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September 10th 2019

Cold weather motorcycle riding – how to stay safe on the roads in winter

Cold weather motorcycle riding – how to stay safe on the roads in winter

Each year as autumn and then winter approaches, the number of bikes on our roads plummets as many of us understandably swap two wheels for the warmth, comfort and convenience of four.

Each year as autumn and then winter approaches, the number of bikes on our roads plummets as many of us understandably swap two wheels for the warmth, comfort and convenience of four.

However, some people have no option but to ride all year round. Not many years ago winter kit was of dubious quality, but these days it can actually be an enjoyable experience, providing you take a few simple precautions.

The first issue is the drop in temperature compared to the summer months. Cold is probably the biggest enemy of the winter biker for a whole number of reasons. Once you are cold it will affect your concentration and a lack of concentration is something no biker can afford to have amid the risks of being involved in a motorcycle accident. It can also affect your visibility as many riders suffer from watering or streaming eyes as they try to stop their visor fogging up (despite many modern anti-fogging systems available).

Modern man-made materials can and will afford you warmth and protection which can be supplemented by the use of thermal underwear, thermal socks and inner gloves, or you could splash out on a heated waistcoat and trousers.

A balaclava will keep your head and neck warm, or you can simply wear a roll neck shirt or proper neck warmer if you don’t like the idea of wearing something under your helmet.

Keeping hands warm can reduce risk of getting in a motorcycle accident

Heated handlebar grips for many are a must-have accessory, but many choose heated inner gloves instead. Whatever your choice you need to try and prevent your hands from becoming cold to the point where your control of the bike is affected and the risk of a motorcycle accident is increased.

If you cannot afford the little extras, then it is worth remembering that if you put a warm head into a warm helmet and, in particular, warm hands into warm gloves, the heat will be retained for much longer than if everything is cold.

If you only wear leathers then consider wearing a cheap anorak or paddock jacket over the top of your leather jacket rather than a number of layers underneath. Too much additional underclothing will stretch your leather to the point where it will become baggy and less protective, allowing cold air to pass through it so that you won’t actually feel any warmer.

If you wear an “over-jacket” a pocket of warm air will be formed between your leather and the outer garment so you will stay warmer for longer. In addition, if you are unfortunate enough to take a tumble or be involved in a motorbike crash then you are more likely to damage a cheap jacket rather than your expensive leathers.

If you are on a real shoestring budget, then try putting the previous day’s newspaper down the front of your jacket. It is a great way of keeping the wind and cold out.

The bottom line is if you keep yourself protected as best as you can from the cold and the wet, then you are already half way to starting to enjoy cold weather riding safely.

When protective clothing made a difference in a motorbike accident >>

Be bike aware during the cold weather to avoid a motorcycle accident

That takes care of you the rider, but what about actually riding the bike?

When on the road there are a number of things that you will need to think about in some cases more than you would during the warmer summer months.

For example, on a bright sunny winter’s day, the road may give the impression of being dry and problem free but in the shaded areas there may still be damp patches and, one of the biker’s biggest enemies, ice. Just because the road looks dry is no guarantee that it actually is so be suspicious.

Leaves that have become damp and rotten over even a short period of time can often be found spread across the carriageway and damp leaves do not afford particularly good grip.

Many riders complain about the brightness of the sun during the summer months but a lot of riders often find it is a bigger problem during the winter when the sun sits much lower in the sky and can blind very easily. Ride accordingly, but remember that other road users, especially car drivers, will be suffering from a similar problem, so take particular care that they have seen you.

Another area to consider is the possibility of fog and/or mist, possibly in the top two of motorcyclists’ most disliked weather (the other being snow and ice).

In the colder months, always be prepared for the unexpected. Most bikes have hard wired headlights these days, but there are many road users out there who drive and ride around in conditions of poor visibility who assume that because they think they can see OK, then everyone can see you.

If you suddenly ride into fog or mist, drop your speed as quickly and as safely as you can, make sure your headlights are on and assume that nobody can see you, but that there will also be others on the road totally oblivious to the fact that they cannot be seen.

This is where a horn warning can often be beneficial. There is a reluctance for riders and drivers to use the horn here in the UK compared with some other countries, but if you feel that another road user has not seen you, or you want to re-emphasise your presence, don’t be afraid to give a quick horn warning. You may get a few choice hand signals from these drivers, but at least it confirms that they have seen you.

The importance of visibility and other motorbike accident hazards

The “Have they seen you” comment can be taken a stage further by considering what you are wearing not from a comfort point of view, but from a visibility perspective.

Not everyone wants to wear hi-viz or Sam Browne belts, but a multi-coloured helmet or something other than plain white or plain black may have a better chance of being seen. Brightly coloured riding equipment can enhance the view others have of you and of course dipped beam headlights and even the colour of your bike can contribute to help other road users see you earlier, especially near to hazards and junctions.

How many of you remember the early Triumph Daytona’s and Honda VTR1000’s that were available in bright yellow?  Not everyone’s choice of colour, but boy, could they be seen from a distance…

Paint, such as that used in road markings, can be slippery at any time, but during the colder months the combination of paint, water, ice and cold weather can be a lethal cocktail. Therefore, make sure that wherever possible you cross over these lines while the bike is upright or when travelling through a corner consider modifying your line slightly.

Manhole covers can be particularly slippery when wet and a hazard when they are cold as well. Whilst considering the road surface it is worth checking the overall condition of the carriageway for cracks and debris caused by frost damage.

Finally, keep your bike clean and well maintained to avoid nasty surprises such as seized brakes or rust building up on important components.

The salt used by highways authorities to keep the roads clear of snow and ice tends to be particularly corrosive, and once it gets into the braking system you are looking at a major strip down.

Before your first journey of the day make sure everything is working as it should and then give the bike a hose down or wash when you get home, this will keep corrosive damage to a minimum and ensure that the bike is in tip-top condition.

Winter and cold weather riding can be fun, you just need confidence, awareness and the right equipment to make sure that you won’t get cold or wet and you will stay safe.

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