A guide on how to ride in winter
Updated: Jan 9, 2021
The first rule of biking in the winter season is: don't.
The second rule is: if you absolutely cannot avoid the journey, prepare well and have a backup plan.
Here is a short guide for those mad (or stupid) enough to venture forth on two-wheels in snow, torrential rain or sleet.... but never ice. That is truly for the foolhardy.
Bike prep - POWDER
As the IAM Advanced Riders group advise, always use this pneumonic before pootling off on your wheels:
Petrol - I always bring an extra canister with me if winter-riding as stations can unexpectedly be closed (or treacherous)
Oil - always check the level with the bike upright (duh)
Water - check you're full if you have a water-cooled engine (Saki has an air-cooled, parallel-twin, four-stroke engine)
Damage / Drive - check your whole bike for damage and add extra lube to your drive (chain) in winter conditions as the road salt and slush can wear this off
Electrics - Brake lights, tail light, headlight and indicators
Rubber - Always test your tyre pressure when they are cold (not difficult to do in December) and check your tread depth
The main question to ask yourself before embarking on a rough winter's journey:
Are you SURE there is NO other way for you to get to your destination?
If the answer is yes, then prepare yourself in layers of warmth and make sure you tell someone about your ETA.
Layer 1 - warm your insides
Have a bowl of steaming porridge - it was good enough to warm the Scots in the Highlands, therefore it's good enough for batty winter bikers.
Layer 2 - thermals
Leggings and a long-sleeved top. Tuck them in like a nerd. Don't allow the sneaky wind any way in to your skin.
Layer 3 - light layer and face mask
You want a mixture of thin and thick layers to trap any remaining warmth.
Two pairs of socks: one under your thermal leggings and one on top.
Layer 4 - heated electric jacket
Squeeze your two layers into your leather trousers and pop on your heated waistcoat (attaches to bike battery). Don't forget to take out the wire or you'll never find it again...
Layer 5 - jumpers
Here I've layered a light sweater with a thick woolly jumper. Put your waterproof boots on now as bending over with the jacket on is a near impossibility.
Layer 6 - armour
Armoured jacket with inner warm layer attached.
As you can see from this picture, it only just zips up...
Layer 7 - waterproofs
This layer is imperative even if it's not raining as it provides an excellent buffer against the bitter winds. Tuck your waterproof trousers over your jumpers and jacket to reduce the chance of water soaking up from your lap.
Layer 8 - gloves
You've got heated grips, right? Abandon all hope right now if this is a no.
I wear inner silk gloves and thick armoured winter gloves, then top with the excellent Dainese waterproofs.
Layer 9 - helmet
Invest in a pinlock for your helmet if you haven't already - this is effectively double glazing and will stop you steaming up.
In addition, Nikwax is an absolute essential to add to your visor. This spray causes the rain to ball on the screen, then you turn your head to allow the wind to blow off the water.
Note: Nikwax lasts about 40 mins in heavy rain and then you'll need to reapply. DO NOT wipe your visor with your gloves with this on or it will smear.
The picture above is deceiving - typical of the English weather, not long after I left, the snow followed:
On this recent, horrendous (legal) journey from Manchester to London (Dec 2020), my brother and I also encountered an un-gritted service station which was just shocking.
Keele services on the M6 Southbound
It took nearly 10 minutes to paddle the bike across the parking lot with poor Saki fishtailing and all the warm car drivers sitting in their vehicles judging me.
A final note, if your boots are not waterproof, you can put your feet into a thick plastic carrier bag before inserting into your footwear.
Despite all precautions, it is still common to arrive at your destination soaked and/or freezing. Take particular care of your feet and hands on arrival as you may have frostnip or chilblains.
Never ever get into a really hot shower/bath to rewarm even if you're at hideously cold temperature as the quick change in degrees can cause internal and long-term damage.
Change into dry clothes asap, wrap yourself in warm blankets and put the heating on. Hot tea/coffee/whiskey will warm you from the inside out.
When you have defrosted a bit and can feel your extremities once more, then take a cool shower and incrementally turn up the temperature. If your feet or hands 'burn' under the water, then it needs to be cooler.
Once you are fully recovered, see to your loyal bike - if possible, give her a wash to get rid of any road salt and dirt as this will corrode your pride and joy.
Good luck and may 2021 bring many happy, warm, dry days of riding!
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