Why do countries have laws about this anyway?
Did you know that there are places in the world with laws that keep motorcycles off the roads in the winter? One we’ve covered in the past (and that you’ve likely heard of) is the Canadian province of Quebec. The law isn’t specific to motorcycles but states that all road vehicles must be fitted with proper, homologated, winter-rated tires between December 1 and March 15.
This isn't exactly forbidding motorcyclists from taking their bikes out, of course. The most devoted riders out there who don’t mind pocketing the additional expense are allowed to ride in the winter months should their bike wear proper rubbers. That could be about to change, however, as the province has apparently been considering making the use of a motorcycle altogether illegal during winter.
Similarly, in Italy, the law states that vehicles must have proper winter tires or carry snow chains between November 15 and April 15, according to Motociclismo. The good news is that there is such a thing as snow chains for motorcycles, you just have to be ready to carry the extra weight. Where things get a little icy, however, is when the roads are covered with snow and/or ice, in which case motorcycles and scooters are forbidden to circulate.
Of course, these decisions are made locally in the name of safety and there's nothing wrong with making sure people have the right tools to face the winter season but why do car rules apply to motorcycles? I can’t help and wonder: should we be riding in the winter (where allowed) at all.
Before anyone gets offended and takes out their freedom flag, the simple answer to that question in my opinion is yes. If only because most of us pay for insurance and licensing year-round, I don’t think the way we use our motorcycles should be limited by the season, or else the DMV and insurance companies should get with the program and quote accordingly.
My title sounds a little inflammatory, but that seems to be the road some governing bodies are taking and we should prove them wrong. I've never tried winter riding—yet—but it's something I'll eventually check off my to-do list and I'm curious to read what you guys have to say about all of this.
So, no, I don't think winter riding should be illegal in the winter, but, I also think we could be better prepared for it. Some of you will likely still disagree with me but hear me out. You know how you can find courses to perfect your winter driving abilities, learn to control skids, and safely avoid obstacles in the snow? I think there should be the same for motorcycles.
Most winter-riding tips you’ll find out there recommend that you avoid heading out when there’s snow. The challenge with that is that there’s always going to be a risk that, even if the roads are clear in your area, they won’t be elsewhere so, really, we should be ready for that rather than try to avoid it. The same goes with the “don’t go riding if it’s snowing” rule—it might not be snowing where you are but it might be where you’re heading.
When I say winter riding, I’m not saying “head out in a blizzard and go do skids”—I mean, you can if you want, but it’s not something I recommend—but in winter, road conditions can be tricky to gauge. I’d rather be ready for the worst-case scenario. Plus, I’m always going to perceive honing my skills on more challenging surfaces and terrains as a bonus, whether it’s in a car or on a bike. Moreso on a motorcycle considering the risky and vulnerable nature of the beast.
The only problem is that, as far as I can tell, based on my research, there doesn't seem to be any riding schools that offer a winter or snow program. Some racing schools might have ice-specific programs which is a potential option to consider. Feel free to share if you know of any.
I also get the feeling that motorcycle snow tires are a bit of a gimmick rather than actually useful. Don't get me wrong, I'm a strong believer in winter tires when it comes to cars but I fail to see their motorcycle counterpart offering as many advantages.
Sure, they have tread patterns and compounds that are better suited for winter. However, I'm not convinced that they make as big a difference as governments expect because of the physics of riding. If they were so relevant, wouldn't more companies make them?
To be fair, I've never tried a motorcycle snow tire myself and wasn't able to find any comparative information from someone who has. If you tried them, do feel free to share your experience with me and tell me that I'm wrong (or not) about this. In the meantime, I remain convinced that learning to handle a bike in bad conditions is a better time and money investment—one that can be useful even when the snow melts away.
I even see an advantage in winter riding. Think about this: if more bikes are on the roads year-round, we could expect drivers to become more accustomed to their presence, which could hopefully result in safer roads. That’s probably a little oversimplified and I have no scientific proof of this. However, considering car drivers consistently "forget" how to adapt their driving to snowy conditions every year, it's not hard to imagine that they also lose the habit of watching for motorcycles when they're off the road six months out of twelve.
Should winter riding courses be made mandatory were they to become a thing? That’s another yes on my part, at least in any areas dealing with snowy winters. However, considering riding courses, in general, aren’t a prerequisite to getting your motorcycle license, I don’t foresee that becoming a thing either.
Ultimately, the way I see it, bikes shouldn’t become illegal in the winter. Governments like Quebec considering crossing the line toward illegality is overkill and unnecessary. Especially when you ask people for a lot of money to license their bikes for only eight months. We, as riders, just need to be smart about it, be prepared for it, and if possible, have access to better tools to achieve that. Encourage training rather than discourage use, no? I could see some of those ice racers find new vocations in dealing with us non initiated.