Layering, blocking wind are keys to cold weather motorcycle riding

  • Published
  • By Al Lederman
  • Air Force Flight Test Center Safety
To the casual observer, motorcycle riding seems like an activity best left to warm days. However, there are those hard-core riders who see no end to the riding season and will venture outside even on a cold, windy day. And for some, there may be no choice but to ride in the cold.

Dressing appropriately can mean the difference between a good ride and one that can potentially be life threatening. Today, there are many choices in motorcycle cold-weather clothing; from heated jackets and gloves to socks that keep feet warm.

The most important thing to remember when dressing for a ride in cold weather - layers. Wear synthetic clothing as the inner layer. This works well because, unlike cotton, it doesn‟t retain moisture. The next layer should be wool or fleece. Finally, riders will want to block the direct wind from stealing that pocket of warm air the layers create. For those who don‟t have a fairing or windshield, leather will keep their chest area much warmer than denim. If riders‟ chests get cold, the blood flow to their hands and feet will be restricted and their finger tips and toes will begin to chill. The idea is to create and maintain a pocket of warm air between the rider and the cold.

Riders should consider keeping with them lightweight disposable heat packs that are often sold to campers or hunters. They can use them if they are out riding longer than expected. Be careful not to put them against bare skin because some can generate enough heat to cause burns. Also have some water on hand. While dehydration may be a primary concern on a hot day, riders still lose moisture in winter. The cold, dry air can suck moisture out of the body without much notice.

As for the road itself, watch for black ice - hard-to-see frozen water on the road. It can occur anytime temperatures reach the freezing point. Stay on well traveled roads if possible, and watch for spots on the road that are shaded from the sun. Be careful on overpasses or bridges. They are susceptible to icing because they‟re disconnected from the warmth of the earth and cool faster when air temperatures drop. Riders who unexpectedly find themselves on a patch of ice shouldn‟t brake. Instead, pull in the clutch and coast until clear.

Unlike northern parts of the country, during fall and winter Southern California weather stays fairly decent for year-round riding. Taking a few extra steps to "layer up" for the cold ride and watching for road hazards can mean the difference between a pleasant outing and one from which the rider cannot wait to get home - or to work.