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Winter riding – tips to keep you safe and warm

Production Manager - Still considers himself a novice rider, despite passing his test nearly thirty years ago.



Top tips for riding your motorcycle in winter safely_04


Should I ride in winter?

Don't be a hero. If the roads outside are genuinely dangerous and you have the option to stay home or take the car… do it.

Snow, ice, and freezing fog are horrible to ride in and anyone who says otherwise is a liar. Strong winds are easier than you might think to survive with some practice, cold winter rain is unpleasant-but-manageable. It’s your choice, be smart.


How do I prepare myself for winter riding?

The most important thing is to fuel yourself - you wouldn’t ride your bike on empty, so why expect your brain and body to perform at its best on empty? We all remember the advert with the glowing child who had had his Ready-Brek (other cereals are available), so take a leaf out his book and have a hot breakfast if you can. It doesn't have to be a greasy fry-up, muesli in hot milk is filling, full of slow-release energy and ready in two minutes if you have a microwave. At the very least have a hot sweet drink before you leave.


Top tips for riding your motorcycle in winter safely_03

Base layers might look a bit odd, but if you're warm, who cares?


How do I stay warm when riding in winter?

Our mantra here is 'Get warm to stay warm'. Choose your kit carefully – leathers are great in the summer but horribly cold in the winter – especially if they have perforations.

Textiles are much better suited to winter riding, but you'll still need to layer up underneath.

While there are plenty of motorcycle related brands that offer base and mid layers (don't forget that BikeSocial members get discounts on many), the good news is that you don’t have to spend a fortune. Walking clothes are ideal and readily available from the likes of Mountain Warehouse at reasonable prices. Try to go for technical fabrics, they may feel cold at first, but soon warm up and wick away any body moisture quickly, meaning you won't get as cold.

Consider wearing thick tights, not only do they keep your legs warmer, but they provide great defence against drafts around your ankles.

Put your gloves and boots on the radiator for an hour before you leave. Putting on cold kit can be horrible (even worse when its damp too) and making sure you are warm before you leave the house at least gives you fighting chance of staying warm.

Try and put your kit on the back of a chair near the window – even weak winter sun will warm dark textiles. At the very least bring your kit in from the garage or utility well before you need to wear it.

Put a pinlock insert in your visor. Winter riding is difficult enough without your visor fogging up at every exhalation. Most helmets come with pinlock posts on the visors, and many come supplied with an insert in the box. Practice fitting it to make sure you get a nice even tight seal and keep it meticulously clean to avoid scratches or hazing.

Consider wearing silk or merino gloves inside your riding gloves. So long as they don't add too much bulk, they can add some much needed insulation as well as being to be tucked under your base layer sleeves to ensure an airtight seal.

Wear something in Hi-Viz – the road isn't a fashion catwalk and as unfashionable as you may think Hi-Viz is, you need to do everything you can to be as visible as possible. Remember, if it's hard for you to see through the fog and murk, it's just as hard for everyone else to see you.

If your bike is your only choice of transport over the winter months, consider investing in some heated kit – even just a vest will mean that your core stays warm, but if you can stretch to gloves too, then even better.


A simple garden thermometer, visible from the house, is a useful tool for bikers.


What should I pack for winter riding?

Packing a few extra small items could mean the difference between an inconvenience and a complete disaster. Make sure your phone is fully charged but take a battery pack and cable if you have one – being stranded on a back road is bad enough, it's even worse if you have a dead phone.

Take a warm wet microfibre in a Ziplock bag with you and keep it in an inside pocket. Not only will it act like a mini hot-water bottle for a while, but when you do need to clean your visor, lights or number plate, you'll have the perfect tool (do your visor first if you need to do your lights too). Take a couple if you have a long journey or can't rinse out your cloth at your destination. Be aware that clearing a visor covered in salty slush with your glove will smear said salty slush all over it.

A travel sized bottle with a spray head, filled with de-icer might get you out of a jam if your steering lock, luggage locks or ignition barrel freeze up overnight.


It doesn't take long for your lights and screen to look pretty grubby


How do I prepare my bike for winter riding?

Before you set off, make sure your lights and number plate are clean and clear of frost or snow (remember that LED lights produce no heat, so won't clear on their own, and may need regular clearing).

Check your tyre pressures. Prolonged cold will have dropped the pressure in your tyres as the air contracts. Be aware that the cold roads mean that your tyres won't warm up anywhere near as much they would normally, so not only is your grip reduced, but your tyres could stay underinflated. Don't over inflate your tyres though as you need every bit of contact patch you can get.

Clean your screen – the roads will be dirty and spray from other traffic as well as any mist or fog will soon obscure your view. When cleaning your screen after a ride, try to rinse it first to remove any grit or salt – wiping a dirty screen will leave swirls on the surface which is make night riding a nightmare of refracted lights.

Spend a few minutes warming up your bike, but don’t leave it running on the driveway unattended (this may invalidate your insurance). A cold bike may have jerky fuelling making that first roundabout even more difficult than it needs to be.


A pothole is inconvenient in the summer, but could be lethal in the winter


Tips for riding a motorcycle in the winter.

Plan your route carefully – even if you know the way like the back of your hand. Can you avoid a particularly exposed country road that may be ungritted? Can you avoid steep hills or unlit roads? Might it be better to stick to a dual-carriageway or motorway instead of your usual B-road route? Like we said at the beginning, now is not the time for heroics – you need to get there and back with as little stress as possible.

Start very slowly. Many residential streets don’t get gritted, so your first half-mile might be the worst part of the journey. Don’t be afraid of riding with your feet down for the first few hundred meters. This will give you some confidence that you're not going to crash instantly, while allowing you catch any small slips and slides.

Once you've cleared your street and are on the main roads, avoid hard acceleration and braking. Stay off the brakes if you can. Use engine braking and gears to do most of your slowing down and just the brakes to bring you to a halt.

Keep your riding as smooth as possible, straightening corners where possible and safe to do so.

On partially cleared roads, try and stay in the clear tyre tracks of other cars and traffic, but be aware that on untreated roads the tyre tracks may be compacted snow or ice, so if you’re brave enough, or have knobbly tyres, you might be better making your own route. Riding up a slippery hill works best if you get rolling and keep rolling at a steady speed. Hang back from the traffic ahead so you don’t have to keep stopping and restarting.

Going down a slippery hill works best using slow speed, a low gear and engine braking. If you must use the bike’s brakes use more rear brake than front and apply both (especially the front brake) gently so not to load the suspension too much.

Keep one eye on your mirrors, watching out for anyone behind that isn't paying as much attention as they should. You might need to make a quick exit.

Beware of the low winter sun which, when combined with wet roads or snow, can be blinding. If you have a built-in sun visor use it, otherwise, just be aware that you may need to reduce your speed more than expected, and also watch out for other users who may not be able to see you in the glare.


Winter riding can have some benefits – need to beat the traffic to get your Christmas shopping done?


What else can I do to make winter riding safer?

Keep your body active – keep your hands and fingers moving to keep the blood flowing.

Keep your mind active – give a commentary to yourself of everything you can see, what hazards there may be, what the road signs are telling you. Not only will this keep you alert but over time will make you a more observant rider and make your riding, and driving, safer in all conditions.

Be aware of brain fog – prolonged exposure to the cold can quickly reduce brain function. If at any time you feel unusually lethargic or just not quite right, pull over try to get warm and get a hot drink inside you.

Be aware of your surroundings. Urban roads are likely to be defrosted due to the warming effect of cities (the urban heat island effect) but exposed roads, roads in shadow, or roads close to water may well be a few degrees colder, meaning the difference between a puddle of water and a sheet of black ice.

Keep an eye out for road signs warning of ice. These are typically located on roads that are susceptible to unexpected icing, often for unseen reasons (underground water courses etc).

Early morning, lunchtime and evening rides will be completely different to each other. Don’t assume that the road that was clear and grippy this morning will be the same this evening (and vice-versa).

Black ice is most common in the early morning after the overnight freeze, so be particularly careful then.


What do I do if I drop my bike on a winter ride?

If you drop the bike and break something essential (clutch or brake lever etc), it breaks down or conditions get too bad to continue, try to find a safe place to leave the bike. Away from the road, hidden from view and secure if you can. Bear in mind that if conditions continue it might be a while before you can retrieve it. The ideal solution is push it to a house or business, ask if you can leave it there, secure it as best you can and call your recovery service. If they can retrieve it, brilliant. If not, at least you and they know where it is.


Riding at night presents its own hazards, especially at these speeds!


What should I do after a winter ride?

The biggest temptation, when you get to work after a nightmare commute, is to dump your kit in a pile and start your day, but you'll regret this later when it's time to go home and you have pull on wet, cold kit. Take five-minutes to hang your kit up. Try to keep jackets, gloves, and boots as open as possible to allow any moisture to evaporate. Put your boots and gloves somewhere warm, but not in direct heat – you don’t want to dry out any leather and crack it.


Don’t forget to clean and lube your chain. Road salt will soon make it rust.


What should I do at the end of the day?

Avoid the temptation to park up and just lock-and-leave your bike – take some time to clean your lights and number plates, clean and lube your chain, and check your tyres for foreign objects.

Put your battery on charge. Most batteries don’t like the cold, and if you've been running heated kit, heated grips, extra lights or other accessories, your battery has taken a pounding. Combine this with lots of stop-start riding and you could soon wind up with a flat battery.

Not only will your bike thank you for some TLC, but come the morning, you'll be confident that you can manage another day of winter riding, and who knows, you might even enjoy it!


Gordon Stuart has raised over £19,000 for charity, riding more than 22,000 miles in harsh winter conditions


The expert says: Gordon Stuart, Arctic Rider

With three charity fund-raising trips north of the Arctic in Alaska under his belt, not to mention having spent the past 18 winters riding the roads of North East England and Scotland, Gordon Stuart – AKA The Arctic Rider – shares his top tips for keeping warm…


Know how cold it’s going to be. Riders often forget, but always check the weather forecast for the temperature, wind speed and direction. And also consider how fast you plan to ride – there’s a big difference between motorway riding and tight mountain roads. When I was in Iceland in 2018 I was getting blasted by 70mph winds with an air temperature of 6°C; when you apply the wind chill factor it feels like -3°C. And that was before I opened the throttle.

Layers, layers, layers. As the article says, if you think it’s going to be cold, layer up and bring a spare layer with you too. Even in early ‘Summer’ in Arctic Norway I had a base layer of thermals plus trousers, T-shirt, woollen shirt and jumper as well as my bike gear.

A waterproof over-suit was at the top of my pannier ready to chuck on if I got too cold, and boy did that help.

The key thing to layers is making sure you have enough room in your bike gear to accommodate the extra padding. Whenever I buy a new jacket, I always size up in preparation for being cold on the bike.

Keep the draughts out. Know where your helmet vents are and close them. Get a neck warmer and tuck in your gloves before you set off. These sound like simple things, but they’re effective; I’ve ridden with mates who’ve been chilly because they didn’t spend an extra 60 seconds on the basics.

One of the biggest draughts is through your visor; I discovered the hard way in the Scottish Highlands when, due to the setting sun, I opened my visor to beat the glare, only to realise 30 minutes later that my body temperature had dropped and I was suddenly feeling rather worse for wear.

Keep dry. I didn’t get a Gore-Tex textile suit until I’d been riding for 15 years, but earlier in my bike career I invested in three very important bits of kit:

Firstly, some fully waterproof boots. These tend not to be the most stylish, but they’re worth the investment.

Secondly, some quality waterproof gloves. I picked some up before my trip to Iceland for £50 and they’ve been worth every penny.

Thirdly, that all important waterproof over-suit. This can make up for being unable to invest in expensive textiles. My waterproof suit was the perfect addition to my leathers for the best part of 12 years.

Invest in some tech (if you can afford it) For most of my life on the road I’ve been a budget-biker making the most of what I could afford, but in 2018 I was lucky enough to get a loan from Suzuki of their top-spec adventure bike and did more than 5,000 miles in the comfort of all things ‘heated’. Heated grips are a game-changer riding in the cold, and I urge you to try them if you haven’t already. It was only this year that I took the plunge and invested in a heated vest, which wasn’t just a game-changer but a life-changer. I can’t believe I waited almost two decades to feel the switch-adjustable heat warming my core.

Gordon Stuart (AKA The Arctic Rider) is on a mission to ride his motorbike across the Arctic Circle in every country possible, while raising money and awareness for causes close to his heart.

“It started in 2011 as a charity ride to the Arctic Circle that didn’t really go to plan, and has become a near obsession with the Arctic, an obsession with riding a motorbike, and an obsession helping organisations who help others” he said.

To date, Gordon has raised over £19,000 for charities and ridden over 22,000 miles as part of the challenges.

Gordon is an ambassador for UK-brain injury charity Cerebra and global youth leader forum One Young World, as well as a fundraiser for special care babies charity Tiny Lives and The National Autistic Society. He is keen motorcyclist, writer, and film maker.