Whether you ride your motorcycle in the winter by choice or you’re stuck in a situation that calls for winter riding, it’s no secret that riding a motorcycle in the winter is a whole different ball game.
Winter riding requires a lot more preparation and caution compared to riding during warmer months. I have lived in various areas with harsh winters so I’ve been able to compile a helpful list of tips for motorcyclists that find themselves riding their motorcycle in the winter.
Mind Your Health: Wear The Right Gear
Alright, I know this suggesting to wear the right gear during winter motorcycle riding is an obvious one and you hear everyone suggest it. But hear me out.
Having the right motorcycle gear is not only essential to your safety, but also essential to your health. People think they’re a lot tougher than they actually are and assume a thin, light jacket will suffice in 30° F weather. The weather does not care how tough you are.
In case you haven’t heard about this, there’s a phenomenon that can happen to people called hypothermia. Most people assume you can only get it when you’re wet. The truth is, people who ride their motorcycles in the winter are highly susceptible to hypothermia. According to the CDC, about 1,300 deaths per year occur in the United States due to hypothermia.
The average body temperature of an adult is about 98 degrees fahrenheit. Hypothermia occurs when the core body temperatures drops below 95 degrees. That’s only three degrees lower than your core temperature so it doesn’t take a whole lot to get there.
Wear several layers underneath your coat and your jacket. Wear wind resistant pants and jacket over your normal pants and jacket. Do not skimp on wearing layers while riding in the winter.
Use Winter Tires
Every part of a motorcycle is important, but probably the most important component on a motorcycle during the winter is the tires. The tires is what gets you around and is what’s between you and the road.
Believe it or not, there’s actually a huge difference between summer tires and winter tires, even for motorcycles. This also includes the difference in the compounds between the two. Winter tires require a more rugged tread to help with traction and to combat possible snow and ice. There is such thing as motorcycle winter tires and if you’re going to ride in the winter, you need to get them.
It’s also possible to use show chains on motorcycles (ones made specifically for motorcycle tires) but they should be only used as a last resort. If conditions require snow chains on your motorcycle, you probably shouldn’t be out on the road with your motorcycle in the first place. Click here to see my other article that discusses motorcycle snow chains in further detail.
Maintain The Right Tire Pressure
Maintaining proper PSI on a motorcycle is a good practice no matter what time of year it is. But if you’re going to be riding in the winter, keeping up with the tire pressure is absolutely vital.
Each tire on a motorcycle will be able to tell you what PSI the tire pressure needs to be at. Most are specific about what the PSI should be during certain temperatures, especially when it’s cold. Some tires require a higher PSI during the winter, other tires require the same pressure throughout the year.
Whatever the pressure your tire requires, stay on top of it. This means you will need to check the tire pressure before every single ride you do in the winter. Motorcycle tires have a tendency to leak faster than car tires because of the cold and also because of the way they’re shaped. This is especially prevalent to tubeless motorcycle tires.
If a motorcycle tire blows or becomes flat on cold, icy roads, the chances of your injury dramatically increase compared to a similar situation in the summer. Drivers are less aware and your motorcycle can easily slip out from underneath you.
Don’t Ride If Outside Temperature Is Below 32° F
It’s hard to know what temperature is too cold to ride a motorcycle during the winter. I’ve been able to get a good idea of when the dangers of winter roads dramatically increase at what temperatures because of the different places I’ve lived with awful winters. If the temperature outside is lower than 32° F outside, you should not ride your motorcycle at all.
When the outside temperatures starts to get below freezing, not only will ice begin to form in unexpected places, but your motorcycle might start acting up a little too. The combination of bad road conditions with a motorcycle not performing at it’s peak is a bad combination to get yourself involved with.
Black ice is very possible at below freezing temperatures. Black ice is transparent and almost blends in with the road you’re riding on. A motorcycle only has two wheels to support you, so if one wheel slips that mean the other one slips too. Don’t risk riding in extremely cold temperatures, even if the roads have been plowed and salted. To read more about when it’s too cold to ride a motorcycle, see my other article here.
Assume All Drivers Around Can’t See You
Riding a motorcycle with other drivers around you can be a little scary. Not all drivers know how to drive around motorcycles and often times they’re not even aware you’re around.
When you’re riding your motorcycle in the winter, assume that all the drivers around you cannot see you. Not only do you have the lack of awareness of motorcyclists most drivers already have, but you also have distracted drivers who don’t know how to drive in snow or ice. The last thing they’re expecting is a motorcyclists to be riding in the same conditions.
You will need to be extra aware while out riding in the cold and snow. Keep a safe distance away from cars and other vehicles and make yourself as visible as possible around them. Try wearing neon colored vests or try attaching bright colored attachments to your motorcycle. If a driver is driving too close behind you, let them pass so you don’t have to deal with their inconsiderate driving.
Use A Helmet Defogger
When the weather gets cold outside, the elements of everything outside begins to change a little bit. Your helmet is no exception to this rule. It is completely frustrating and very unsafe to be out riding your motorcycle and have your helmet visor fog up.
I’ve run into this problem dozens of times while riding. It keeps you from seeing the road, so flipping it up seems to be the best option. But that lets in a lot of cold air and can make your eyes water which is also obstructing your view. You may try to wipe the inside of your visor clean and reuse it only to find it quickly fogs right back up.
You may put your helmet on at home and think it won’t fog up because it hasn’t fogged up the few minutes you’ve had it on. The first few minutes of wearing a helmet in the winter isn’t an indication of how the condensation will act later on your ride.
While you’re out riding, the outside temperature of the helmet gets colder while the inside of the helmet maintains warmth due to your body heat. This difference in temperatures from the outside to the inside is what causes the condensation to build up.
Luckily there are several anti-fog solutions out there you can use that will take care of this problem quickly. You can find a good one for about $10-$15 either at a store or online. Be sure to treat both the inside and outside of your helmet visor to ensure total spread of the solution. This works great and will keep you safe on the road.
Use Slower Speeds
It can be easy to catch yourself going at higher speeds during winter riding because it’s cold and you want to get to your destination as fast as possible and warm up. I’ve caught myself doing this many times. It’s important to remember that going slower speeds during the winter is much safer. Even if the roads look as dry as a bone, you never know what puddle you’re going to come up to or black ice you may run over without even noticing.
If slowing down isn’t in your future with winter riding, at the very least go the speed limit and nothing faster than that. You may tick off a few drivers because you’re going a bit slower, but safety is more important than complying to what other drivers want on the road.
Stay In A Far Side Lane
As I mentioned before, when it comes to drivers being aware of motorcycles (especially in the winter), they’re a bit clueless. Aside from making yourself as noticeable as possible, there are a few additional safety measure you can take.
If I’m riding on a multi-lane highway, I like to stay on either the far right lane or the far left lane. With the winter conditions, it’s probably best to stay on the far right lane because the left lane is generally meant for faster traffic. Staying on the far side lane leaves you with only one lane of passing traffic next to you that you’ll have to worry about. For me personally, it can be a bit stressful trying to be aware of two lanes of traffic on either side of me, so just having the one lane to worry about makes riding easier.
Pay Special Attention To Your Hands
I know we covered wearing the right gear during winter motorcycle riding, but I felt that hands deserved their own section. Hands are an important part of the operation of the motorcycle, so making sure they’re taken care of is vital.
Unfortunately, motorcyclists are more susceptible to frostbite on their hands compared to other winter sports and activities. This is because hands are some of the furthest extremities from the core of the body; they get the brunt of the wind while out for a ride.
Most motorcyclists don’t take warmth seriously when it comes to winter riding. Frostbite can happen in as little as five minutes; if your hands are not functioning, that means the rest of your bike doesn’t function. They’re likely to have a slow response on the throttle and the brake which is seriously dangerous on a motorcycle.
I don’t recommend just wearing leather gloves during winter riding. Leather gloves are excellent at protecting your skin in the case of an accident, but they’re not necessarily that warm and can also freeze if it’s cold enough. There are electric heated gloves specifically for motorcyclists that you can wear underneath leather gloves to give your hands the warmth they need and deserve.
There are also handle shields you can purchase to break down the wind that’s hitting your hands. Take the right safety measures to ensure your hands are safe from frostbite so you can use them when you need them.
Plan On An Extra Half Hour For Commute
When riding a motorcycle during the summer, that may be able to save you some time getting to your destination because motorcycles are easy to maneuver, can go fast, and in some states the law allows motorcycles special privileges that allow them to get ahead.
The winter time is completely different on a motorcycle. In fact, riding a motorcycle can actually take more time than it would simply using a car. If you’re taking the right safety measures, it’ll probably take you a little longer to get to your destination.
Add an extra half hour to your commute and plan accordingly. Consider the icy conditions and water covered roads. If you use your motorcycle to commute to your job every day, leave a half hour early. Even if it doesn’t take you the full extra half hour like you thought, there’s nothing wrong with arriving early. That’s a lot better than arriving a lot later than you thought.
Install A Windshield
If there’s anything you can add to your motorcycle to make your winter riding more comfortable and safe, it’s absolutely worth doing. Such an addition can including installing a windshield to your bike if you don’t already have one.
I’m a minimalist type of guy so I don’t love having windshields on my motorcycles, but I’m a huge advocate for them during the winter. Windshields can provide a lot of protection from the elements the winter has to offer. You’ll likely get a lot of water splashed on you from both the rain or snow as well as from passing cars.
Windshields can also offer protection from the wind. Having that guard in front of you will deflect the wind around you and keep you more protected, thus keeping you more comfortable.
The Sun Being Out Doesn’t Mean It’s Warm
When it comes to winter time, the sun can be a bit deceiving. I’ve made the mistake plenty of times thinking that because the sun was out, that meant it was warmer and safe to do some normal riding around the roads.
Air temperature and road temperature are usually very different from each other during the winter. It is possible for the road to be frozen even if it feels like it’s above freezing outside. You have to remember that the road is outside all the time, so throughout the night the temperatures make the road much colder than the air will get during the day.
With that being said, just because the sun is out during the winter doesn’t mean there isn’t ice on the road. Don’t be deceived by the sun and always remain cautious while riding on the road during a sunny winter day.
Will a motorcycle battery freeze? It is possible for a motorcycle battery to freeze. If the motorcycle is discharged, it can freeze starting at 32° F. A fully charged battery will not freeze until it gets to about – 75° F or -76° F. For more information, see the article I wrote by clicking here.
How do you maintain a motorcycle in the winter? If you regularly ride your motorcycle in the winter, it’s a good idea to keep up with the tire pressure, oil changes, fluid top-offs, and charging the battery. If you don’t ride during the winter, it’s a good idea to add a fuel stabilizer to the gas, keep the tires elevated, and maintain the battery charge.