I’ve been toying with the idea of keeping my bike out for the winter and giving winter riding a go. I see a lot of other riders doing it on social media and I'm tempted to try it for myself. Do you have any advice to help me get started?
Congratulations! You’re about to unlock the “Winter Riding” achievement. Cue the level up music. For some riders, there’s no such thing as a “down season”. They probably look down on those like me who whine about “having to wait for the warmer days to come back to ride again” like we’re just a bunch of big babies.
That being said, it takes a fair bit of dedication to your art to head out during Old Man Winter’s share of the year. If you think having to gear up to head out in the summer is a bit of a process, hold on to your long johns, that process is about to become a whole lot more tedious! Here are some tips to get you winter-riding-ready.
Of course, with winter also comes the cold and while your bike is technically fine to face the sweet music of winter, you won’t be. What’s the point of going for a wintery joyride if you end up suffering from hypothermia.
Adopt the onion method: dress up in layers. This is where the long johns and under layers come in handy. Literally, from head to toes, make sure you pile on thin layers of clothing and if you have them, of gear. Balance is key, so make sure you don’t turn into the Michelin Man and are unable to maneuver your bike or bend the elbow to scratch your nose.
A good piece of gear to consider is a good wind-blocking layer that keeps the air from infiltrating the layers of fabric and ultimately contribute to making your core cold a lot faster. If you get too sweaty, that’s when the layers are useful—peel off one or two to try and keep warm without turning into pulled pork by the end of your ride. Heating underlayers and gear are also a good investment if you plan on having an all-year riding season.
Technically speaking, your bike doesn’t need to be prepared for a winter ride. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few steps you can take to improve your comfort. Components as simple as handguards and a taller windscreen can make an important difference and are fairly straightforward to install.
Heated grips are also a smart addition to consider if you’re enjoying the experience and become more committed to keeping it up.
Make sure the roads and forecast are clear
Unless the whole point of taking your bike out is to whip it around and make donuts in the snow, it’s better to head out on a clear day, when the road is somewhat clean. If it just snowed 12 inches or if there are ice patches on the street, you might want to sit this one out (refer to snow donuts comment).
If you’re already out and it starts snowing, consider heading back. Even if it’s “just rain” and your gear is weatherproof, don’t stay out. In the winter, it doesn’t take much for the rain to turn into freezing rain—only a degree or two fluctuation is enough—and you do not want to be stuck on a motorcycle far away from home during an episode of freezing rain.
Adapt your technique
Unless your bike is equipped with winter tires—that does exist—dropping temperatures also mean you don’t have as much traction. Gravel, salt, snow, and even ice on the road are also hazards you don’t usually have to deal with in the summer that also contribute to a loss of traction. Keep in mind that even if the roads are clear where you start off, it doesn’t mean they are everywhere and that’s why you need to adapt.
Increase your following distance, take the turns and curves slower than you normally would (unless you’re willing to flat-track it with a foot out). Also, keep in mind that potentially slippery conditions for you are potentially slippery conditions for other road users as well. Don’t assume the car pulling up at a transversal stop will manage to stop.
Winter riding scratches your itch to go out on a ride on a sunny but cold day—it’s not your usual mid-July Sunday ride. The rule of thumb should be to ride like an elderly. Just don’t stay in the left lane.
Don’t ride at night
Yes, you should have a curfew for winter riding, for a very simple reason. While the road might be clear during the day, temperatures tend to dip when the sun goes down. Everything that’s wet can ice over and road conditions can change drastically. During the day, it’s easy(er) to spot when it does and to react accordingly.
In the dark, however, it’s an entirely different story and should that puddle freeze or the wind blow snow on the road, you have little to no chance to spot it until it hits you. Because you don’t see it coming, it’s harder to react, which increases the risks of a bad maneuver.
I’m assuming you live somewhere where winter equals a fair amount of snow. Snow and ice are usually followed by de-icing agents, such as salt. Just like a car, your bike is vulnerable to salt and calcium build up, especially if you only go out occasionally. You don’t want your baby sitting there covered in dried grime. If you have enough space in your garage, wash the bike. If not, get one of those water-free cleaning products and give your bike a good wipe down before putting it away.
We hope this helps. Enjoy discovering the joys and challenges of winter riding and above all, have fun and be safe. Don't be like this guy.