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Common Tread

Five gear tips for cold-weather riding

Oct 19, 2019

Whether you’re on two wheels or not, keeping your core warm is the most important aspect of staying comfortable during the winter.

Ever wonder why your fingers and your toes are generally the first things to go in cold weather? If your core temperature begins to drop, your body restricts warm blood flow to your extremities in order to maintain your core’s temperature. Your body is essentially going into survival mode to keep the most important parts of your body, such as your heart and other vital organs, at the appropriate temperature. I’m sure there’s a more scientifical way to explain this, but you get the gist.

So how do we keep our core warm and keep riding comfortably when the temperature drops? Here’s the gear you need.

Base layers: The basics

Base layers are the first line of defense for your core temperature. They’re comfortable and easily fit underneath your existing gear, but more importantly, they’re made of materials that manage moisture. Spurgeon’s favorite and now ancient cotton T-shirt from his Nashville rock star days may be super comfortable, but cotton holds moisture, and that moisture conducts heat away from your body. Dedicated base layers use materials that wick perspiration away from your skin, keeping you drier and warmer.

There’s a ton of options available on the market and, in my experience, they’re all a little different buuuut they’re all kinda the same, too, in both comfort and performance. One choice that gives you a lot of bang for the buck is the Freeze-Out Warm'R Long Sleeve Shirt, but you’ll find options from most of the motorcycle gear manufacturers.

Heated motorcycle gear
The Hotwired 12V Heated Jacket Liner Evo connects to the bike via a battery harness. It's easily one of my favorites for its simplicity. Photo by Brandon Wise.

Heated gear: The next step

If you ride long enough and in temperatures cold enough, you’ll eventually reach a point where your body can’t generate enough heat on its own, no matter how well you’re dressed. That’s when you need help, in the form of electrically heated gear.

Heated gear is the ultimate tactic for keeping your core warm, with something like a heated vest, so the rest of your body stays comfortable, or directly heating those extremities that are getting shortchanged on blood flow, with something like heated gloves or even heated insoles for your boots. Heated gear is powered by your motorcycle’s electrical system or, in some cases, by its own battery, so your own body isn’t your only source of heat.

The technology nowadays is very user-friendly and typically utilizes a “plug-and-play” system that doesn’t require any serious mechanical savvy for installation. Still, it’s important to make sure your bike’s electrical system can properly support heated gear before you start tossing on a bunch of accessories. If you’re not sure what your bike can properly handle, check out Powerlet’s “shop by vehicle” feature to get a better understanding of what accessories your ride can support.

A short, personal aside. The first two years after I moved to Philadelphia, my Kawasaki ZRX1100 and my pedal bike were my only transportation. Sure, there are buses and trains, but public transportation is not the best bet for getting to work on time. I knew about heated gear, but I came up with all kinds of dumb reasons I didn’t need it. I’d simply layer up and suffer through the winter on my motor tooter. When I finally snagged one of my buddy’s heated jackets, I was hooked! How could I possibly go back to not having what felt like a perfect little toaster oven in my jacket? It made an astounding difference.

I only share this story in case you’re on the fence about spending the coin on toaster gear. I’m telling you, one rider to another, it’s totally worth it.

So what’s in my closet now? Both Gerbing and Powerlet are great brands and make quality gear that works well. Lately, I’ve been recommending Hotwired gear, such as the Hotwired 12V Heated Jacket Liner Evo, to my friends who are looking to get electrified while spending a little less.

Winter gloves: Hands are essential

Winter gloves are a must for any riders spending time on two wheels out in the cold. I suffered through without heated gear, but there’s no way I could have ridden in the winter without a nice set of winter gloves. Having good dexterity in your hands is essential for operating a motorcycle. If your fingers are frozen and you can’t feel them, you’re not only going to be uncomfortable, but you’re also not going to be as fully in control of the bike as you should be.

Winter gloves have thermal liners and often add a waterproof layer. The thermal liners obviously help with insulation while the waterproof layer will help block the wind and keep your hands dry during inclement weather.

Keeping dry is critical in cold weather. That’s why if I’m going to be out on two wheels for any prolonged amount of time, I either wear a reliably waterproof jacket and pants or I carry a rain suit. If the temperatures are going to change a lot during a day-long ride, being able to add a rain suit over top of your other gear can make a huge difference in your comfort as night and temperatures fall.

Balaclava: For the forgotten vulnerability

If you see me out riding in cold weather, I’ll probably be wearing something like my REV’IT! Vapor 2 Jacket and REV’IT! Vapor 2 pants and my TCX X-Five Plus Gore-Tex Boots (I’m a huge fan of TCX boots). So there I am, fully protected in my warm gear and full-face helmet. Where’s the weak spot?

Motorcycle balaclava
You can certainly bring baklava on your winter rides, but it probably won't keep you warm. Sakaman photo.

The neck is an area riders often leave exposed to the elements, right where your body is pumping lots of warm blood to your brain. A balaclava, not to be confused with baklava, adds insulation and protects your neck from the biting cold of the wind. This is such a small and simple item and it’s cheap, but it makes a huge difference to your comfort level during cold-weather riding.

Motorcycle handguard
Hand guards are an easy way to keep wind off your hands, allowing you to ride farther in the cold. Photo by Brandon Wise.

Windscreen and handguards: The wind is your enemy

Why are we getting cold on our motorcycles in the first place? Mainly wind chill. The wind is carrying away your heat faster than your body can create it. So in addition to the gear you wear, you can make a big difference by making changes to your ride that protect you from the wind.

Motorcycle windscreen
Whether you're touring or simply looking for protection from the cold, a windscreen will deflect wind from your core, keeping you more comfortable. Photo by Brandon Wise.

Depending on what motorcycle you ride, you may be able to add an aftermarket windscreen or get one that provides more protection than the stock screen. Plus, even if you’re wearing weatherproof, winter gloves, you can give your hands some extra help by adding handguards. I run some Barkbusters Blizzard Universal Handguards during the winter. They’re not the prettiest looking thing you’ll toss on your ride, but they make a big difference.

There's one more thing about handguards. While heated gear is great (including heated gloves), there's the undeniable inconvenience of dealing with wires. And you have to remember to unplug before you get off your motorcycle. That's why lots of riders prefer the convenience of heated grips. The limitation is that heated grips heat only one side of your hand. If you do have heated grips and want to extend their effectiveness, handguards can be a real help by shielding the backs of your hands from the wind.

These are just a few accessories and pieces of gear to keep in mind when you’re preparing for the cold. If you have a favorite piece of gear that helps you get through the winter months (moving to Miami doesn’t count), tell us about it in the comments.