Winter can be a challenging time for riding motorcycles, and for good reason. Cold weather, along with possible snow and ice, makes riding far more dangerous than it is during other times of the year. Couple this with the fact that even if the weather is good during the winter, people tend to drink more because of holiday parties and gatherings, making the winter months a very dangerous time to ride. And those dangers come from multiple sources.
So if you want to enjoy riding your motorcycle all year round, be sure to prepare yourself as well and your bike properly for cold weather riding. It is crucial for your safety and will make your ride much more enjoyable.
Prepare Your Motorcycle
Start by making sure your motorcycle is well maintained and suitable for riding in cold and inclement weather. This includes keeping the antifreeze fresh and mixed properly. But there are various other aspects of your motorcycle that need special attention as well.
At a minimum, your tires should have adequate tread. It would be even better to install winter tires or new top grade tires. If you expect to find yourself on snowy or icy roads even occasionally, you may want to invest in grip studs. They are legal in Missouri from November 1st to April 1st, and they can make a huge difference when it comes to improving traction. See Mo.Rev.Stat. § 307.171. They are also legal in Kansas “when required for safety because of snow, ice or other conditions tending to cause a vehicle to skid.” See K.S.A. § 8-1742.
Your bike also needs a windscreen and hand guards. While heated grips are optional, they are highly recommended. In addition, you should also consider installing adventure-style or slip-proof riding pegs to ensure that your feet won’t slide off.
There will be more tips on actually riding your motorcycle safely in wintry conditions below. In the meantime, let’s cover how to prepare yourself for a safe ride, including by wearing the proper riding gear.
The other crucial component to riding safety in cold weather is staying warm! So please be sure to be properly dressed, which includes proper layering, from the inside-out.
Start with thermals as well as warm socks, preferably woolen socks. Make sure that whatever you wear wicks away sweat so you will not get cold and clammy. Wear multiple layers, so you can add or remove some as needed.
Your top layers should be waterproof and insulate you from icy winds as well as protect you in the event of a fall. Pay particular attention to wearing proper gloves, because your ability to control your bike depends on your ability to use your hands. And if they're frozen stiff, you could be in grave danger.
As for winter boots, you will probably need a bigger size than for the rest of the year because those thick wooly socks will take up extra space. And you definitely should leave some wiggle room for your toes.
Going for a Ride in Cold Weather
When you plan a ride, keep an eye on the weather forecast. If it looks like there will be snow or ice, stay home. Sure, sometimes, inclement weather can happen without much warning, but at least minimize your odds of getting caught up in it. This is especially true here in the Kansas City area where weather changes so quickly. Please also make sure to check your bike’s tire pressure before every ride.
When you first start riding, your tires are cold - this affects traction. In order to warm them up more quickly, you can accelerate and decelerate quickly a few times. Just be mindful of traffic as well as road conditions as you do this. Alternatively, simply be patient and go slowly at first.
As you ride, watch for black ice, snow, cracks in the road, and salt. Salt can be surprisingly slippery and can easily make your bike lose traction. And speaking of salt... it is very corrosive, so be sure to run your bike through a car wash regularly if you ride on salty roads often.
All the normal safety rules apply as well when you ride in cold weather, only more so. Keep an eye on the surrounding traffic. Increase visibility and your following distance. Look farther ahead to know what is coming up. And give yourself plenty of room to brake if needed. Also consider wearing a highly visible jacket and helmet so others can see you better.
Most importantly, protect yourself from hypothermia. Being too cold can make you shiver uncontrollably and affect your ability to use your hands effectively to control your bike. It can also lead to weakness, confusion, and even loss of consciousness. So be sure to take lots of breaks to warm up, but avoid alcohol and coffee! To stay well hydrated, consider soup instead!