Five basic tips for motorcycling through winter
I know, that hot summer seems like moments ago, but we are speeding through autumn and we've just had the first frosty morning which means, to borrow a phrase, winter is coming. Experienced bikers will know these things, but I recently did a piece on buying your first motorcycle (link at the foot of this article) and I thought it would be useful to run through some basics for beginners in their first winter as bikers.
1. Adjust your riding style to the conditions
Of course all road users need to think about this. The tip really is give yourself time and use your common sense. Wet roads can be dangerous for any motorcycle rider not just an inexperienced one. The road may appear clean but wet roads often have oily patches on the surface. Rain isn't confined to the winter of course, but you need to be aware that heavy rainfall can make things trickier than a summer shower. Snow falling on a wet surface will turn the best road into a potential skid pan. Remember your training and think about braking earlier and going slower.
Low visibility has a big part in most accidents and this will be worse in bad weather. Use an anti fogging treatment on your visor or goggles, use your headlights if visibility is poor and you might want to consider wearing a high visibility over jacket. It really is about thinking things through and planning for the conditions. This is likely to become second nature as you become more experienced.
2. Think Tyres
If this is your first winter on two wheels remember that cold affects your tyres. You will know this, it affects all tyres and you might have been driving for years, but when you are relying on two rather than four it's best to make sure they are up to the job. If you need new ones, now is the time to get them.
WIth normal road conditions, tyres heat up from use which gives greater traction. In near freezing conditions if you stop for a minute that heat will have gone and you'll have less traction again. Keep a closer eye on your tyre pressures as that is affected by cold and handling will suffer if the pressures are not correct, it’s best to use a gauge and do it properly. I am assuming you are on your normal commute so I'm not suggesting studded tyres here, however in some countries there are winter tyre rules and you need to ensure that you are abiding by these if they apply to where you are riding.
3. Wear the right gear for the weather
Hopefully it will not always be freezing or snowy, but it will often be very wet and that's miserable unless you have the right gear. You might want to consider heated gear, trousers, gloves and jackets or jacket liners are all available with electronics which can be charged beforehand or that will hook up to an suitably equipped motorcycle. Heated gloves are probably an essential purchase if you really mean to commute right through the winter.
If you are a new rider then you will have some nice new gear, you have no doubt ridden in the rain before, but winter rain will chill you and combined with lower temperatures you really need to think ahead about this.
4. Keep your motorcycle in good condition
Winter weather will mean your bike needs a bit more maintenance. Read your manual and if you haven't already it's a good idea to get the bike serviced. This will at least mean you know that the basic safety issues have been looked at, such as fluid levels and whether your lights are working properly.
Batteries do not like the cold. If you find yourself not using the bike in a spell of very bad weather consider a trickle charger. At least check your battery is holding its charge and working properly and make sure everything that needs to be lubricated on the bike has been. I know these are things you need to think about at any time of year, but the cold and wet will mean that the parts are more likely to cause you problems. If you keep your bike somewhere that gets below freezing overnight then cover it and make sure you have enough anti-freeze.
5. Accept that you will not be able to ride your motorcycle every day
Even experienced motorcyclists can not ride their bike every day through the winter, novices need to be careful not to overestimate their abilities and the ability of their bike to cope with the conditions. If there is any snow then realistically you are not going to be riding as your motorbike will not get through it, no one will think less of you as a biker.
If you keep in mind these five basics you will not go far wrong riding during your first winter. Take advice and ride when you can because you really need to gain experience of all road conditions, just know your limits.
If you are an experienced rider do you have one piece of advice you would pass on to new riders about to set out on their first winter as a biker? Share your advice in the comments below.
If you are new to riding motorcycles you may be interested in my previous article for new riders, link below
And if you want some very basic maintenance advice for motorcycles and cars my piece on how to keep garage bills down might be of interest: