Author: Phil Turner Posted: 02 Oct 2014
Winter Guide: prepare yourself and your bike
That first trickle of rain down the neck; the numb fingers and toes; the point at which you're so cold, your body shivers on the inside. None of these are the ingredients of a happy journey, but neither is sitting in the car watching someone else filtering through the traffic jam.
The onset of winter doesn't have to mean hanging up your helmet, and it also doesn't necessarily mean you have to shell out two grand for the latest Gore-Tex, two-piece textile and fit a barn-door faring either. A few additions to your kit cupboard and a bit of bike prep means you can extend your riding right through 'till spring. Here's some of the best advice on making the most of riding through winter:
Your kit: layer-up
Take a leaf out of the adventure riders' book, they manage four seasons in one day: from balmy sunshine in the valley bottoms, to biting winds and blizzards on the tops, and everything in-between. There isn't a riding suit made that'll cope with that and still be comfortable / affordable / practical. Layering is what's it's all about, and the beauty is you can add and remove to suit the conditions. Don't go crazy though, four is the magic number.
The BASE LAYER is probably the most important as it needs to keep your skin dry. A layer of water next to your skin is not a good idea - it'll evaporate taking your body heat with it. So, forget the old BSB T-shirt you have in the drawer because cotton can absorb up to ten times its own weight in water / sweat and takes forever to dry. Go for a proper, technical base layer like Oxford's Cool Dry. Proper base layers are fast drying, breathable and often anti-bacterial. Go for something that's close-fitting, so it doesn't crease up under your riding kit, and that has flat seams for extra comfort.
Next you'll need to be trapping a layer of warm air next you, the logic being if your core is warm the rest of you will be. A MID LAYER does this job. There's no hard and fast rule with this, it can be wool, fleece, or synthetic, but you're best bet is to go for something tailored for the job like Rukka's Toast Mid-Layer Set, or even their Next-to-Skin range. Whatever you choose, it should be thin, so it doesn't restrict movement, and breathable to help keep that body moisture moving. If you can, go for one that has some kind of windbreaker layer too: wind chill can drop your body temperature seriously quickly.
For the real lap of luxury, you can always go for a heated vest. They can be powered by your bike, or a separate battery pack, and will give you instant, controllable heat.
Next comes the MOTORCYCLE LAYER, and although I'm sure a few will argue, it pretty much needs to be textile. Steer clear of cheap and cheerful and go for something more adventure / touring focused. If you can, get something that has the waterproof element / treatment on the outer shell - having the waterproof layer on the inside means the outer bit gets soaked through, and you're back to square one. If you can't don't worry, we'll sort that out in a minute. You can dump the thermal inner as well, if you like, your mid-layer will do the same job.
Go for a long jacket, like Oxford's Spartan, or the Buffalo Storm Tourer and look for something with adjustable neck and cuffs, to seal in that warm air and keep out the wet and wind. Get one with venting too, so if it gets warmer you can just wear your base layer and open the vents, and when it’s cold, close them and the mid-layer.
Pair that with a decent set of textile trousers, that are waterproof, breathable and offer a decent amount of armour / protection, and you shouldn't go far wrong.
If it’s properly miserable add a waterproof OUTER LAYER. This will keep out the rain and act as an extra barrier against wind. A one piece, like the Weise Rain Suit or Richa's Typhoon Rain Overall, will do a great job of sealing out the elements, but are a bit of a faff to get on and off. A two-piece – Oxford's Bone Dry or the Ixon Fog Jacket and Trousers are easier to manage, and still do a good job. Again, go for something that's breathable if you can. Hi-vis is also a good idea, for a little added safety.
Oxford's Rain Seal one and two piece suits will keep you dry and seen, or get a hi vis vest: Buffalo, Weise, Oxford and Proviz all do them. If your budget is tight, go for a reflective bib or arm/leg bands.
Once that's all sorted, turn your attention to your extremities. Hands and feet are the first to go on a cold ride, so it's well worth spending a few quid to keep them covered.
Obviously, your gloves need to keep your hands warm and dry but they need to do that whilst being easy to get on and off and not too bulky to restrict your ability to feel the controls. They should offer a decent amount of protection too. There's a myriad of types and styles, but you're basically looking at textile – Milano Sport Winter or Ixon Pro Level 2 – or leather – like Buffalo's Delta or the Ixon Pro Fighter. Although they look weird, three-finger versions like Richa's 2330 keep you extra toasty.
The same basic rules apply to boots: they need to be insulated, waterproof and still allow enough freedom of movement and feel to keep you in control. If budget allows, go for something with a breathable waterproof layer like the Alpinestars Web Gore-Tex or TCX's Explorer Evo. If you're budget is tight, something like the Oxford Cherokee, Blytz Roma or Richa's Adventure will do just as well. Buy on the large side to allow for thick socks.
If you're feeling flush, a flip-front helmet is a great addition to the kit cupboard as you can interact with people along the way, without having to take you're lid off and let the cold and wet in. A FogCity visor insert, anti-fog coating and / or a Breath Deflector or Face Mask is also worth investing in, to keep your view of the road nice and clear.
Your bike: preparation, prevention, protection
Once you've sorted yourself out, it's worth a bit of time and effort to kit out your bike out for the winter weather too. Look after it and it'll look after you, and should be still in good condition come springtime.
First and foremost are tyres. The vital link between you and road, and in need particular attention during the winter months, due to the foul road conditions you're likely to encounter. Most manufacturers offer specific winter tyres these days, designed to cope with the low temperatures and rain. If you can afford to invest in a set, do so. If you can't, make sure you have plenty of tread on your existing ones and check pressures and general condition regularly.
Either way, punctures are more likely when the rain starts falling – the water acts as a lubricant for nails and screws etc. – so it might be worth thinking about a tyre sealants like Slime or GOOP to reduce the risk.
A larger touring-type screen, or a double bubble can go a long way to keeping you protected from the wind and rain, and a set of heated grips and / or hand muffs will keep your hands lovely and warm, and means you can opt for a less bulky winter glove.
Looking after your battery is also important during winter – especially if you're going to be running heated grips or clothing. Low temperatures have a significant impact on batteries. The power output drops, as the chemical reaction that generates electrons to supply the current happens more slowly. It's worth upgrading to something like a Dynavolt Gel Nano or Shorai Lithium LFX, as they're designed to perform much better than standard batteries in lower temperatures.
Using an intelligent charger like those from the OptiMate range, will also help keep your battery in tip top condition. Most are fully automatic and with overcharge, reverse polarity and spark protection built-in, so they can just be plugged in and forgotten. Some can also be used outdoors, thanks to weatherproof casings.
Clean and protect:
Left unchecked, water and salt can cause lasting and irreparable damage to your bike, so it's crucial to properly clean, dry and treat it after each ride.
It's equally as important to choose the right product, as some cleaning solutions can do more harm than good. An all-in one cleaner - like SDoc 100 Motorcycle Gel Total Cleaner, Muc-Off Nanotech or WD-40 Total Wash – will cut through the grease and grime without damaging sensitive surfaces. Some also neutralise salt, and leave behind an anti-corrosive layer.
Make sure you rinse it properly, dry it with a chamois / soft cloth (air-drying leaves water marks ) and then give it a liberal coating with corrosion protector like WD-40 or Sdoc100, for extra defence against salt, as well as lubricating, displacing moisture, and helping to stop any existing corrosion from developing further.
And don't forget your chain. Again, use a specific motorcycle cleaner like Scottoiler FST52 Cleaner & Degreaser (for tough contamination, go over the chain links with a brush), rinse and dry thoroughly, and then apply an even coating of chain lube / grease. Aim the spray nozzle at the inside of the chain, rotating the wheel until you've covered three full revolutions of the chain.
If you're storing your bike outside, covering it is a must. A good quality cover will keep off rain, frost, snow, spray from passing vehicles, guard against UV exposure, not to mention prying eyes. Get the best you can afford. Something like BikeTek's Rain Cover Deluxe is ideal, as it's waterproof; is vented to allow moisture to escape; is shaped to fit properly and has an elasticated bottom seam and tie-down eyelets to stop it flapping about / coming off in the wind.