When Winter is Coming
- Layer up
It sounds like a really obvious tip but you’d be surprised at the amount of bikers that get caught out! Just because you are warm enough whilst getting your bike out the garage, or after walking the dog, that wind chill can certainly make it feel a lot colder. So my advice is invest in some thermal base layers, then wear another thin layer over the top, such as a long sleeved t-shirt, as well as a fleece.
Although not the most fashion forward wardrobe essential, a fleece is thin enough to be worn with multiple layers but it’s also warm. Hoodies look great but they are nowhere near as good at holding in the heat, plus if your hood is sticking out of your jacket it can absorb the water if its raining and that can also make you feel cold.
- Freezing fingers?
I have always found that if my hands and feet are warm, I can generally ride for much longer. When you can no longer feel your fingers and hands to change gear or brake, you know you’re getting into risky riding. I have tried many different winter gloves and heated grips, but for me the investment in a pair of heated gloves is well worth it.
Granted they are not cheap, but if you are planning on riding throughout the winter, they will make your experience a much nicer one! There are a number of different companies that make heated clothing, so do your research. You can also buy heated socks, but I have found that winter boots (waterproof) with a pair of thermal socks and if really cold a pair of heated stick on pads can really make a difference. Single use heated pads are not the most economical though, so again, investment pieces are usually worth paying the extra for.
- Bike Checks
Throughout the summer it is much easier to maintain your bike; it’s warmer and the nights are long, so there’s plenty of time to check it over and keep it looking squeaky clean. However, during the winter months, when you arrive home, cold, wet and in darkness, the last thing you might want to do is lube your chain and check your bike over.
However, bike maintenance is just as important, if not more so during the winter. Remember to regularly check your liquids; oil levels, water coolant levels, brake fluid reservoirs and fuel levels as well as around the filler cap for leaks.
Check your tyres; air pressure, their general condition, looking for cuts, bulges and punctures and of course tyre tread, making sure that if you are running low on tread, you get it sorted in plenty of time. The legal tread depth on a motorbike is just 1 mm of tread over 75% of the width, over 100% of the circumference – not that you would ever leave it this low!
Salt on the road can damage your bike’s body work. I try to swill my bike with water after every outing during the winter and prime before with ACF-50, or a similar rust preventer. For a full list of regular checks, google POWDDERSS.
- Fancy some winter sun?
When you think of winter riding, you generally think of riding in the driving rain and in the cold, however that’s not always the case. Low sun during the winter months can be literally blinding, making it extremely difficult to see and for others to see you too.
If you’re a commuter, there can be a tendency to become complacent with your journey too, not allowing extra time for extreme weather conditions can put you in a more vulnerable position, especially if you haven’t adapted your journey time to allow for longer braking distances and greater following distances.
- Snow means NO!
I see and hear a lot of comments from bikers who will ride in the snow. They generally give excuses as to why they NEED to be on the road, or sometimes they think it just makes them look like ‘real bikers’ but for me and many like me in the industry it’s just not worth it. Even if you need to get to work; walk, get a bus or get a taxi.
I know how frustrating the snow can be if you rely on your motorcycle to earn money, but picking your bike off the floor after you’ve dropped it in the ice or snow is not only really difficult physically, but can also cost you more in repairs than the taxi fare, to and from work for a week! Not only are there cost implications though, we need to remember how dangerous the snow and ice can be. When it snows we need to leave 10 times the distance from vehicles we’re following.
- The label said water resistant
Most of us know that our textile kit doesn’t hold up in heavy rain, so it’s worth investing in a pair of decent waterproofs. Once wet, the cold will most certainly set in, leading to a lack of concentration, making it extremely dangerous. Waterproofs can also be used as an extra layer of warmth, even when it’s not raining.
Where would I be without a pinlock? The ingenious ‘double glazing’ for your visor means that you can still breathe (yay for breathing) when the air outside your helmet is colder than the air inside your helmet. If you wear glasses though you may need to invest in an anti-fog liquid spray or wipe to help reduce the steam up.
- Too cool for high vis?
When I first started riding, there was no way I was wearing a high vis vest. It just didn’t go with the image I wanted to project on my Honda CBF 650 (I can hear the head scratching)… However, after a year of riding, I realised that by wearing a high vis vest I could potentially get more car drivers to notice me than when I was wearing just my black leather jacket. With only one headlight anyway, I came to the conclusion that any help I gave car drivers to see me, the safer I was. Nowadays during the winter, I wear a long sleeved luminous orange jacket. I might look like I work for Network Rail but I’m far more noticeable now!
- Riding style
Riding in the winter means we have to adapt not only our journey time but also our style of riding. Throughout the summer and in the dry, we can certainly get the bike leaning further, get into more extreme positions for view and generally not have to think as hard as we do in the winter.
However, during the winter and in poor weather conditions we need to consider slippery surfaces, making sure our movement around the road isn’t sudden or erratic, that the application of our controls is smooth and deliberate and that we don’t put ourselves in any unnecessary danger.
As a motorcycle instructor, you know that I’m going to encourage further training after you’ve passed your test but even more so if you’re planning on riding throughout the winter. To find a decent training school, I’d recommend looking for a school that’s accredited by the MCIA.
Do your research and look for a school that offers training specific to your needs. If you haven’t done any training since passing your test, I’d also recommend the DVSA’s ERS (Enhanced Riding Scheme), where you can learn advanced skills and gain a qualification without a test!