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Winter riding. Top tips for all budgets!

Photo courtesy of Lance Gines

As the temperature plummets, the nights get longer and for most motorcycle riders, the bikes get tucked away waiting brighter and warmer days. But, if you are one of the few who continue to throw a leg over your machine and plough on regardless, are you doing everything you can to help yourself? There are a few top tips that can hopefully help you and make that winter riding a little more pleasant than it could be! The Rider

Start with you. Before your chosen steed can be ridden, you should take a look at your chosen clothing and decide what is right for you. One of the biggest enemies particularly with a longer ride is the wind. For example at 5° Celsius, travelling at 50mph (80kph), the approximate windchill is around -11°. At 0° that drops to a horrendous -19°. With that in mind preventing the ingress of cold air, and keeping yourself warm has to be a priority.

Photo courtesy of Albert Oosting

Helmet - There is no real reason to change your helmet unless you are choosing to ride with an open-face helmet or a motocross style helmet with goggles. The majority of full face helmets now, especially touring related ones come with a few added benefits to help beat the cold. For example, A chin curtain. Predominantly they cut noise but it will also help stop air flowing up to the bottom of your chin and thus preventing some of the cold drafts we all know and hate! A huge benefit to help you see where you are going is a pinlock visor. A pinlock visor if you don't know, essentially acts like double glazing, it prevents your visor steaming up meaning you get to see where you are going, or if the conditions are so bad, what you are about to crash into... Pinlock visors, if your helmet didn't already come equipped with one can be bought for anywhere between £20/$26 up to around £50/$65 dependant on your helmet brand. At the very least however, keeping your visor clean and scratch free is a must.

Neck- A neck tube/buff is an important piece of equipment for the intrepid motorcycle rider, there are now wind and waterproof options to help combat the adverse weather. Option 1) Some of the motorcycle specific ones can range from as little as a £3/ $4 up to £45/$58! Option 2) If you want to go really cheap and avoid spending then if you are planning visit motorcycle shows/events they are quite often given out for free. For the UK readers get yourself along to a Biker down course. Not only will it give you some great skills for avoiding incidents and helping to manage them if you come across them, but also they give out thin buffs for free, best bit is the course doesn't cost either. Double win! Top tip - Be wary of using a full face balaclava, it will undoubtedly work well but be mindful the added thickness can "stretch" the lining of the helmet. Once you remove the balaclava in warmer weather in can leave you helmet feeling baggy and not fitting correctly which can prevent it being effective in a collision. Torso - Keeping your core warm is a must while riding, if you lose heat from your core then your hands and feet will soon start to follow suit. Once you get cold your ability to make decisions well, decreases rapidly. Option 1) Money no object? Then look towards heated vests. There are lots on the market that either have battery packs or wire into the bike so they are more consistent and can last longer journeys. Prices start at around £93/$120 up to a heady £179/$233. Option 2) Got some money to spend but also want to save some money for fuel? Well then a thermal base layer or a good lightweight mid-layer is going to help you out. Check out your local outdoor store and you will find base layers from £5-20 ($7-25) or a good mid-layer such as a lightweight down jacket to trap the heat from £20/$25. Down jackets can easily run into the hundreds though so do your research. Option 3) Got no money to spend at all? Well a top tip I have heard of is newspaper. Yes that is right, humble news paper. Scrunch it up and tuck it into your jacket, it acts similarly to the down jacket by trapping air to retain heat. It isn't fancy but it just might be the difference of being able to do that last hour on the bike. Hands - There are lots of combinations for keeping your hands warm and arguably, one of the hardest things to keep warm due to the position they are in and the fact they don't do enough to promote blood flow as such. Option 1) High cost - Much like the for the torso there are now heated gloves on the market. Again they can be battery powered or hard wired to the bike. There are also options that connect up with the vests if you buy the same brand. Keis is one of the brands that regularly pops up and there inner gloves tend to sell for around £60/$78 or up to as much as £190/$248 for the full outer glove. Option 2) Medium cost - This is a difficult one. A great combination is heated grips and bar muffs. Bought together will typically set you back £70-100 ($90-130) but of course bargains can be had. Sometimes though heated grips and a good winter glove is all you need. Personally, I have chosen Dainese X-travel goretex gloves that while expensive at £130/$170, serve me 3 seasons of riding and if I use them with heated grips tend to keep me more than warm enough. Option 3) Low cost - keeping the wind at bay need not cost the earth. Silk liners for your gloves can be had for less than £10/$13 but even cheaper than that is free. Go to your nearest fuel filling station and find some of the free gloves that they give away to stop fuel spilling on your hands. A couple of pairs while not high tech, should keep you warmer for longer.

Top tip - Insulating your levers to prevent the cold seeping through your gloves can be great for those who tend to ride in the city or off-road and have their hands on the clutch/brake levers. Products such as "Oxford Products lever insulation sleeves" exist... but if you fancy being a little more frugal, then a few liberal lashings of electrical tape should help you on your way.

Feet- When talking about cold feet we don't mean the feeling you get of lacking the courage to complete a task as I can't offer advice on products for that. However for a low temperature on your toes keep reading. Option 1) High cost - Again as above there are heated insoles which now exist but these tend to be battery powered rather than wired. Ranging from £15-50. ($19-65) Option 2) Low cost - Combine thermal insoles available for just a couple of pounds with a good pair of thick woollen socks or thermal socks for less than £10/$13 and you should be on your way to staying toasty.

All of the above is assuming you already have a textile jacket, trousers and a sturdy pair of boots.

The Bike Now you should have yourself a good list of kit to look after you, it's time to turn your attention to your motorcycle. Number 1 on your list of things to look out for and do is look at your tyres.

Photo courtesy of Alan Simpson. Taken on The Grossglockner Tyres - As much as keeping an eye on tyre pressures in the summer is important, doing it in winter is equally important. With a lower coefficient of friction due to tyres not warming up as much, making sure you have the right contact patch is key. Listen to the manufacturers, their guide of tyre pressures takes into account most conditions likely to be experienced. Of course heavy snow or ice needs careful consideration. The tyres themselves also should at the very least, have a good amount of tread depth. If you are running barely legal Pirelli Supercorsas then you bet you will find yourself struggling. Having confidence in the tyres will mean you will likely be more relaxed and thus more likely to be in a good position to react to changing conditions. Tyres such as Pirelli Angel GT, Michelin pilot road 5, or even Bridgestone T30 evo's are all likely to offer what you need. Ideally you are looking for as many "sipes" (gaps in the surface of the tyre to disperse water etc) to allow grip to be managed. There is no perfect tyre and of course there will always be a compromise. Prices typically start at £150-230 depending on tyre sizes.

Headlights - Headlights are in the same category as helmet visors above, keeping them clean will greatly help your ability to see up the road during hours of riding in the dark. Further to this, if you find your headlights lacking some what, for the majority of bikes a simple bulb upgrade can be done for between £8-20. Nearly all major manufacturers offer this from Phillips to Osram. I have used the "Osram nightbreaker" bulbs and the difference is very obvious. Of course depending on your motorcycle type adding additional spot lights will not only help other motorists spot you (multiple lights or focal points help the human eye judge distance more effectively) it also helps view more of the road giving you more information to decide on the best line, especially when it comes to moving around objects or debris in the road.

Photo courtesy of

Maintenance - Keeping on top of your bike maintenance may seem like an obvious thing, but riding year round needs additional care during months where salt and grit is on the road. Check your brake pads and discs, including making sure they are free and not sticking. It's easy for dirt to build up and make the caliper or pads sticky and soon you are in to warped disc territory. At a few hundred pounds for most bikes front discs it can be a costly mistake. For those with chain drive, keep the chain well adjusted and lubricated sufficiently. In wet conditions the lubrication can get washed away more easily and you don't want a snapped chain at the side of the road in sub-zero temperatures. As a general rule besides the above, keeping an eye on all all fluid levels and keeping things like your throttle and clutch cable or your brake and gear levers well lubricated should help you finish all your journeys without incident.

Photo courtesy of Mosey Levy

Riding tips - Now while some of this may seem obvious to those reading from Northern states in America or one of the Scandinavian countries, for those in Britain who like at the time of writing, see just a flutter of snowfall a handful of times a year if we are (un)lucky, the following will certainly help.

If you find yourself caught on an untreated surface with sleet and snow it's obvious to slow down but it is imperative to keep all inputs smooth and slow. No aggressive use of the brakes or throttle, regardless of how many youtube videos you have seen of KTM riders. Keep yourself and the motorcycle as upright as possible if you need to turn onto or off of a joining road. Finally, increase stopping distances. For cars (with great ABS and more contact patches) stopping distances can be 10x higher than on dry surfaces, for bikes it is likely far higher.

Final tip - In can be worth keeping a spare pair of gloves and a warm hat with you. Should you break down or have an accident and you are unable to continue your journey, keeping warm while you wait will be of the highest importance. Put them in a pocket or store them on the bike. Most of all, stay safe and enjoy riding.

Photo courtesy of Gavin Salmon

Disclaimer - all photos are the property of their respective owners and are being used with their prior consent.

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