Taking a time-out on our snowy adventures in the Caucasus Mountain of Georgia – Photo by Laura Pattara
Sure, you can store your bike over winter and suffer through bouts of riding-itch. Or you could follow our guide and keep riding in the cold like an absolute pro!
One need not cross the Caucasus Mountains in far-eastern Europe at the height of winter to suffer the hellish pits of motorcycle riding in cold weather. Staying warm and toasty whilst riding is just as important on a daylong stint near home as it is when tackling a cross-continental journey. If you don’t have the right cold weather motorcycle riding gear on, you’ll freeze just the same.
Motorcycling is all fun and games until winter hits.
Sure, you’re all philosophical and tough in the planning stage: “Oh, I’ll be fine, I have thermals!” you foolishly say to yourself, yet as the cold starts to encroach and snow starts to fall, you suddenly remember what riding your bike in winter really feels like.
If not, the wind chill will soon remind you.
Motorcycle riding in cold weather can be a lot of fun but only if you’re fully prepared and that rings true whether you’re out for the day with friends or if you’re crossing a sky-reaching mountain range after an unexpected early snow fall. Feel free to commiserate with us and see what the latter looks like, right here.
Take my trials and many errors and learn from them, dear fellow riding friends. Know how to stay warm and toasty when riding in winter before you ever find yourself in the hapless situation of having to shovel your way through a snow wall.
1. Layering is your best friend
Be like Shrek and channel your inner onion
The most ubiquitous piece of advice is really the best: the only way to trap your body warmth and use it to your advantage is by layering like an onion. Layers of clothing insulate much better than just one super-thick layer, also adding versatility and freedom to adapt to the changing conditions as the day progresses. If you’re lucky and your winter day is sunny, you may feel a need to remove one layer so as not to cause you to overheat and (the worst of all scenarios) sweat under your gear.
When it comes to layering for motorcycle riding in cold weather, however, think thin but smart fabrics, specifically designed for the job at hand. Layering just anything results in that Michelin-man look that’s hideously uncomfortable and unsafe when on a bike. No matter how cold it gets, your range of movement should never be restricted by the gear you’re wearing so, when it comes to layering for bike riding, think quality rather than quantity.
2. Your Ideal Base Layers
Your first line of defense against the cold
Merino wool thermals are age-old favorites among riding crowds and even though you may think wool is soooo 5 minutes ago, it remains my personal favorite. Mostly, because I love the feeling of the fabric against my skin and, besides that, there’s a reason wool has been a rider’s best friend since time immemorial. It. Simply. Works. Wool insulates splendidly, retains your body heat and wicks away moisture, keeping you warm (and even more importantly dry) in cold climates.
That’s why we featured it in Genius Motorcycle Gift Ideas. Nowadays, however, your choice of base layer is hugely varied, with a new generation of high-tech wick-away fabrics taking over the market. Whatever fabric you choose, make sure your base layer fits snugly and is long enough to cover your arms and legs.
3. Fleece Insulated Jackets & Heated Motorcycle Gear
Don’t neglect the middle guy
Your next line of defense is going to be your fleece jacket, which should ideally be of synthetic materials that’ll double up on the work of your base layer and also trap your body heat. If you’re particularly cold adverse (like yours truly) there are also some fantastic heated vests and jacket liners, which really ensure your core remains warm at all times. The wonderful thing about heated motorcycle gear is that one garment really does the job of three layers so you need not bulk up to feel extra toasty.
4. Cold Weather Motorcycle Riding Gear – Your Outer Layer
The last line of defense and the little army that keeps all the weather enemies out
Because the best way to prevent nipple-freeze is by keeping the elements OUT at all times, your outer shell should be windproof, waterproof and long enough to ensure there are no gaps where that frigid breeze can sneak in. Winter motorbiking gear may be the last layer you put on but, in many respects, it’s the most important because your heated vest and base layer just won’t be enough to keep you warm if your outer layer lets wind and rain through.
Make sure your jacket is long enough to reach your rear end when riding and that your pants go way beyond the edge of your boots. Having a gap either across your lower back or on your ankles is a recipe for freezing-cold disaster.
5. Don’t Forget Your Extremities!
You’ll soon discover why…
Sometimes, we go to a lot of effort to layer up with all the right gear only to give our extremities – our hands, feet and head – merely a passing thought. I was certainly guilty of that when I started riding yet soon learnt that these, perhaps above all else, are the parts of my body I must endeavor to keep warm and dry at all times.
Personally, I find my feet to be the most important. I can cope with a freezing face if I must, or frozen solid legs, but I can still ride safely as long as my feet are dry and warm. Turn the tables the other way around (warm body, frozen feet) and the uncontrollable shivers soon start. Perhaps your feet aren’t as sensitive yet there’s no doubt that our extremities are prime heat-loss hubs so it’s imperative you pay special attention to them.
Insulated riding boots coupled with thermal motorcycle socks that wick away moisture (when it comes to feet, warmth quickly leads to sweat) are superb for cold weather riding, provided the boots are high enough to fit snuggly under your outer layer pants. Waterproof insulated gloves will keep your digits from freezing over and, if that’s not enough, there are also heated motorcycle gloves for those extra cold days on the road. As with all your outer layers, make sure your gloves are also waterproof.
Oh…and you may also want to remember NOT to leave your socks hanging on the back of your bike overnight…
We woke up to -5 degrees C in a tiny mountain town called Mestia. We didn’t expect it to drop that low overnight…look at all the crap I have on my bike! Even my shampoo froze.
I’ve only ever ridden with full-face helmets and I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t consider this the only option in cold weather. Nevertheless, my helmet alone has never been enough to keep my head warm and although a balaclava goes a long way in retaining some warmth, it was also never enough for me.
Cold wind still sneaked in under my helmet, freezing not only my face and neck but also seeping into my jacket. I’ve found woolen scarves and neck warmers ideal for ‘closing the gap’ and, together with a balaclava, kept me riding comfortably in temps of – 4F.
A Last (Pivotal) Point on Motorcycle Riding in Cold Weather
Cold weather motorcycle riding is an art form, as far as I’m concerned, one that is usually (and unfortunately) perfected after various trials and errors. The most important lesson I’ve learned in all my years of riding over winter is that no matter how fancy-schmanzy your heated motorbike gear may be, none of it has the ability to actually defrost you. Once you’re beyond the point of freezing cold and you start shivering, no heated gloves, vest or shoe insole will warm up your bones. The only thing that’ll do that is a hot shower, a hot drink and a warmed up indoor space.
The very best way to keep warm and toasty when riding in winter? Start warm…and stay warm.
- Turn on your heated everything and keep it on, all day long. I’ve read guides that advise you to keep all your heated motorbike gear off until you feel cold and only then turn it all but that simply never worked for me. The key to winter riding, in my humble opinion, is to never get cold in the first place.
- Stop often for a hot cup of coffee and a break, making sure you never reach that point of no return: the point where your legs start doing the cha-cha all on their own.
- If your hands start freezing, stop and warm up your gloves in front of your running exhaust, then put them on and continue to ride.
- Do a set of 20 jumping jacks before setting off. A little movement with all your gear on is the fastest way to raise your body temperature. The insulated gear will then retain it for longer.
I’d also love to point out that motorcycle riding in winter isn’t all about struggling to survive. Riding at any time should be primarily fun and enjoyable and it certainly can be if you’re geared up right and do all the right things that work for you.
What’s the best cold weather motorcycle riding gear you’ve ever tried? Got any tips you’d love to share? Drop us a line in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!