traffic, it’s a good idea to maintain a few car lengths between you and the driver ahead of you. After all, things can happen in a flash, and you need to be able to react. Follow too closely, and you could end up eating someone’s bumper.
9. Watch for Road Salt and Black Ice
When road conditions are poor, you’ll be forced to deal with any number of variables. This includes road salt and black ice. It doesn’t matter if it’s man-made or produced by Mother Nature, anything in the road is a serious hazard. Road salt is every bit as dangerous to ride on as ice because it will impair your ability to properly brake, swerve, turn or accelerate.
When you notice something in the road, the first thing you’ll want to do is slow down. Then try to find a safe way around the hazard. Resist the urge to let your ego get the best of you and drive through it; otherwise, you just might end up in the back of that flatbed next to your motorcycle.
10. Be Smart and Go Home If the Weather Turns Bad
The most important advice we can offer for riding in winter weather is this: don’t be an idiot. If it starts to snow, go home. Road conditions can turn bad in the blink of an eye, and you definitely don’t want to get stuck out in that mess. Keep an eye on the forecast. If there’s a chance of snow, think twice about leaving the house. Better safe than sorry.
Being Prepared for the Cold
Taking out your motorcycle in winter can be a lot of fun. It’s a matter of being prepared and taking certain safety precautions. Winter motorcycle rides are often the most scenic and beautiful of any time of year, so don’t let the cold stop you. Prepare your bike, get yourself outfitted in warm gear, and head out on an adventure!
Have you ever taken an epic winter road trip? Tell us about it in the comments!