As the year winds down, many motorcyclists are putting their bikes in storage for the off-season. But, some riders refuse to let the cold cramp their fun, using heated clothing, heated grips, and even heated boots so they can ride all winter long. With the recent boom of new people riding motorcycles to social distance, there’s bound to be folks venturing out this winter for the first time. For sure, riding during colder months presents unique challenges for both beginners and veterans. What should you expect when heading out on two wheels this winter, and what are some of the ways you can still enjoy riding your motorcycle year-round?
Wind Management is Crucial
One of the first things motorcyclists need to consider in the off-season is the windchill factor. When it’s 40 degrees out, 60 mph winds make it feel like it’s 25 degrees. And the colder it gets, the more pronounced the effect is. Check out NOAA’s chart to get an idea of just how cold that ride might feel at highway speeds.
For keeping the biting cold at bay, it’s essential to know where wind can get inside your gear. The most common places are the extremities – necklines, wrist openings, and ankle lines are all areas where wind can sneak in and fill up your jacket or pants with frigid air. Using gear with elasticized or velcro-enclosure wrist and ankle-cuffs, neckline straps, and even adding a neck gaiter are all good ways to keep things sealed up. Wearing boots with higher tops isn’t a bad idea, either!
Beyond the easy entry points for cold air, using jackets or vests with windproof shells helps tremendously with windchill, serving an important role (if not more so) than insulating layers. With better wind management, you won’t need as many layers, keeping the bulk down for freer movement and more comfort.
Comfort Despite Rapid Temperature Changes
Another big challenge for motorcyclists in the off-season is rapid temperature change, not just from the sun setting, but minute to minute when you’re in the mountains or along the coast. Gaining thousands of feet in elevation can easily happen in under 30 minutes, which is enough to drop the temps below the freezing mark, even if it’s 50 degrees at the bottom of the mountain when you start.
If you’re starting in the morning or riding till past sunset, the temperature transitions may be slower but still significant enough to justify a change of clothing. Rather than simply wearing a huge winter riding jacket over a t-shirt, it’s better to strategically layer so you can make more fine-tuned adjustments for your comfort throughout the day.
Layering effectively starts with temperature regulation at the extremities. Wear a balaclava or skull-cap, neck gaiter, and warmer gloves and socks. These are small items that are easily removed and packed if you start getting too hot and can easily be put back on if it gets cold again.
For the core of your body, wear a breathable base layer, avoiding cotton that can get damp from sweat, making you feel colder. Then add a short or long-sleeve shirt, windproof vest, and if it’s really cold, a jacket liner or medium-weight jacket before a windproof outer shell. As you warm up, simply strip away layers. Depending on your bike, adding a top case or side cases provides more comfort than a backpack for storing your layers during the ride.
Ultimate Comfort Control – Heated Equipment
If you’re more hardcore and want to ride below 40-degree temps on a bike with lots of wind exposure, heated gear is a must. Heated grips can help but neglect the tops of your hands and fingertips that suffer the most from windchill. Using wearable heated gear is the better choice for serious winter riders. You can get jacket-liners, gloves, pants, and even socks that are heated, providing toasty warmth for nearly your entire body.
The most significant choice you’ll face when buying heated gear is whether to go battery-powered or hard-wired. Many larger touring bikes have special power outlets to easily plug-in heated gear, providing endless warmth as long as you’re on the bike. The downside is being tethered to your bike, having to plug yourself in and out whenever you stop for a break.
For a bit more flexibility and fewer wires blowing in the wind, some of the best battery-powered heated gear can provide steady warmth for several hours. Depending on how many items you’re running, you might even get an entire day of power out of a single charge with high-quality lithium-ion setups. Choosing between battery or wired then becomes a matter of price, as the battery-powered gear can cost considerably more.
Increased Road Hazards
The only thing more important than staying comfortable while riding in the off-season is staying safe. And in these less popular months for riding, there are far more considerations to keep in mind than the mere possibility of snow. Sometimes at near-freezing temps, there can be black ice on the road that appears to be a wet spot, so it’s crucial to be vigilant for those areas, especially in valleys and at higher elevation where temps can be considerably colder.
Other slippery hazards include salt and sand that stay around long after being applied, often building up in the center of the lane and on the shoulders (unfortunately, right where the best apex lines are). Crossing over these while cornering at high-speed can be dangerous, so be cautious and aware that these hazards may arise at any moment.
There’s also the ever-present threat of “cagers” who are already bad at paying attention to motorcyclists. During the off-season, they REALLY aren’t expecting to see you, so be even more on the lookout for drivers who aren’t watching for you. Riding like you’re invisible, no matter what time of year, is a simple and effective strategy. Just assume drivers don’t see you, leave plenty of escape routes and stopping distance, and be ready to react quickly.
Situational Awareness is Critical
When you’re riding in the off-season, situational awareness is critical. Sometimes a ride-worthy forecast in the morning can change in the afternoon, leaving you literally out in the cold hours away from home. Keeping an eye on the weather is easier when you have your phone mounted on your handlebar, allowing you to quickly tap for visual updates so you can stay abreast of potential threats. It’s also helpful to use navigation apps like Waze to get alerts about potential road hazards like ice and fog.
Rokform makes it easy to mount your phone on your motorcycle, with options for most sizes of handlebars as well as an adapter for RAM® 1” ball mounts. Securing your phone on your bike is quick and easy, using our quarter-turn Twist-Lock system that perfectly integrates with our phone cases. To check out our full lineup of motorcycle phone mounts, click HERE.