To ride or not to ride? This is the question many of us face when the temperatures drop and the days get shorter.
Those who ride through winter know that with the right kit, a little common sense and a lighter touch to your riding, you can carry on riding safely through all but the worst of the weather and be a better, safer rider come Spring.
For those riders who don’t have to or choose not to ride through winter, the darker, colder months is when the bike goes into garage hibernation: cleaned, prepared, trickle charged and covered until the spring shoots appear. If this is you, then check out our winter motorcycling storage tips.
If you’re planning to ride throughout, then read on for:
And remember, with a BikeSocial membership (available FREE to direct Bennetts Insurance customers & ALL motorcyclists from just £6 per month) you can make big savings on a wide range of Autumn & Winter essentials.
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.
Find out how you can layer up to beat wind chill, here.
Riding in temperatures below 10°C can affect a rider physically in a very short time if they don’t have the appropriate clothing.
If you can’t see, then you’re not safe. Scratched visors turn oncoming headlights into starbursts and misted-up visors are just plain dangerous. Old wives’ tales about rubbing potatoes on your visor or other such nonsense should be treated with the contempt they deserve. Fit a Pinlock visor insert, adjust it for a snug fit and forget about visor misting. Clean your visor after every trip using kitchen roll soaked in water and dry it carefully with a soft cloth.
Don’t forget that keeping your core warm will also help keep hands and feet warmer too. Buy the best winter gloves you can afford and wear them under the cuffs of your jacket. Thirty seconds spent getting an extra snug fit will pay dividends later.
Your head and neck are packed with blood vessels and the neck, in particular, is a huge source of heat loss. Modern neck warmers are thin enough to be unobtrusive, but effective enough to keep you warm and safe. Take time to get a snug seal between your jacket collar and helmet. Some riders wear a thin balaclava too.
The secret to minimising heat loss is wearing several thin layers. Modern materials are superb and investing in the right thermals is essential. Don’t forget your feet too. If you ride for more than half an hour at a time invest in heated clothing – the latest technology is effective, reliable and flexible.
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.
Don't overestimate your abilities. If it’s freezing outside or if you know it’s going to snow , take extra care or find another way to travel. Even if the weather looks mild, ice patches could have formed overnight or black ice formed in the morning, Bus routes and main roads should be gritted – stick to those if you can.
For a rider travelling at 30mph, with a 210kg bike, the typical thinking distance would be 9 metres, while braking distance is 14 metres, making a total stopping distance of 23 metres. During Winter these braking distances can increase massively. To combat this, increase the distance to the vehicle in front, check your lights (including brake lights) regularly and use more engine braking and rear brake in wet or slippery conditions.
During the winter it is essential that you check your T-CLOCs and all should be inspected before you ride. This stands for:
Tyres - Controls - Lights - Oil and Chassis
In addition, other worthwhile checks include:
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. 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 a stop to warm up along the way.
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.
Chain lubes needs to be applied to a clean chain – that’s the most important thing. They should also be allowed to set overnight.
For more information on lubing your chain, click here.
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. You can save 10% on motorcycle oils from Halfords with BikeSocial, here. You may also want to take this opportunity to change the oil filter too, and you can find out how to perform this in the video below.
You can save 10% on motorcycle oils from Halfords with BikeSocial, here.
You may also want to take this opportunity to change the oil filter too, and you can find out how to perform this in the video below.
You can see how to change your motorcycle’s coolant, here.
For a thorough guide on choosing the best charger for your motorcycle battery, click here.
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.
You can find out the best corrosion protectants on the market, here.
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.
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.
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.
For more information on tyre safety, click here.
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.
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.