Winter Motorcycling

The RAC give us their top tips for riding in winter, plus check out how to keep your bike in tip-top condition.

For some riders, winter riding is simply not an option. For them, the bike goes into hibernation in the garage, protected by a thick layer of grease and covered by a tarpaulin until the spring shoots appear. If this is you, then check out our winter motorcycling storage tips.

But it doesn't have to be that way. With the right kit, a little common sense and some minor changes in your riding style, you can carry on riding safely through all but the worst of the winter weather.

Riding anytime of the year demands caution, however winter in particular can be treacherous. Almost half of Britain's motorcyclists say that riding on icy, winter roads is one of the worst aspects of motorcycling. Check out these helpful hints from The RAC, together with a list of the common hazards that bikers may face during the winter months plus our guide on winter motorcycle maintenance.

 

Dos & Don'ts
  • Signal earlier.
  • Check your lights and tyre pressures.
  • Increase the braking distance to account for wet roads.
  • Invest in warm, reflective kit.
  • Use anti-misting spray on your spectacles (if you wear them) and visor (if you don't have a pinlock).
  • Don't assume that the drivers around you have seen you.
  • Avoid wearing dark clothing. Particularly in the evening and early morning.
  • Be wary of riding in strong winds.
  • Never underestimate wet leaves.
Two motorcyclists ride under dark clouds in the winter

Check the weather

Don't over estimate your abilities. If it is snowing outside or if you know it’s going to snow do not venture out on your bike. Tempting as it is to think you have the experience and response times to keep safe, accidents do happen.

Even if the weather looks mild, ice patches could have formed overnight or black ice formed in the morning, which can radically reduce grip. Even though your tyres may heat up over time, cold tyres on a cold surface provides less traction than hot tyres and a hot surface.

Understand wind chill 

A thermometer may tell you the ambient temperature, but it doesn’t consider the wind chill factor. Wind chill is effectively what the temperature ‘feels like’ and takes into account air temperature, relative humidity and wind strength.

For riders, wind strength is of particular importance. For example, if you are travelling at 20mph the ambient temperature may be 0 °C, but the wind chill is approximately -6 °C. Similarly, if the ambient temperature is 0 °C and you are travelling at 45mph the wind chill is approximately -9 °C.

Check your braking distances

With winter conditions increasing braking distances the chance of a biker being involved in an accident increases. There are a number of factors that can affect braking distances, be it vehicle weight, speed, braking force and thinking time. But, all of these factors are exacerbated during winter.

 

During Winter these braking distances can increase up to ten times.

For a typical rider travelling at 30mph, with a 210kg bike, on average the thinking distance would be 9 metres, braking distance 14 metres with a stopping distance of 23 metres. During Winter these braking distances can increase up to ten times. To combat this, increase the distance to the vehicle in front.

Wear the right winter gear

Your motorcycle helmet is the most important piece of safety equipment. Generally a typical helmet is good for five years, three if used regularly. Riding in temperatures below 10°C can affect a biker’s ability if they don’t have the appropriate clothing.

 
A balaclava, neck warmer and long underwear should be worn, but it is recommended that riders invest in heated clothing too.

 

Warm black gloves for winter motorcycling
 
Heated vests, jackets and gloves have wires running through them, which are connected to a control unit that can adjust heat levels. These clothes produce temperatures which should help shield from the extreme cold. With shorter days in winter, riders should also wear a high-visibility jacket.

What to check before you travel


During the winter it is essential that you check your T-CLOCS. This stands for Tyres, Controls, Lights, Oil, Chassis and Stands, and all should be inspected before you ride. In addition, make sure the drive chain is properly lubricated & check that the bike roles freely without resistance, which is a good indication that the brake pads haven’t stuck to the discs from salt corrosion.

When you do start your bike, if you haven’t run it in a while, let the engine warm up for a couple of minutes before revving it up. Best practice would be to get the bike to normal operating temperature before starting your journey. After that take your bike out for a short ride as one final check.

The simple advice is to take it easy. Save your carefree open-road riding for those glorious summer mornings. In winter the conditions need as much care as you can muster. Not only will there be much less grip on wet and icy roads, you will also be challenged by the wind and the rain as you ride along. So use your lane, and give yourself space to adapt, adjust, and slow down. And if you have a long ride ahead, plan to stop and warm up along the way.

 

Take your time and pay attention to other road users.

 

If you do have to go out this winter on your bike, stay alert and ride well within your limit. For all the problems of winter riding, it still beats standing at a bus stop in the rain, or struggling to de-ice your frozen car every morning. With a little planning and a little care, you'll be enjoying the sunshine of spring before you know it.
 
Click on the following links for tips on winter motorcycle storagetyre safety and more biking advice.
 

 

Winter motorcycle maintenance

Clean and lube the chain regularly

This task doesn’t take long at all and can help extend the life and performance of your bike. If you don’t have a good, automatic chain oiler fitted, such as a Scottoiler, you must lube your chain regularly, at least weekly if being used. Getting your bike on a paddock stand helps as it allows the rear wheel and chain to run freely while you apply. It’s also worth remembering to lube the chain AFTER riding rather than before which lets the lubricant get into all the gaps rather than being flung off straight away.

 
Lubricant being applied to a motorcycle chain

Change the oil

Whether your bike’s going to be sitting still all winter or out on the road, now’s a good time to change the oil. Dirty oil contains contaminates that can increase corrosion, leading to premature engine wear. Start by firing up the engine and let it run for several minutes to get everything up to operating temperature. Then, drain the old oil, and refill the engine with whatever viscosity is recommended by your owner’s manual. There’s no need for any special ‘winter’ blend or oil additive, so save your pennies and buy your bike’s regular oil.

Check the anti-freeze

Modern, liquid-cooled machines depend on water in their radiators to keep cool which will freeze when temperatures fall below zero in wintertime. This can be avoided by adding anti-freeze but the complete system will need to be flushed through.

Look after your battery

Bike batteries get a tough time over the winter months as the lower temperatures slow the chemical reaction. It needs a regular run to keep it charged but if it’s not possible and your garage has a power supply, try using a trickle charger to keep the battery in condition. It’s also worth tightening up the connectors on the terminals and keeping them covered in grease to keep moisture out.
 
 Red motorbike connected to a trickle charger during winter

Protect exposed surfaces

Obviously, it’s important to keep exposed surfaces clean from the dangers of road salt and subsequent corrosion. The best way is regular cleaning but there are a variety of corrosion protectants, like ACF-50, XCP Rust Blocker, SDoc 100 Corrosion Protectant, ACS TC200 or Scottoiler FS365 which can protect exposed surfaces, which is especially useful in awkward, out of the way places. Bear in mind, though, that many wash off easily so will have to be continually reapplied.

Grease the joints

Grease is still the best way of lubricating and protecting major joints and moving parts and protecting exposed bolt threads so make sure you always have some knocking around. All should get a liberal coating before the onset of winter and regularly checked throughout the cold months.

Wash it – regularly

It’s not a nice job, but after every ride it’s vital that you wash your bike, and particularly the exposed underside. Do this thoroughly with cold water. Don’t use hot water – this dissolves the salt crystal and allows it to penetrate even further into the bike, cold water simply washes it away. Our insurance customers can visit Bennetts Rewards for an exclusive 25% off all Muc-Off motorcycle cleaning products. Plus, check out our workshop wisdom video on how to give your bike a good clean, here.

 

 

Motorcycle tyres covered in mud from off-road winter riding

Keep an eye on your tyres

Your tyres need a good once over in time for winter and it might be a good time to change them if the tread depth has reduced significantly during the summer. You will need a good tread depth to cope with the overly wet or slushy roads. Colder temperatures also reduce pressures, so make sure you check these before each journey. One myth is that under-inflated tyres offer better grip in winter – they don’t and this could be dangerous.

Look after the brakes

It’s really important to check your brakes regularly during winter as motorcycle brakes are particularly vulnerable in winter riding. Exposed calipers are vulnerable to road salt and can corrode easily so give them a good clean and check as often as possible. .

Adjust the suspension

The final tip we have for you is around the suspension of your bike. It’s worth considering softening off your suspension settings for winter riding if possible. Firm suspension settings reduce grip in slippery conditions while with a slightly softer setting you’ll also be able to ‘feel’ road grip levels more accurately.