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Riding In The Cold

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 27, 2011 10:35 pm    Post subject: Riding In The Cold Reply with quote

The following information was provided by ABATE and was forwarded to me from a Brother of mine. Living and riding in Colorado you know that the weather can change unexpectedly while out for a ride. My philosophy has always been "A Cold Ride Is Better Than No Ride" but I also want to be safe out there on the road. This is good information as a refresher if you have ridden many miles in cold weather and possibly life saving information for those lacking the experience of being on two wheels in extreme weather conditions.

Safe Journeys!



Cold weather presents unique dangers other than purely staying warm. The exposed nature inherent in motorcycling drives most people into a warm car or truck. For those who choose to brave low temperatures, cold weather riding can be a rewarding experience.


Ice is an ever present danger when the temperature is below 40 degrees. Shadows can keep the road cool and moisture will freeze. If you hit ice, hope you are not in a turn. If you hit ice and you are going straight you have a pretty good chance of riding it out, as long as you don't panic. Don't change your speed and keep a smooth line. If you hit ice while turning, you will be on the ground before you know it.

Sand and Salt

A winter of snow removal will leave patches of sand or salt on the road even into the summer. While the intent is to increase traction when spread over snow and ice, once the snow is gone, it gathers into piles on corners and on the centerline of the road and will cause you to lose traction; usually when you need it most.

Falling Leaves

The winter makes deciduous trees lose their leaves. A layer of dry leaves will reduce traction, but mixed with moisture and cold weather it can be super slick. The temperature underneath a layer of leaves can be 5-7 degrees colder than the air above them, so ice is more likely.


The greatest danger of riding in the cold is what it does to your body. If you are not dressed well enough and your body temperature drops, your reactions will slow, your dexterity will decrease, and you will have lapses in concentration. Obviously you need all your wits to ride safely in any temperature, let alone with the additional unique hazards cold weather brings.

How to Stay Warm in the Cold

Cold is a relative term for all. This has become clear in the forums I read where a person from Wisconsin and a person from Florida will have an unbelievably different view of what is “really” cold. So when I talk about the cold, I am talking about “really” cold; and only you know what that “really” means.
You also have to judge how long you will be riding. My regular commute in the winter is 20-30 minutes in temperatures down to freezing, but because I am not out in the cold that long and I have a nice warm office to thaw out at the end I can afford to dress lighter.


It is important to dress in layers. Each layer has a specific function and understanding how these layers work can extend your riding season and your comfort.

Wicking Layer

Sometimes called a base layer, these garments wick moisture away from the body so it can evaporate where it won’t rob your body of warmth. Made of silk, polyester or other synthetic materials, the fit should be snug and hug your body. Cotton undershirts do not dry as quickly and do not qualify as a wicking layer.

Insulating Layer

The purpose of the insulating layer is to keep warm air close to your body and the cold air away. Low-tech wool and high-tech synthetic fleece are the best materials for this layer and if you have room don’t be afraid to double up; wear a fleece over a sweater to keep you even warmer.

Weatherproof Layer

This layer is purely responsible for keeping the weather out. It is essential that these garments be windproof. It is a good precaution to have a waterproof outer layer, but not necessary if you only ride in dry weather. Gore-Tex or competing technologies are beneficial so that any sweat or moisture is expunged and allowed to evaporate far away from your body while keeping you dry in the rain.


Use the layers principle for your gloves. A silk or synthetic liner will wick, and many gloves come with an insulated inner layer. Make sure you can cinch your sleaves and/or have gauntlet style gloves to keep the wind out.


Again wicking socks will keep your feet warmer. Boots are preferable to shoes because wind will get under your pants and chill your ankles. Pants that will cinch around your ankles will keep the weather out.

Heated Garments

Heated garments can supplement our body’s natural heat production when our body can’t keep up with outside temperatures. Heated vests, jackets, pants, gloves and boots all help to keep us warm. They can either be run off of batteries, the bike’s electrical system or chemicals.

Brain Freeze

When riding in “really” cold temperatures at speeds above 45mph the wind across your face can cause a persistent headache pain like when you suck down a Slurpee or eat ice cream too fast. It is difficult to concentrate with that kind of pain, which at 65mph in traffic is dangerous. A full-faced helmet helps and I have found that a neck gator or balaclava mask really keeps the wind out.


Once you start shivering, try to find a place to stop and thaw out. Shivering is proof that you are not dressed warm enough and your core temperature has fallen below 97 degrees F. Riding any further will continue to rob your body of heat. If your core temperature gets any colder your concentration will diminish, your reactions will slow and your motor skills will become clumsy and imprecise. Many who would never ride after drinking, think nothing of riding while shivering, even though they are similar in reducing your ability to react to other drivers.

Riding in the cold can be a great experience as long as you are prepared for it and know your limits. Be careful of black ice in shadows and salt or sand left over from snow removal efforts. But the hardest part of riding in the cold is figuring out a response to people who ask you “Why are you riding in this temperature?”
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