When the nights draw in and the mercury drops below 10 degrees, many bikers wheel their bikes into the garage for hibernation over the winter. Just because it’s cold, doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun out and about on the roads, if you prepare yourself and your bike properly, you can extend your biking season by up to one third. Some people are required to ride all year; professional riders and those who commute by bike, but the rest of us have the choice of whether to be fair weather bikers or ride through the winter months. There are many reasons why people don’t choose to ride in inclement weather. Let’s look at some reasons to ride in the winter, and a few instances when it’s not quite such a good idea.
On the + plus side
1. Keep your Eye In
Imagine if you only drove your car for 8 months of the year. Do you imagine you would be any good at driving after a four month hiatus? If you stop your riding in November and start again in the spring, then for one quarter of the year your skills are going to be getting rusty. If you ride a high performance machine, all the more reason to keep your skills up, as you need to stay at the very top of your game.
2. You Improve your Feel for Available Grip
Riding in winter inevitably means riding in lower grip conditions. This is the reason most people would rather not ride when the weather is cold and wet. There’s no doubt that grip conditions are lower in the winter than in the summer, especially when the roads have been gritted and end up with a slimy near-freezing coating, but modern sport-touring tyres would probably surprise a lot of superbike riders. The grip of new rubber like the Dunlop Roadsmart 2, Michelin Pilot Road 4, Pirelli Angel GT are astonishingly good in the wet and cold. They are not the last tyre you will ever need; they will come apart when worked really hard, but for the majority of road conditions, they re more tyre than most will ever need.
In the dry summer months, modern tyres come nowhere near the limit of available grip on the road, so the rider knows he has grip, but he has no idea how much extra grip he has available. But come the winter months, that changes. You need to have a really good feel for what grip you have, because you are used to feeling for the tiny amount there is available.
Riding successfully in the winter means having improved throttle control, you need to be able to feed in just enough power. You just cannot get away with being ham fisted when you ride a powerful sports bike in the winter.
3. Your Bike gets a Workout and your Battery is Topped Up
Bikes are designed to be ridden. They are not designed to be sitting still, even in the most warm and comfortable of garage environments. Unless you plan to put your bike away for long term storage, it will fare better having the occasional outing to keep everything ticking over; your battery charging system keeping the battery in good condition, and oil, coolant, and brake systems all benefiting from regular use; moisture is evaporated and corrosion is identified and prevented.
4. Winter Weather Isn’t Always Bad.
God bless global warming. Seriously. Days in early January are some of the most beautiful days of the year. Some call them halcyon days. I’m not sure what they are called, but they are clear and crisp and sunny and dry, and the roads are typically empty and yours for the taking.
But it’s not just January, take the weather we had today. It’s the middle of December, and the roads this morning were dry and 14 degrees. Compared to what we’re used to this time of year, riding in dry roads at 14 degrees feels like every road is coated in shellgrip. With luck there will be more warm winters to come. It’s not so good for the daffodils, but it is good for those of us who like to get out and about and ride all year round in the UK.
When the temperature gets really low, you can start wearing heated clothing. There more of it about nowadays, and it is more adjustable and more comfortable than ever. It can make chilly rides a thing of the past.
5. You Get a Budget to Spend on Bike Related Stuff
How much does your annual railcard cost you? Two grand? Three? That buys you a lot of fuel, tyres, and maybe even a new helmet, a jacket or a pair of boots.
Taking the train is fine, it whisks you about with relative ease. But it can’t really be classed as fun. It’s hard to justify spending money on your bike after you’ve forked out a few thousand on your train ticket. But when you ride your bike for at least a portion of the year, it’s not so hard to put aside some budget to spend on your bike and your biker gear.
6. It’s a Fun Outdoor Winter Activity. What Else you Got?
Summer is full of parties, bbq, visits, sunbathing, trips to the beach, holidays, but apart from Christmas holidays, the winter is a pretty bland expanse with a bit of Christmas cheer in the middle to stop us all from getting the blues.
Of course, because people don’t get out nearly as much in the winter, there are fewer people on the roads, so they tend to be clearer for winter riders. You’ll not be nodding like a donkey every two minutes at your fellow bikers.
If there’s one thing that makes you appreciate your cosy warm house it is being outside in the elements in the winter. Have you been complaining about your heating bills? Go for a three hour ride in the winter, and turn the thermostat down a degree.
How much time do you get to ride your bike? Is it as much as you would like? I didn’t think so. As life has its way with us, and we collect husbands, wives and children, our once precious hobby time is used up by other pursuits. Unless your other half enjoys riding, the chances are that your time in the saddle is yours alone. But if you commute to work in the week, you will be riding your bike a lot more than you otherwise would, and as your partner is likely to be supportive in your earning money, they will also be supportive of your means to get to work.
On the – Minus Side
1. You have a Pristine Bike
In the winter, the roads get showered with salt. Salt + steel = corrosion. Your pristine bike is not going to stay looking like that for long if you ride it thorough the winter months. Surface treatments like ACF-50 (designed for protecting aluminium aircraft from corrosion works equally well with aluminium motorcycles) work well, but they are a mess to work with, and your bike will not be the clean and pristine machine it started out as. If this doesn’t bother you, then fire away and jet wash the crud off in the Spring.
2. You have Summer Tyres on your Bike
As I’ve discussed, the tyre of choice for the winter rider is a modern sport touring hoop. The Pirelli Angel GT is an excellent tyre, but there are others out there too. If your bike is shod with sporty summer rubber, you may find that you have far less grip than you were hoping on cold winter roads, and if it’s raining you will probably also struggle. Sport touring tyres do come in Superbike Fitments 190/50 and 190/55 so there’s no excuse not to fit some and try them out. They won’t tip into the corners as fast as a sport tyre on account of their more relaxed profile, but that’s just the ticket in the Winter.
3. You Live in Canada (or Norway)? Get out the snowmobile
Once the rain turns into hail, sleet and snow, you’re better off retiring the bike and getting out your skis. You can buy winter studded tyres for snow, but you may as well get out the huskies or your snowmobile and mush. Two wheels works well with grip, but when the grip disappears…….forget about it.
4. You don’t have Proper Gear
If you routinely ride out in jeans and a leather jacket, your winter rides are going to be a struggle. Without the proper waterproof, windproof gear, you are going to freeze in no time, and when your core body temperature drops, the blood to your extremities is cut off, which means a loss of sensation and controllability of hands and feet.
You needn’t buy the latest Rukka Gore-tex Pro Shell suit, but if you can afford to, I would heartily recommend it. But if you get cold, you won’t be able to control your bike anymore. Sound good? Get yourself some warm comfortable waterproof gear, and if you ride in very cold conditions, consider heated clothing. I use an old Widder kit (sadly no longer available), but the biking world is waking up to heated clothing, and the range available gets greater each year, companies like Keis do a good range operated from the bike’s battery
5. You Cycle
If you cycle in the winter, or you live within cycling distance of work or the places you usually travel, then cycling in winter can be a great way to stay in shape. Because it is cold, your ardent pedalling will keep you warm, but you will still need the usual paraphernalia to accompany your trips; waterproof overshoes, waterproof hat cover, a change of shorts, dry panniers, the list goes on………
Don’t let the winter put you off riding. Get yourself kitted out with an old bike, some decent gear and the right tyres, and you can have just as much fun playing with the available grip in winter as you would riding on a dry warm summers evening.
OK, maybe t’s not be quite as good, but it can still be very satisfying indeed.