Winters, for many, is the best season to ride. While the mornings,
evenings, and night-time are a bit more challenging than summers, the
daytime ride is nice and enjoyable, even with the sun shining bright.
Pleasant weather, smell of the crisp winter air and the fact that you could
ride all day long is a beautiful feeling for the enthusiastic rider. There
are quite a few destinations that can be beautiful during winters, and it’s
a joy to ride to them. Although riding a motorcycle in the winters can be
exciting and fun, it also presents some unique challenges. In this article,
we provide a definitive guide on how to prepare yourself and your machine
for a ride in cold weather.
Before we begin, it's important to understand the dangers and challenges of riding a motorcycle in the winters. Cold weather isn’t easy on the body and can bring numbness and fatigue to hands and feet, which can affect your control on the motorcycle. Additionally, snow and ice in some regions can make it difficult to maintain traction and stability. Mist and fog can also reduce visibility, making it more challenging to see other vehicles or objects, and to be visible to other road users. The adverse effect of wet weather is also multiplied in cold weather, and if you are not prepared, an unannounced spell of showers while riding through cold weather can be totally disastrous. Let’s see how we can prepare for these challenges.
This one is not specific to winters. One should check the motorcycle for its fitness every time you head out on a long ride. These checks are important so that you have a hassle-free ride and are safe during your journey.
Battery: Cold weather affects battery performance. Ensure that the battery water levels are as recommended, and the battery is not losing charge when the motorcycle is turned off. It’s a good idea to ride the motorcycle for a short distance the day before you are planning to head out, so that you know how the battery is performing. Ensure that the alternator and charging system are performing normally too.
Lights: Visibility can be an issue even in the day when riding in winters. Fog, overcast skies and in some areas, snow, can drop the visibility drastically. Ensure that all the lights on your motorcycle are working properly, and the bulbs are nice and bright. If required, install a pair of auxiliary lights that are within the legal norms.
Brakes: Ensure that the brake pads are in good condition. If your motorcycle has disc brakes, there are chances they will get damp in extreme foggy and cold conditions. Bad brake pads will not be able to perform properly in such conditions and could lead to a mishap. Also, check for the brake fluid levels before you start.
Tyres: Tyres with worn out tread will not provide enough traction. Worn out tyres have a much higher chance of slipping if the road surface is damp due to fog, dew, and snow. Ensure the tyres on your machine have sufficient tread depth. It’s also advisable to have your motorcycle equipped with winter tyres if you are heading out into the lofty, snowy hills. Another important aspect is tyre pressure. If the traction is scarce, you can reduce the pressure slightly for better grip. Over inflating the tyres in low traction conditions is a strict no-no.
Chain: Dew, fog or ice can cause water accumulation on the chain. The cold can also cause the chain to become stiff. Ensure that the chain has enough lubrication to avoid any slippage or stiffness.
If you can perform all these checks by yourself, well and good. If not, it is a good idea to get the motorcycle checked at the nearest service station. It will cost a small sum of money, but it will ensure your safety.
To prepare for winter motorcycle riding, it is essential to have the right gear. Safety is paramount and one should not ride without the basic riding gear. A helmet, protective jacket, gloves, protective pants, and riding boots are bare necessities. For winter riding, you need additional gear that protects you from low temperature and freezing winds.
Winter liners: Any reputable riding gear manufacturer will sell winter liners as well, so choose a set which comes with winter protection. These liners can be worn inside your protective jacket, shielding your chest and arms from the cold wind blast when you are riding. Liners for your riding pants are also available which can be worn in extreme conditions.
Woollen additions: A pair of woollen socks can go a long way to keep your feet warm and keep them from numbing. Same goes for gloves as well. The hands, especially fingers are prone to go numb very quickly as they are exposed to a continuous cold wind blast. One can wear a pair of woollen gloves inside the riding gloves if they are not specifically designed to tackle cold. You could also wear a woollen beanie under your helmet to keep your head warm. Better still, a woollen balaclava can protect your head as well as your face from the winter chills.
Helmet: While it is advisable to use a helmet with a Pinlock anti-fog visor every time you head out for a ride, it’s even more important in the winters. The visor of your helmet has a much higher tendency to fog up in the winters, and it’s imperative that you ride with a proper screen that fights moisture and fogging effectively. Make sure that your helmet is suitably equipped to ensure clear viability, irrespective of the weather or riding conditions.
Water protection: Riding a motorcycle while braving cold gusts of wind can be challenging as it is, but if it’s accompanied by rain, it can turn your ride plan on its head. Some of the makers of quality riding gear offer their jackets, pants, and gloves with protection from both cold weather and rain. It is advisable to go for gear made of materials like Gore Tex and with additional inner liners to effectively tackle cold as well as wet weather. Investing in quality gear that does both will save you money in the long run, so research well while making your purchase.
When riding in the winter, it's important to adjust your riding style to accommodate for the added challenges and hazards. This includes reducing your speed, softening your throttle inputs, increasing your distance from the leading vehicle and being extra cautious when braking and turning. When riding in the snow, it's also important to keep an eye out for black ice and other slippery surfaces, which can be difficult to spot. Make sure to brake early, gently, and use both brakes when stopping to avoid skidding.
It's also important to be aware of the forecast and road conditions before heading out. If the weather is particularly bad, it’s best to avoid riding altogether. If you do decide to ride, make sure to let someone know your route and expected time of arrival. Sharing your live location with your loved ones and having some sort of an SoS equipment handy is also advisable. Keep an eye out for changing weather conditions and be prepared to adjust your route if necessary.
Last, but not the least, it's important to take care of yourself while riding in the winter. Staying hydrated is very important. During winters, our bodies burn calories at a faster rate which can exhaust and dehydrate us very quickly. Ensure that you have proper meals and never ride on an empty stomach. Nuts or granola bars are great snacking options as in-between meals. It's a good idea to carry extra supplies such as food, water, and a first aid kit in case of emergencies. Also, whenever you feel that your feet or hands are going numb, it is best that you take a break and warm yourself up before resuming the journey.
In conclusion, winter motorcycle riding can be a thrilling and enjoyable experience with the right preparation and knowledge. By having the right gear, properly preparing your motorcycle, adjusting your riding style, and staying aware of the weather and road conditions, you can safely and comfortably enjoy the ride. Remember to always ride defensively and be prepared for the unexpected. Happy riding!