Riding a bike through winter can be pleasurable. I am not talking about negotiating deep snowdrifts or skating on black ice. When the conditions are that bad it is best to leave the bike tucked up in the garage, but on dry sunny days, winter riding can be enjoyed as long as both you and you bike are prepared. This is my essential guide, drawn up with valuable input from Mortons direct sales executive John Sharratt, an advanced rider who is training to become an IAM observer.
There’s nothing worse than feeling cold, wet and miserable and if you wear the wrong kit that’s exactly what you will be. Cold numbs your reactions, messes up your concentration and spoils your enjoyment. There are a few simple things you can do to help yourself though.
● Before setting off on a journey have a hot drink and ideally some slow release energy food – porridge or soup are ideal. They’ll warm you up from the inside. If you’re on a long journey stop every so often, (before you get too cold) and have a hot drink to thaw out. Even just a few minutes indoors can revive you. Maybe even pack a flask and take a bar of chocolate with you.
● Carry a fully charged mobile phone. It might prove to be a lifesaver.
● Modern textiles are relatively cheap, and work much better than the 30-year-old scarf and jacket you’ve been wearing since buying your first bike! Most modern fabrics are waterproof, windproof and have built in armour. Thermal wear is affordable and really does make a massive difference. Wear some thermal leggings and a top underneath your usual bike gear. The Knox Coldkillers range work well and I swear by their Maxi Tube neck warmer. Visit www.planet-knox.com for more info. There are plenty of companies offering thermal bike gear so shop around.
● Always wear the best quality winter gloves you can afford because once your fingers go numb it’s a slippery slope for the rest of your body. Wearing some thermal inner gloves is worthwhile too and why not splash out on some heated grips? Oxford grips cost £45 and can be fitted in less than an hour. Visit www.oxprod.com An alternative is to fit some handlebar muffs, they don’t look very cool but couriers love them so they must be good!
● If you’re really serious about keeping warm there’s the option of heated clothing, you can buy everything from heated gloves and waistcoats to trousers and underpants. Most systems simply run from the bike’s battery but there’s an innovative new system which plumbs in to your bike’s cooling system, it includes a heat exchanger to keep you warm in winter. The clever part about Thermoflash is that the system can be used to keep you cool in summer too, perfect if you’re touring through a few different climates. Have a look at www.thermoflash.com
● Wear reflective clothing. A HiViz jacket, waistcoat or belt can make a big difference. So too can a white helmet. Why do you think the police wear them?
● Check your visor is clean, not scratched and NOT tinted. Rather than use a tinted visor when the sun is low at this time of year buy a sun blocker strip which fits on the top edge of your visor. That way you can still see when the light fades or as the sun rises in the morning.
Is your bike up to it? Routine maintenance is essential all year round, but becomes even more critical in adverse weather conditions.
● Your tyres should always have the correct amount of tread on them and be inflated to the recommended pressure – or perhaps a tad lower. IAM rider John Sharratt believes dropping pressures by 1psi can improve grip. If you’ve recently fitted new tyres be especially careful while scrubbing them in during cold weather.
● Check your bike’s cooling system. It should run on a mixture of 50/50 water to antifreeze. It’s an expensive job if your pipes freeze up so top it up to the correct level.
● Lights and indicators should be clean, working and checked before you set out. If it’s a mucky day you’ll need to clean them every few miles, make sure you can be seen. Modern HiD bulbs can be fitted to most bikes and they make a huge difference to your bike’s visibility.
● Your battery may need to be charged during winter, especially if you’re not using the bike as often as usual. Cold weather kills batteries quite quickly. Use a decent quality bike charger like an Optimate or Acumen to keep it topped up.
● And don’t forget your bike’s survival means keeping it clean and protected. A bike can emerge from a harsh winter looking like something from a scrapyard. We highly recommend two anti-corrosion sprays – ACF-50 and Scottoiler’s FS 365. Scottoiler’s automatic chain lube system is a good investment too.
As with most things, commonsense should prevail with winter riding. If the roads are icy or the weather forecast is treacherous and you can either put off the journey or use the car instead, do it. It’s no good bragging to your mates in the pub about how hard you are when you’ve got both legs in plaster!
● Road surfaces don’t warm up as easily at this time of year and are especially dangerous once the gritters have been out. The salt tends to form a loose surface, gets into the pores of the road and then acts as a lubricant between tyre and surface. Ride accordingly.
● Slippery roads need longer braking distances. Your usual two-second rule needs to be at least doubled. It can take up to 10 times longer to stop when it’s wet and cold. Skids are generally caused by harsh braking, acceleration or steering. Be smooth and steady!
● Be especially wary of motorists who have set off without cleaning more than a small peephole of ice from their windscreen and side-windows. These tend to be the very people whose impatience means they will pull out on you from a side turning at the best of times. Snow on car wing mirrors is another warning sign of potential danger.
● Know your limitations of endurance – fatigue is accelerated by cold and inclement weather.
● Give other road users more room when overtaking to allow for their mistakes or problems caused by the conditions. And if following a snow and ice covered car or truck be ready to take avoiding action should the stuff starting breaking off.
● Bear in mind the poor state of maintenance of many of our roads. Innocuous puddles may turn out to be hiding deep potholes. Ride round them, not through them, if possible.
● If you have to ride through snow, don’t ride with your feet down. If you do fall off there is more chance of your leg being trapped. Keep your feet on the pegs in your normal riding position – it will give you more control.
● Lancashire’s Police Motorcycle Team have a mnemonic – COAST – that sums up all the important points:
C oncentration – being alert
O bservation – looking and seeing
A nticipation – expecting the unexpected
Maintaining S pace around ourselves
Providing T ime to react which results in our being in control.