Common Tread

Winterizing? You must mean "winter riding"

Nov 17, 2016

Pennsy’s got some variance in the weather. For instance, last year I was riding a freshly built chopper in a T-shirt on Christmas Eve. Compare that to 2011, when we got blasted with eight inches of snow… on Halloween.

As such, some of my bikes get mothballed for the cold weather. We have an article covering some winterization techniques, but I know some of you (like me) stay rolling through the cold weather. If you plan to ride through winter, there are some practices, products, and perspectives that may make life easier. You old hands have your own coping strategies, but for the rookies, there might be a gem or two in here.

Obstacles abound!

winter road
Traction can be uncertain, this time of year. Photo by Lance Oliver.
I outlined a few special seasonal hazards in our fall riding tips article last year, and most of them exist through to colder weather. There are a few additional ones that present themselves in winter, though. Many areas sprinkle a mixture of salt and gravel to aid in traction. Normally, that’s not terrible, but as that stuff builds up, it can collect at the outside of turns. We all know to watch for gravel, but remember it may be accumulating faster than you think., oh. Ice and snow. You want to watch out for them.

Expect “stupid” fingers

Look, in autumn, the riding ain’t too bad. In the winter, it's a different story. It’s flat-out cold. Even with layers, heated gear, and ‘lectric grips, it’s still cold out. Dr. Kaplan can probably explain things much more eloquently than I can, but layman's terms still convey the point: Your extremities tend to lose sensitivity and dexterity when it's cold. If you get really cold, your judgment can even suffer as hypothermia sets in. Be aware that your response times are likely lower and your mental acuity could be below par.

Bring spare socks and gloves

Sweat happens, even when you are cold. Cold and wet, however, is not only miserable, but kind of dangerous. If you’re covering any serious mileage, make sure you bring along some dry socks and glubs. They fit in a pocket and can make cold digits and little piggies very happy.

outdoor thermometer at 27 degrees
RevZilla ain't in SoCal. You ever notice how the motorcycle magazines never report on battery cold-cranking amps? Photo by Lemmy.

Check your tire pressure — a lot

Cold weather drops tire pressures one psi or so per 10 degrees (F) of temperature drop — sometimes even more. A slightly underinflated tire and a cold snap is a recipe for disaster. And if you’ve got super-sticky sport tires, swap ‘em out for something that grips at lower temperatures.

This is a 1949 Indian Scout fitted with a bolt-on ski package. It looks like a bad idea, but a fun one. Photo by Daderot.

Modify your bike

Heated handgrips, heated gear leads, upgraded stators, handguards — all of these can help keep you comfy. (We’ve got a good article with a video detailing some of the electrical ins and outs of installing heated gear, if you need help.) If you’re riding in cold weather, electrical heated items are probably the easiest way to take the edge off. Also, if you’ve got a windshield, install it! It sounds dumb, but I know it's easy to pop it off and forget you have it. Out of sight, out of mind, out in the cold? Methinks not.

Mind the gap

It’s easy to forget how cold your neck gets from air passing the gap between your helmet and jacket. You'll remember just a few miles after you set off.

Bring out the dirt bikes

Snow riding
Wrong tires, but right idea. Photo by fortepan.
Dirt bikes, dual-sports and adventure bikes are practically made for winter riding. They have knobbier tires to bite into snow. They also are pretty sturdy, so if you go down, the bike is likely to fare a lot better than a street machine. If you're trying to get comfortable with losing traction and sliding, heading off-road in snowy weather is a great way to do so — just be sure of what lies under the snow. Loose surfaces are part of off-road riding. Why not practice in the off season? Snow means different motorcycling, not no motorcycling.

Hug them jugs

If your fingers are feelin' like Popsicles, reach down and grab a handful of engine. Your motor is a giant heat machine. Why let it all go to waste?

Look out for popup potholes

Plows plow not just snow, but also the asphalt below. Fresh pavement damage can occur literally daily. Some holes can get positively cavernous — like “swallowed your front wheel”-sized. The only thing worse than a pinch flat is taking off heated gloves to repair a pinch flat. Frost-heaved pavement can leave some fun surprises, too. Just remember your local road crew is working to clear the roads, not repair them. Stay vigilant.