Guide to Cold Weather Riding



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>> Aaron Cortez



December 1, 2014

Guide to Cold Weather Riding

When it gets cold, you've got two choices: winterize your bike and put her up for a few months, or gear up and brave the cold like a boss. If you choose the latter, we'll help you get ready with this Cold Weather Riding Guide!

The cold may slow down your riding, but it definitely doesn't have to stop it. With the right gear, as long as your tires have traction, you can keep riding!

We’re sure you’ve already noticed, but the days have gotten short and the temperatures have dropped. We know that, compared to a lot of you folks across the country, those of us here in SoCal don’t know the first thing about real cold – but hey, even here it gets pretty chilly on those early morning rides to work.

No matter where you live, when winter starts to come around, you have a big decision to make – either winterize your bike and put it up until the weather heats up again, or make some major adjustments so you can ride through the cold. If you’re a trooper and plan to do the latter, then this guide is for you!


Winter Riding Gear

Remember Ralphie's friend in the movie “A Christmas Story,” whose mom bundled him up in so many layers of sweaters and jackets he couldn’t even move? Great intentions, but that would be a bad move on a motorcycle. We know it gets cold out there, and the wind chill created at highway speeds can make it even worse, but it’s absolutely essential to retain your range of motion when on a bike. For that reason, you want to go for quality instead of quantity when choosing your cold weather riding gear.


Not the ideal way to stay warm - especially on a bike! Go for quality, not bulk, using gear like synthetic fleece, 3M Thinsulate insulation, and heated layers.

Whatever products you choose, the best system to keep the heat in and the cold out on a motorcycle is created by layering. Not only does each layer have its own purpose in a cold-weather system, but a layer of air also gets trapped in between each of them, which creates additional insulation as it warms up.

Next, we'll get into each of the layers you'll need for cold weather riding and how they work.


Outer Shell

On the outside, you want a shell that will protect you from the elements. A good winter riding jacket should have a waterproof and windproof outer shell; waterproof to protect you against unexpected moisture like rain or snow, and windproof to keep rushing air from robbing your body of precious heat. You’ll definitely want to avoid perforation on a winter jacket, but you might look for features like zippered armpit vents so you have some adjustable ventilation when you need it.

Remember, even the best materials won’t work if you leave gaps in your gear that lets heat-robbing wind penetrate your cold defenses. Make sure the shell you choose has flaps over the zippers, and adjustable closures at the waist, sleeves, and neck openings that you can cinch tight to block the cold air out. Also, check out jackets with matching pants that zip together to create a two-piece suit, so you can stay dry and protected from head to toe.


Great Value Jacket

Alpinestars Andes Drystar Motorcycle Jacket

Alpinestars Andes Drystar Motorcycle Jacket

Price: $249.95

Features:

  • 100% waterproof Drystar construction
  • Removable thermal liner
  • Zippered air intakes
  • CE-rated Bio Armor

Winter Sport Jacket

Alpinestars Megaton DryStar Jacket

Alpinestars Megaton DryStar Jacket

SALE Price: $329.95

Features:

  • Waterproof sport jacket
  • CE Bio Armor at shoulders and elbows
  • Removeable thermal liner
  • Waist connection to pants

Premium Winter Parka

Klim Keweenaw Parka Jacket

Klim Keweenaw Parka Jacket

Price: $419.99-449.99

Features:

  • 3M Thinsulate insulation
  • Gore-Tex waterproof chassis
  • Double storm flap zipper
  • High-strength Cordura in wear areas


Insulating/Heating Layer

Inside your weather resistant outer shell is where you want the warming insulation. Most quality winter jackets will come with inner thermal liners to retain heat, but these may not be enough for riding in serious cold. If you need to add additional warming layers, consider synthetic fleece, which does a great job of retaining heat without trapping moisture the way cotton does.

In extreme cold, you may want to also consider heated gear. A simple device like heated vest will keep your core heat up, and will help to warm your entire body as your blood circulates. After that, heated gloves should be high on your list; directly facing the oncoming wind, hands tend to take a beating in the cold, and heated gloves are a good way to fight back if regular gloves aren’t cutting it for you. (Check out our Heated Gear Buyer's Guide for more information.)


Fleece Warming Layer

Klim Everest Jacket

Klim Everest Jacket

Price: $109.99-139.99

Features:

  • Complements the Klim layering system
  • Heavyweight arctic fleece construction
  • Pill-free outer velour
  • Berber inner finish

Battery-Powered Heating

Mobile Warming Classic Softshell Heated Vest

Mobile Warming Classic Softshell Heated Vest

SALE Price: $152.99

Features:

  • Heated vest powered by Lithium-Ion batteries
  • 4-way stretch fabric
  • Rechargeable
  • 135 temp at full power

Plug-In Heating

Tour Master Synergy 2.0 Motorcycle Jacket Liner

Tour Master Synergy 2.0 Motorcycle Jacket Liner

SALE Price: $211.95

Features:

  • Runs off all 12V systems
  • Intense warmth without bulk
  • Adjustable heating elements
  • Connects to all Synergy heated liners


Base Layer

For your base layer, closest to your skin, you have a few options. Traditionally you would go with wool, which is a great, all-purpose warming layer, and works well even when wet. But a more modern option is to go with synthetic undergarments made for cold weather, like the Glacier shirt and pants from REV'IT!, which keep you warm and also quickly evaporate any moisture from sweat that might accumulate under your warming gear.


Base Layer Pants

HMK Base Layer Bottom

HMK Base Layer Bottom

SALE Price: $26.96

Features:

  • 100% micro polyester
  • Quick-dry material
  • Anti-microbial fabric
  • Total weight only 170g

Value Base Layer Top

Fly Base Layer Heavy Top

Fly Base Layer Heavy Top

SALE Price: $44.96

Features:

  • Flat-lock stitch seam construction
  • 4-way stretch fabric
  • UPF 40+ sun protection

Premium Base Layer Top

REV'IT! Glacier Shirt

REV'IT! Glacier Shirt

Price: $79.99

Features:

  • Specifically developed for cold weather use
  • Optimal balance of insulation with ventilation


Warming Your Extremities

So that takes care of your core; but what about your extremities like your hands, feet, and head? Having cold hands can not only be painful, but it can make it hard to use your controls, and having your hands move in slow motion when you’re trying to grab the clutch or brake can create a dangerous situation.

In winter, your hands take a beating being out in front of the cold wind, and if your gloves happen to get wet, wind chill will make it worse with a quickness. If you’re going to be riding in winter, you’re definitely going to need some high quality, waterproof, insulated winter gloves.

If your gloves aren’t warm enough by themselves, you can add glove liners underneath them, and even just a set of latex or nitrile gloves from your toolbox will help block the cold in a pinch. And remember, if all else fails, heated gloves will definitely do the trick.

Like hands, feet also have a tendency to get cold quickly, but they can still sweat even at lower temperatures. Throw on some winter riding socks such as the Klim Mammoth or REV'IT! Tour Winter motorcycle socks, which wick away any moisture while keeping heat in. Regular shoes or even sturdy boots probably won’t have what it takes to keep the cold out, so invest in a pair of insulated waterproof riding boots, which will not only keep your feet warm and dry, but will also protect them much better in a crash than regular boots can.

If your feet still need a little more warmth while you’re out on the road, you can also use heated insoles, or just throw in some disposable foot warmers. Consider a pair of waterproof boot covers too, for protection against heat-robbing moisture in wet conditions.

Finally, you have to protect your head. A full-face helmet is more or less a given in intense cold, but even that won’t necessarily keep you warm. Remember, a helmet’s primary job is to protect you from impact, and secondly to protect you from wind and road debris. Providing warmth isn’t necessarily in the job description, so you have to take care of that on your own.

The best way to keep your head and neck warm is a balaclava, like the Open Face Balaclava from Alpinestars, but a scarf or neck gaiter like the BikeBandit Tuff will also go a long way in keeping cold wind off your neck and from penetrating inside your jacket. A pinlock shield can also prevent your visor from fogging up if you happen to close your vents to keep that cold air out.


Winter Balaclava

Alpinestars Open Face Motorcycle Balaclava

Alpinestars Open Face Motorcycle Balaclava

Price: $24.95

Features:

  • Heavyweight moisture wicking material
  • Flat-lock comfort seams
  • Extra length for neck wind protection

Cold Weather Gloves

Tour Master Polar-Tex 2.0 Motorcycle Gloves

Tour Master Polar-Tex 2.0 Motorcycle Gloves

SALE Price: $58.95

Features:

  • 600d polyester and goat skin construction
  • 100g 3M Thinsulate Flex insulation
  • Soft poly fleece lining

Disposable Warmers

Grabber Foot Warmers

Grabber Foot Warmers (Pack of Thirty)

Price: $80.96

Features:

  • Air-activated heat pads last for over 5 hours
  • Odorless, non-toxic, and non-combustible
  • Sold in a 30-pack


Winter Bike Prep

Now that your body is all geared up and ready to venture out into the frigid winter air, its time to turn our attention to your bike itself. The way your bike is set up can make all the difference between you being able to get out there and brave the cold, or just throwing in the towel and putting the bike up for the winter.

First of all, the style of bike you ride makes a huge difference in your ability to ride in severe cold, and the key is the bike’s windshield and fairings. Fully faired touring bikes with large windshields will push the wind around your body, keeping wind chill to a minimum, and cruisers or ADV bikes with windshields will do pretty well in the cold too. Sport bikes will be tough to ride in winter with minimal protection from the wind, and naked bikes are the worst, with no wind protection at all.

If you’ll be riding in winter, a large windshield should be your first motorcycle investment. It will make a huge difference in the amount of wind that blasts you while you ride, and if you don’t like the look, you can always just pop it back off once the weather warms up.

Even with a big windshield installed, your hands are still going to be out there getting the brunt of the cold wind, so next consider installing some handguards to cut the wind blasting your hands. If that’s not enough, a pair of heated grips will really help keep your hands warm and dexterous so you can stay in full control of your bike.

And if you really want the ultimate in cold weather hand protection, you could also install the BikeMaster Hand Mitts. Yes they're real, and yes they're weird, but they are insulated and fleece lined arm mitts that engulf the entire hands and arms in warm joy. Plus they're rain and snow resistant. They also come with confused stares from other car drivers and motorcycle riders at no extra cost.


Universal Windshield

National Cycle Plexifairing 3 Windshield

National Cycle Plexifairing 3 Windshield

SALE Price: $215.96

Features:

  • Made of high-impact acrylic
  • Quick-set hardware permits quick removal with no tools
  • DOT approved

Heated Grips

BikeMaster Heated Grips

BikeMaster Heated Grips

SALE Price: $44.99-52.95

Features:

  • Open-ended grip allows use of various bar ends
  • Works with 12V DC applications
  • Available in 7/8" and 1"

Hand & Arm Warmers

BikeMaster Hand Mitts

BikeMaster Hand Mitts

SALE Price: $32.95

Features:

  • Deflects wind, rain, and snow from hands and arms
  • Insulated and fleece lined
  • Durable 600d water resistant polyester body


Keep Warm and Ride On


We won't pick on you for putting your bike away when it gets cold (but your riding buddies who still ride throughout the winter might!)

Riding season may be over for some people, but hey - until you're covered in snow and you can't walk outside without slipping on a patch of ice, it’s not really over. You just have to have the right gear to beat that cold back into submission, and you can get it all here. As long as your tires get traction...you can still ride!



Do you have any great tips for cold weather riding to share?



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