Winter Riding & Staying Safe

by Andy Bisson
Many riders are used to riding in poor weather conditions and whilst what I’m about to say, I’ve said before, with our busy lives we sometimes don’t take the time to refresh a few important facts that can be the difference in staying safe.

As the temperature drops and the days get shorter with the wind and rain setting in, the question is ‘Do I ride or not?’ This is very much a personal choice with some riders having no alternative transport and others who enjoy riding all year round opposed to those that choose not to ride through the winter and put the bike into hibernation in the garage until the weather improves.

If you do choose to ride all year round and venture out in the winter, you will develop additional skills that will make you a better rider by the time the weather improves but there are some important things to remember.

As well as a change in your riding style which we will cover, it’s important to have the right clothing. Riding in low temperatures (below 10 C) will quickly affect a rider physically as well as mentally if you’re not suitably dressed to keep warm.

Visibility is more important now than ever with visors steaming up and the rain on scratched visors. Make sure you have a visor that isn’t scratched and where possible fit a pin lock.

Wear thin layers to keep your core body warm and this will help keep your hands and feet warmer as well but the best advice I can give, is buy the best winter gloves that you can afford as it will be money well spent. Heated grips are a must for me and heated clothing also helps.

Many riders don’t take into account that your head is a massive source of heat loss and a helmet alone won’t maintain the heat so wear a neck warmer or balaclava to keep the heat in.

Remember it’s not just the air temperature that you are having to combat but also the wind chill factor. When riding at 20 mph at temperatures of 3 degree, it can feel more like -3 degrees.

It’s also important to be seen and whilst many riders don’t like hi-vis, it’s about protecting yourself from other motorists that just don’t seem to see motorcyclists. Many bikes have small headlights and motorists seem to see past these when pulling out of junctions so anything you can do to increase your visibility has got to be a bonus.

It’s very important to check that your bike is winter ready. Check your tyres to ensure they have good tread and no damage. Check the pressures regularly as these can alter often in cold weather. Make sure your fluids are topped up, your lights are working and your chain is clean and well lubricated.

And now it’s down to how you ride. Wet, leafy or icy roads will not provide the same grip as when riding in the summer so you need to adjust how you ride. Reduce your speed and increase your distance from the vehicle in front providing a greater stopping distance. Give yourself time and space to adapt and react to changing situations so you can deal with emerging hazards without increasing risks to yourself.

And last but not least, if it’s snowing, find another way to travel. Riding in the snow is going to not only put yourself at greater risk, you increase the risk for other motorists. Vehicles with 4 wheels struggle in snowy conditions so don’t be the fool risking everything on 2 wheels. Stay safe and keep your bike safe so that you can enjoy the ride another day.

So, a little recap on staying safe this winter.

Wrap up warm. Whilst this sounds obvious, riding at 30 mph can reduce air temperature by about 10 degrees and your body cools down 5 times faster when wet, so stay dry.

Keep your battery charged. Batteries don’t work as well in the cold so if your charge is low, it may not start.

Chains. Make sure you lube them well in very cold conditions to prevent them freezing and clean them more often as they are going to pick up more muck in the winter.

Tyres. Check your tyre pressures more often in cold conditions as they are likely to lose pressure in the cold.

Most important – reduce your speed and give greater distance – stay safe.