There’s cold and then there’s that bitter cold-to-the-bone chill which sets in after few hours of riding, or for some, even after a few minutes. Every motorcyclist knows, this is a battle we fight when riding in cold weather the war of – how to keep warm.
A bit of chilliness can be invigorating, but prolonged cold is dangerous for any rider and may even lead up to frostbite. And, staying warm while riding is more important than you might imagine. Our metabolism slows when we’re cold so we start to shiver to create internal heat. This is good. However, for a motorcycle rider, this can be fatiguing as well as affect our rider concentration. The shivering further creates tension; our bodies stiffen which means, your riding mobility becomes inhibited.
Three Basic Goals to Keeping Warm When Riding
It’s not just about riding during the off-season, but along any ride temperature can take on extreme fluctuations from the time you left in the morning to the time you stop for the day. We need to be savvy and prepared to keep the cold out, and this can be simplified to these three goals:
✔ Get Insulated.
✔ Get Wind-Proofed
✔ Stay Dry
This of course comes in the form of layers, starting with your undergarments. But insulation is about keeping your body temps in while protecting against the outside elements. Here too is where quality is important regarding the fabrics you choose. Cotton, for example, will not wick away moisture. Bamboo though, certainly will.
You’ll reap huge benefits to wind proofing yourself on any ride by buying made for motorcycling gear. These garments are designed to keep air and windy droughts out. Textile materials with the added value of Gore-Tex really do the trick nicely.
To figure out wind chill requires a bit of a calculation involving the ambient temperature around you and your wind speed. As an example, at zero degrees ambient temperature, while travelling at 100km/h, say on the expressway; means you’ll be riding in minus -17.4 degrees centigrade. Do your best to keep yourself sheltered from the wind which of course is a challenge on a motorcycle. However, if can tuck your body low to the tank by leaning forward; keep your legs tucked closely along your bike. Making modifications to your motorcycle, say adding a detachable windscreen (see tips below) etc. really help.
Keeping moisture out, will keep the chill out too. Investing in a moisture wicking undergarments, shirts, leggings, socks etc. will ensure added warmth – layer through layer. But of course ensure your gear is water proof also will keep you dry and warm.
Even fine mist can soak your clothing and amplify the effects of wind chill, so consider wearing a waterproof layer or waterproofing your gear with water repellents (easily found at an outdoor or camping store).
Do Your Homework Before You Buy
Apart from motorcycle retailers, there are many other places to find gear that’ll keep you warm and might be easier on your budget. For example a construction or builder’s safety clothing outlet have a lot of great gear as well as the outdoor camping shops. Also military supply shops have a wide choice of outdoor “survival” clothing which can often be good methods for motorcyclists.
Four Key Tips
(1). Hands And Feet.
It’s your extremities that’ll feel the cold first. Hands that are cold may not respond to important changing road conditions that need quick steering control.
- Cold Season Motorcycle Gloves.There are many to choose from for cold weather riding. These tend to be thicker and as best as manufacturers try, it doesn’t mean they’re warmer. Usually the price you pay relates more to effectiveness than thickness. You’ll need a few more of the below listed items to ensure warmth.
- Heated Hand Grips. These can be purchased generally for any make or model of motorcycle. Can be easy to install yourself too.
- Bar Muffs. These are fantastic. There are many brands to choose. They will keep your hands cosy but of course need to be attached.
- Hand Guards: These are used mostly for off-road riding to protect against branches and trees; attached around your levers (Bark Busters is a popular brand). These cut down on wind affect to your hands. http://www.barkbusters.net/
- Hot Hands Warmers. These are a great product. They come in Hot Hands, Hot Body and Hot Feet etc. Once opened they heat up for as long as ten hours. And when you’re done, toss them away. https://hothands.com/
- Silk Gloves/ Liners. In fact, even a pair of dish washing rubber gloves can be worn over your regular gloves as added protection and insulation.
- With Inbuilt Waterproofing. Likewise with feet it’s worth considering next time you buy motorcycle boots. There’s plenty of stylish stuff out there with a waterproof membrane and costs no more.
- Rain Boot Covers. These will keep your feet dry but warmer as they’ll also insulated against wind
- Gore-Tex® Boot Liners. These are pricey but we know the success of the Gore-Tex® and they’re guaranteed to keep you dry.
(2). Insulate – Wrap Up.
- Layer Up. Getting yourself insulated comes by trapping layers of air in your clothing and keeping it there; preventing air-flow. For layers of air, layering your clothing is key.
- Base Layer – Under Armour. Motorcycle and outdoor outfitter stores sell a wide range of performance under armor / underwear which is thin but effective. It will keep you warm without having to put on several layers of bulky clothing and limit your free movement. Most all gear manufacturers have a line now so there’s much to choose from – Balaclava, glove liners, knee warmers, socks and neck tubes, etc.
(3). Gear Up.
Today’s riding gear features materials that keep you warm without having to be extra bulky. You usually pay for what you get, but good quality textile gear is usually warmer than leather. A nice leather jacket may cut the wind, but the leather can get cold and stiff. Make sure the sleeve, neck and ankles can be tightly closed as the wind and cold can get in. A neck warm is a good addition to stop that sneaky breeze down your back.
- Heated Gear. Well, of course heated jackets, pants, boot liners, gloves and so forth are definitely the way to go. These days, heated gear is readily available. It is a bit of an initial investment, but these items last long if well cared for. They are easily attached to your motorcycle battery and will keep you warm for hours. There’s also heated gear powered by lithium rechargeable batteries.
- One Piece Overall. The easiest and most effective way to keep colder weather chill away is a draught-free, one-piece, lined motorcycle overall. Aerostich make a superb line to choose from. You can also shop at an outdoor shop to find one to wear over your motorcycle gear. And of course, your one piece rain suit, is another handy option.
- Balaclava. These work well even if you wear an open face helmet. With a full face, you’ll enjoy extended insulation. Balaclava’s are comfortable and prevent your face from frosting up. They can be purchased in varying materials. When choosing a balaclava make sure the one you opt for has a long neck-piece, to ensure you keep the worst of the chills away.
It’s wind-chill that makes riding a bike out of season so cold, so if you’re riding a “naked” style motorcycle, or a stripped cruiser, consider installing a windscreen. A bar-mounted screen will cost little and is fitted in minutes.
Food and Drink
Good nutrition helps keep you warm as your body heats up to burn calories. Eat food loaded with nutrients, antioxidants, and immune-boosting powers. Carbohydrates, fruit, soup, ginger and spicy foods are particularly good. Avoid alcohol, but spicy foods are good. Hot foods make you feel warmer, but a piece of fruit can be just as effective.
- Avoid Caffeine. Yes, that hot mug of coffee will actually increase the blood flow to the skin which may make you feel warmer, but is actually causing you to lose body heat.
- Hydrate. When we’re cold we don’t feel as thirsty as when we are hot, so there’s a tendency to not drink enough. That can lead to fatigue, so stay hydrated.
More Warming Tips
- Stop Often. If you’re constantly shivering, pulling over for just a couple of minutes and move around briskly to get your blood pumping. Stop often, have a warm drink and thaw out. Make use of the public washroom hand blow-dryers. These work wonders for thawing out hands, fingers and warming up your gloves!.
- Leggings for Neck Warmers. Yes, your leggings will work perfectly as a neck warmer. I’ve found this extremely handy when temps drop unexpectedly and I”e not prepared for it.
- High Vis Over Jacket. Add insulation, wind proofing and visibility for those colder, darker evenings all in one go can be achieved by buying a fluorescent over jacket from your local builders’ merchants.
- Bubble Wrap. Yes, by sticking a sheet of bubble wrap down the front of your jacket adds excellent insulation and eliminates draughts. You can also use newspaper if caught unprepared in an unexpected cold snap.
Many of us put off riding our motorcycles when the temperatures drop, but these days with the avail of motorcycle snow tires, heated gear and just all around better rider equipment, you’ll be able to keep warm and comfortable.
If you’re warm and comfy, and the road conditions are manageable, there’s really little stopping you to enjoy the ride – all year-round.