For some bikers, 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.
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. Below are some helpful hints together with a list of the common hazards that bikers may face during the winter months.
Wrap up against the winter
It may sound obvious, but investing in specialist winter riding gear can make a massive difference to your winter warmth and comfort. One-piece leathers are clearly the best as they offer less opportunity for the icy wind to find a way in. If you can't afford these, make sure your layers overlap well.
If you can only invest in one piece of winter kit, then make it a quality pair of gloves. Modern technology has created a range of waterproof, thermally efficient gloves that will keep your hands warm and dry as you ride. Failing that, make sure you keep a spare pair of inner gloves in your pocket so you can change them if they get wet. The wet pair can then dry in your pocket from your body heat ready to be changed again.
Riding in the correct kit is not just a comfort issue either. If you're wet and cold, you will tire more easily and will not respond as sharply to events around you. This is particularly true of cold fingers. Combine these slower reactions with the more hazardous roads of winter, and you've got more potential problems.
Respect the winter roads
From the autumn storms, when rain falls on roads which have accumulated grease and oil all summer, to the treacherous black ice of winter frosts, the riding conditions in winter demand your utmost respect.
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.
Stop, revive, and survive
It's worth remembering that poor conditions affect everyone else around you too. Motorists, who struggle to see bikes at the best of times, are even less likely to see you when their windows are misted up. Even pedestrians become a real hazard, as they bow their heads to the rain or hunch up against the cold, leaving them prone to walk out in front of you without looking properly.
Increase the breaking distance between you and other vehicles to account for wet and greasy road conditions. By increasing your distance you will get minimal spray of other vehicles and will be able to judge and anticipate other road users driving much easier. Watch out for wet leaves on the road. These can make the surface slippery and could make you lose control.
Bad weather such as fog or even low winter sun can restrict your view. Be aware of the hazards; ride to suit the road conditions.
Bikers need to be as visible as possible to other road users. By wearing reflective clothing it helps other road users to see you, especially on dark mornings and early evenings. By making contact with drivers using their mirrors, this also makes you visible to the driver.
Signal earlier to give as much notice as possible to other road users of your intentions.
Check your lights regularly to make sure they are working. Also ensure your lights are visible and clear of dirt.
Check your tyre pressure to ensure it's suitable for winter riding.
In winter months, use anti-misting spray on your visor and mirrors.
Try to avoid riding in strong winds, however if it is absolutely necessary then be aware of hazardous objects being swept onto the roads such as carrier bags, boxes, branches of trees, cones etc.
If you do have to go out this winter on your bike, stay alert and ride well within your limit.
But 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.