Staying warm on a motorcycle can be a bit of a challenge. There’s nothing surrounding you that protects you from the wind, rain, snow, and other elements that can make the riding experience a bit chilly.
I’ve lived in some extremely cold climates and had to figure out how to ride comfortably during the harsh winters. Staying warm on a motorcycle is important for your safety and should be highly considered when going for a ride in such conditions. Here is a list of helpful tips and tricks that can turn a cold ride into an experience that’s much more enjoyable.
Wearing The Right Material
One of the basic components of staying warm on a motorcycle boils down to wearing the right material as well as wearing the right amount. It’s a given you’ll need to wear a coat when it’s cold outside and you’re planning on going for a ride.
Let’s first discuss covering your body’s core such as your back, shoulders, and torso. A winter coat will cover these body parts just fine, but wearing one in the winter and wearing one in the winter on a motorcycle are two completely different things.
While riding a motorcycle, you’re adding an extra element to the equation: high wind speeds. That can make the temperature seem much colder than the actual temperature outside. That’s why wearing several layers of clothing is important. Having too many layers is much better than not having enough when it comes to riding in the cold; all you need to do to adjust is simply take off a layer.
The different layers you wear, especially the layer you’re wearing directly against your skin, should be fitted to your body but not so extremely tight that it cuts off circulation when you’re sitting in your riding position for a few hours.
The first layer you should wear is thermal underwear, long underwear, or “long johns” as some other people call them. These should be made out of a polypropylene material and not out of cotton. Cotton will absorb any sweat you may emit and can in turn make the draft much cooler to your liking.
Over the long underwear, you’ll wear your regular clothes. Again, avoid using anything that’s made out of cotton so you don’t have to worry about your clothes absorbing water. Try to wear synthetic material clothing. Synthetic material has very small inter-molecular gaps which makes it difficult for water to pass through.
Wool is a good substitute if synthetic sweaters aren’t available. The outer layer of wool is also water repellent (which makes sense because it protects the sheep they get it from). Wool also fluctuates according to your body temperature. This means wool will keep you warm when you’re cold and will keep you cool when you’re warm.
The third layer you wear should be water and wind resistant. This layer should be a little bit more loose so it gives you room to move around and also place additional layers underneath if you find you need more than just the three layers to keep you warm during your ride.
Also make sure any zippers involved are insulated and have a cover. Water and wind can easily find their way through a zipper. Also make sure that any openings of the third layer (such as around the wrists, waist, and neck) have some sort of band that can be tightened so there’s no chance for wind to get in there.
Keeping Your Face Warm
A lot of motorcycle riders tend to focus on covering every other part of their body before a cold ride that they often forget about their face. And by the time they realize they forget their face, it’s too late.
Take care of your face and head if you plan on riding your motorcycle in the cold. A cold face and head often leads to pounding headaches and numbness that can make the ride extremely uncomfortable.
First and foremost, always ride with a full face helmet if you’re going to ride in the cold. This will repel a lot of that cold wind and freezing water that may be splashed up on you. It’ll also protect your ears which are especially susceptible to frostbite because of how thin they are.
Wearing a turtleneck sweater or scarf also helps to not only keep your neck warm, but to also prevent any of that cold air from climbing up inside your helmet. Thin, headband earmuffs are an additional ways to ensure your ears stay warm.
Using a balaclava (no, not the dessert from the middle east) is another excellent option to keep your head warm during a motorcycle ride. Like these ones found on Motosport.com, it’s a fitted covering that goes over your head and only exposes your eyes. The ventilation is great which makes breathing much easier than it looks and they work excellently under a helmet.
Keeping Hands Warm
Keeping your core warm is the most important part of your body to pay attention to since that is where some of the most vital organs are. But appendages are often the parts of the body that lose body heat the quickest since it’s the body’s defense mechanism to ensure your core is warm.
Your hands will be the first part of your body that will become cold if you don’t take the right measures to keep them warm during a ride. They’re the ones sticking out the furthest and are at the front of the motorcycle where the worst of the wind will be. And cold hands mean stiff hands which is extremely dangerous if you need to pull on the brakes quickly.
Again, make sure you wear some waterproof and windproof gloves. But just wearing gloves sometimes isn’t enough. You can try adding some hand warmers inside your gloves such as the ones you have to shake to activate.
You may also want to try some heated gloves. Any of these heated gloves found on Motosport.com are excellent choices to keep your hands warm during a cold motorcycle ride. They’re either battery powered or rechargeable and water proof. They’re also easy to use and don’t restrain your hands while trying to control your motorcycle.
Handle shields are also another excellent option. Handle shields are contraptions you can attach to the front of the handles of your motorcycle. They block a lot of water and wind that would be hitting your hand otherwise.
Keeping Legs Warm
Legs are another part of the body that are often forgotten or neglected in preparation for a winter ride. But cold legs mean numb and stiff legs which is extremely dangerous; you don’t want any delay when you need to put your leg out to balance yourself.
If you heed to the long underwear advice given earlier in this article, you’ll already have the first layer of clothing covered when it comes to keeping your legs warm on a motorcycle ride. Legs will require the same three layers previously discussed.
Again, avoid anything made out of cotton; if there’s going to be any water involved, your legs and feet will get the brunt of it. You want to wear anything that is waterproof including synthetic materials or wool within your three layers.
A nifty little trick I’ve learned that have kept my calves warm is using a heated calf wrap like this one found on Amazon.com. These aren’t electrically powered, but if you put them in the microwave for a few minutes right before your ride, your legs will be set nicely for the next hour or two. These are pretty thin, but you’ll still need to make sure your pants are loose enough to fit them underneath your third layer.
Make sure the bottom of your pants have some sort of band that can snugly wrap around your ankles so wind or moisture doesn’t find it’s way in and up your legs. See my other article here to learn more about how to keep your legs warm on a motorcycle.
Keeping Feet Warm
Feet are another appendage that is susceptible to frostbite if it gets cold enough. And since your feet are the closest to the road, they’re more likely to get any water on them if it’s raining or snowing.
You don’t need to do several layers to keep your feet warm, but the layers you do have need to be the right kind. I have found that wearing wool socks are the best way to keep my feet nice and toasty inside my boots when I’m out for a motorcycle ride in the cold.
You’ll also need to make sure your boots cover your ankles and are waterproof. Keeping water out is essential when it comes to keeping your feet warm on a motorcycle, so don’t go cheap on the boots. If you decide to wear more than one pair of socks, make sure you aren’t wearing so many that it makes everything tight for your feet. Your feet still need circulation to keep them warm.
A lot of people will recommend putting plastic over your feet to keep the water out. This practice seems unsafe because it’ll make your feet slippery on the clutch pedal and foot pegs and the plastic can easily get stuck on something and prevent you from being able to balance yourself.
5 Bonus Tips
As promised, here are some additional tips that’ll not only help you stay warm on a motorcycle, but also help you stay a little safer while riding in these conditions.
I had mentioned before that wearing a full face helmet will give your head the best chance at keeping warm (and staying safe in the case of an accident!). But breathing inside a helmet in cold weather can sometimes create some condensation. This can ultimately obstruct your view of the road and make a very dangerous situation for you.
To counteract any condensation buildup inside your helmet, apply some defogging solution on the inside of the visor. This solution will stop any fog or moisture from building up in the first place which leaves you a clear view of the road no matter how cold it is.
Cold weather often means there’s some sort of water involved weather that be coming from the sky or from splashes from other cars. It’s so annoying having to constantly wipe away water that gets in the view of your helmet visor.
Putting Rain-X on the outside of your visor will do an excellent job at repelling water. Water will still splash on it, but it will quickly deflect off when this solution is applied. That means you can safely use both your hands on the handles of your motorcycle and not have to worry about wiping anything off your helmet.
Though it’s completely doable to ride your motorcycle in the cold, there is a point where it may be too cold for you to be riding. Anything below 32°F or 0°C poses a lot more dangers for motorcyclists since this is the point when roads start to freeze. Consider rescheduling your trip if you know that any time during your ride you’ll be riding below freezing temperatures. See my other article here to learn more about knowing when it’s too cold to ride.
Starting a motorcycle in the cold can be challenging. Like us humans, machines tend to act a little sluggish when put out in the cold for too long. If you are out for a ride on a motorcycle in the cold and have to stop and park your motorcycle for a little while, try to park it in a way that is least impacted by the cold.
This could mean parking it directly in the sun if it’s out, under some sort of covering, or placing a motorcycle cover over it while you’re gone. This will give you a better chance at starting your bike up when you come back.
There’s a lot of power in having a warm drink while you’re outside in the cold. If possible, pack a leak-proof thermos with a hot liquid inside that you can drink later while out for a motorcycle ride in the cold. This will help keep your insides warm.
Before Your Ride
When thinking about going for a ride on your motorcycle in the cold weather, there are a few things you should consider. Preparation for a cold ride is more than just wearing the right gear to ensure your warmth.
Riding in the cold can often mean numbness and stiffness. Our body muscles tend to tense up as a way to engage the muscles and promote circulation that helps us keep warm. Doing that for long periods of time can be very uncomfortable.
Do some light and basic exercises before going out for a ride in the cold weather. Such exercises should include a few jumping jacks and stretches. This will help improve circulation throughout your motorcycle ride and help defend yourself against sore and tense muscles at the end of your trip.
Eat a good, hearty meal before going out in the cold. The body defends itself from the cold by burning calories and fat. This can ultimately cause you to become hungry faster and make you tired. Eating foods that are rich in protein and carbohydrates can immensely help with this.
And as always, look at the weather before going out for any motorcycle ride. Even if it’s sunny outside, the temperatures can still be below freezing. And snow and rain storms can easily sneak their way in without much of a notice. You don’t want to be unprepared in these conditions.
When You Get Too Cold
If you ever plan to ride your motorcycle in the cold, you should be aware of some dangerous signs your body may be trying to tell you when it has reached it’s limits. Hypothermia is going to be your first worry and should be avoided at all costs.
Hypothermia happens when your core body temperature becomes too low and your body is losing more heat than it can generate. A normal body temperature is around 98° F. Hypothermia begins to set in when your core body temperature gets below 95° F. That’s only a 3° F difference.
Wind is one of the three major ways hypothermia happens in the first place since it is constantly blowing heat away from your body. And that’s exactly what’s happening on a motorcycle.
As a defense mechanism, your body will cease blood circulation to the “less important” parts of your body and focus on the vital organs such as your heart, lungs, and brain. As a result, your limbs are left behind with much less circulation which increases the risk of frostbite.
If you start experience a slurred speech, shallow breathing, confusion, or extreme fatigue while riding your motorcycle in the cold, you need to immediately stop and find a place to warm up. The consequences of suffering hypothermia on a motorcycle are much more dangerous as it increases your risk of getting in an accident resulting in injuries.
Can you put snow chains on a motorcycle? It is possible to put snow chains on a motorcycle in the case of an emergency. However, it is highly recommended that motorcycles stay off the road in winter conditions unless it is absolutely necessary. Motorcycle snow chains should be used as a last resort. See my other article here for more information.