Motorcycling doesn’t have to stop during freezing weather if you dress for it, yes? But cold pavements, ice and snow present their own safety challenges, even for the most experienced riders.
If you’re tempted to give it a whirl, here are five common-sense tips to keep your bad self upright during the bitter months, assuming first that you have had your machine properly winterized, or done it yourself.
1. Slow down, cowboy
A lot of bikers, including me, are typically in a hurry; that’s part of the fun. In cold weather, though, be extra-easy with the accelerator and try extra-hard to refrain from sudden anything – braking, acceleration, cornering, swerving. A great biker can slow down to almost a standstill and still control the machine – you’ve seen it, right? The slow-and-steady skills you learn while driving in the winter will be handy when it’s spring and summer, too.
2. Remember cold weather = cold tires = less traction
Let’s assume your tires are in great working order. (Quit reading now if your tires are bald or decrepit, and go buy new ones) Your tires, under normal conditions, heat up from use after you ride a bit, resulting in tighter traction and enabling you to control the machine like a champ. In freezing weather, you can safely assume any tire heat gathered from your trip is gone after as much as a 60-second stop, and you’re starting from scratch. Check your pressure in cold weather more often in winter, too, and use a gauge, not your eyes.
3. Establish a relationship with a local motorcycle-specific tow-and-repair service
You have a dentist and a doctor even though you don’t need one right this second, right? So what if your bike ends up on its side when it’s snowing, you Google “motorcycle tow” and discover the nearest guy with a flatbed is 50 miles away? Scout a good, reliable local tow place in advance; go visit them, bring them a donut, shoot the breeze, give ’em your card, take theirs and if they’re especially friendly, give ’em a thumbs-up on Yelp or Facebook . Consider, too, joining the American Motorcycle Association, who, among other things, will assist you with roadside service in your time of need.
4. If it starts to snow, hang it up if you can.
Freezing cold weather, wind and even ice can be dealt with by beginners or near-beginners. But when a snowstorm happens, your visibility is typically reduced to garbage and you can either tough it home going 4 miles an hour and trying to avoid black ice, inept auto drivers, sharp curves and the like, or you can find the nearest mall or similar shelter and wait it out. No one will think you a cupcake just because you don’t want to ride in the snow, either, so go ahead and find sanctuary when God’s dandruff falls from the sky.
5. Wear proper gear
We’ve heard this all our motorcycling lives, and some of us pay more attention to it than others. But the arctic buzz-kill is a great time to invest in some heavy-duty gear including boots, pants, jacket, gloves and a full-face DOT-approved helmet. Not only does proper gear help prevent road rash, serious injury or worse in the event of a crash, it keeps you toasty. Anyone who has tried to tough out a ride through freezing weather knows the particular hell of biking with some part of your body involuntarily naked.
One way to stay warm is to consider heated gear – pants, gloves, jackets – equipped with electronics one either charges beforehand or hooks up to an equipped motorcycle. Harley-Davidson makes easy-to-use heated gloves and heated jacket liners that not only will keep you as warm as a baked potato wrapped in foil, they look suitably badass even if they’re not in use. The drawback to heated gear is the time it takes you to connect yourself up like the Frankenstein monster before hitting the road – but those who regularly use the gear swear by it, and Harley’s heated gear has gotten far more user-friendly over the last ten years.