I’m a wimp when it comes to the cold. I hate being cold, I can’t function when it is cold, basically whenever I’m even the tiniest bit cold I’m miserable.
In the beginning of my riding career, this made it really hard for me to enjoy or even attempt to enjoy any type of riding during the winter months. Here in the “Great White North” winter months constitute nearly half the year so if you sit out because of the cold you miss out on a lot of potential riding experiences.
After a few wet and painfully cold trial rides with friends that ended in excessive shivering, tears streaming down my face, and me going home early, I figured out that the problem wasn’t just me, it was my seriously inadequate riding gear.
Self admittedly a bit cheap, I had failed to properly invest in good quality cold weather riding gear and was suffering unnecessarily. That is when I decided it was worthwhile to update my normal riding leathers and fleece layers to include proper cold weather, waterproof gear, heated clothing, and warming gadgets so that I could stay toasty on any ride.
It seems like it would be common sense to have the right gear for the right riding season but you would be surprised at just how many people, myself included, don’t do it. Whether they think they can tough it out, or they don’t want to spend the extra cash, being warm and dry really can make the difference between having a miserable ride and a really enjoyable one.
Good waterproof and insulated gloves and boots are a must and there are many great options on the market these days. Make sure you test out how they feel on your own bike and how they affect your ability to feel the controls. Boots that are too chunky can make it hard to shift and brake, and likewise gloves that are too thick can interfere with throttle application. I’m the kind of person that really needs to feel the bars and levers with my fingers so I needed to find the slimmest warm gloves available.
The same goes for jackets and pants. Buy good quality, technical clothing that is both waterproof and breathable and that has options like zippered vents so you can adjust on the go for changing temperatures.
A Balaclava or mask over your face and under your helmet works well in really cool temperatures, and always have something available to cover your neck. Protect all exposed skin and seal any opening of your riding clothes, like the top opening of your jacket, the cuffs, and where your pants meet your boots.
Adding a higher windscreen can help redirect the wind up and over your body and trick gear like heated grips and heated clothing are awesome for added toastyness.
When I found out about heated grips and vests I had them installed on both my streetbike and my dirtbike. People seemed to think that those things were warranted for riding on the street but not in the dirt.
One December I was riding with a large group of off road riders who teased me about my heated vest and grips. The guys seemed to consider it wimpy and suggested that I wasn’t riding hard enough if I got cold during a ride.
Not an hour later after riding straight up the mountain logging roads the temperature must have dropped about 10 degrees and we hit snow. I plugged in my vest and turned on my grips to high and continued on with a big grin and a toasty warm body while half the group were pulled over and nearly crying. One guy burned his gloves and hands after he tried to warm his frozen digits on his exhaust pipe. Look who was laughing then.
I wear my heated vest on just about every ride and can often be found standing by my bike still “plugged in.”
If you happen to get caught out in the cold without proper gear there are a few things you can do to improvise. A garbage bag or newspapers stuffed down your jacket helps keep the wind and cold out. Smaller bags over your feet inside your boots can keep them warm and dry and if you can find them, latex gloves under your riding gloves work as well. A short break and some hot coffee or tea will also do wonders to restore your temperature and get you back on your ride.
Once you have your body protected from the cold be sure to adjust your riding technique for the poor surface conditions. Whether the road is wet, very cold and/or icy, traction will be reduced and the tires will take longer to get heat into them, if they heat up at all. Read more about riding in the wet here:
It may sound obvious but, investing in good quality, long lasting gear to cover your body that keeps you dry and toasty warm is clearly the deciding factor in whether or not your winter ride is enjoyable and tolerable or a complete write off.