By Rebecca Balagia
Now There's No Excuse Not to Ride
Compared to many other countries, motorcyclists in the US don’t put as many miles on their bikes over the year - and who can blame them? - gas isn't cheap, and most places around the country have pretty extreme seasonal weather. When it's too hot, too cold or too rainy, opting for the car is usually a wiser, more comfortable option.
Then again, it’s not as fun, is it?
Illustration credit: www.aerostich.com
According to the fabled motorcycle gear manufacturer, Aerostich, good riding weather is between 25-95 degrees Fahrenheit (based on the temperature range they say is comfortable in their Roadcrafter Classic riding suit). By that measurement, you can ride in a surprising number of cities throughout the seasons. This illustration shows how many "good riding days" different parts of the country have a year.
If you're looking to up your number of riding days, here are some tips to prepare you for riding in extreme weather.
Motorcycle Safety is still #1
Okay okay, let’s get the safety stuff out of the way first. It may not be the most interesting, but motorcycle safety is the most important. Not only is extreme weather uncomfortable for motorcyclists, it’s dangerous. We don’t have room to get into too much detail, but as a motorcyclist, you should be versed in basic first aid. And if you are, you’ll know the dangers of frostbite, hypothermia, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. All these are very serious, even life-threatening conditions, especially if they cause loss of attention or unconsciousness.
In addition to dangers to your body, extreme weather creates environmental challenges that require extra focus from the rider. There’s traction issues from rain, snow or ice, as well as limited visibility caused by condensation on your face shield as well as ground fog, rain or snow. Heat can make asphalt or “tar snakes” slick, and mirage-like heat shimmers can mess with your mind.
And of course, extreme temperatures cause mechanical issues fair-weather riders don’t have to deal with. So these tips aren’t just for comfort – they can save yours, and someone else's, lives.
Motorcycle gear for cold weather
The number one thing that’s going to make your ride more comfortable in cold temperatures is proper clothing. We’ll get to heated apparel in a minute, but the best heated gear is a lot less effective if you’re not wearing motorcycle-specific clothing.
That means jacket, pants, boots and gloves designed for your present riding style. Motocross gear is not very comfortable or protective on the street, and vice versa. Properly designed and constructed gear keeps wind and rain out and precious body heat in, plus it has abrasion resistance and armor for when the worst happens.
Below that, you want an insulating layer above a sweat-wicking layer next to your skin. When it’s really cold, how thick or warm the insulation is doesn’t really matter if you’re riding for extended periods – you’ll still lose more body heat than you can make. That’s where electrically heated gear comes into play.
We could write an entire article on heated gear, but to boil it all down to one sentence: get it! You can get every item heated, from gloves to socks, but a vest or even a bib will go a long way to keeping you warm and safe from hypothermia and frostbite.
Motorcycle gear for hot weather
If you’ve seen pictures of Bedouins, the native people of the Arabian peninsula who have endured triple-digit temperatures for centuries, you’ll notice that they always wear their traditional costume of tank tops, flip-flops and cargo shorts to keep cool.
What? No they don’t, you say? Okay, Margret Mead, what do they wear? Huh? They’re completely covered from head to toe in white cloth? Aren’t they roasting?
No, they aren’t. Wearing reflective clothing can create a microclimate of cooler air between your skin and the fabric, as your drying sweat creates an evaporative-cooling effect. Modern synthetic materials can improve on this – we’ve had great success wearing special clothing designed to hold a large volume of water that keeps your skin cold as it evaporates under your jacket. We’ve actually shivered in 100-degree stop-and-go traffic! True story.
Another path some riders take which is good for shorter rides is to wear a mesh jacket and pants to keep a breeze on your body. This is probably more effective for humid climates, where the evaporative-cooling effect is less pronounced (or even non-existent) as long as you’re drinking plenty of water – dehydration-caused heat exhaustion or heat stroke is no laughing matter. But both strategies should include being completely covered head-to-toe in riding gear to avoid sunburn, dehydration…and road rash.
Motorcycle Gear for Rainy Days
Riding in the rain is no fun, but true fact: riders crash less in the rain than on sunny days. That’s probably mostly due to the fact that most of us are sane enough to not ride when it’s raining, but also, we’re a lot more cautious.
Your rainsuit should have some basic elements – watertight collar, reflective patches and a means to keep the trousers from riding up over your boots – but mostly you’re going to want it to fit and be easy to put on and remove.
Wet feet are squishy little pods of misery, but carrying waterproof boots around is a pain. You can carry rain covers, or use plastic shopping bags in an emergency (yes, we’ve done it and have the melted plastic on our exhaust pipes to prove it), but GoreTex – Gore Industries’ trademark waterproofing method and material – makes it possible to waterproof some of the motorcycle gear you already have in your closet.
Gore doesn’t make actual garments or footwear, but they do license their technology to apparel makers. It’s more expensive, but the excellent functionality and incredible warranty make it worth it.
Another thing you’ll notice in the cold and rain is a fogged-up face shield. You can try using a spray-on anti-fog solution, but we have yet to find one that really works (comment below with recommendations!) Years ago, San Francisco’s Fog City shields were the way to go, but now there’s competitors from other brands, including Pinlock, which works like a charm and is available for all major helmet brands. Problem solved. You’re welcome.
Motorcycle Safety Tips You Need Year Round
Prepping your bike
Now your body is prepped…how about your ride? You should always do a safety check before each ride, but it's especially important before riding in harsh conditions.
Extreme temps can be just as hard on you as they are on the bike, so pay attention to tire pressure (and please follow your tire manufacturer’s recommendation, not the dude who told you to either raise or lower tire pressure in the rain), chain lubrication, lights, horn and brakes.
In hot weather, fluids are especially important; check your coolant overflow tank as well as oil. Some motorcycles need a different weight motor oil in hot weather, and you should pay attention to that unless you like hearing loud, clanking noises. And when you’re on the trip, check stuff out more often than you would in good times.
Comfortable hearing protection that fit under your helmet
When riding at 65 MPH, permanent hearing loss can happen in less than 2 minutes. Noise-induced hearing loss is forever, so prioritize healthy hearing before it's too late. High-Fidelity motorcycle ear plugs are great for bikers because they block out background noise so you hear what you need to maintain situational awareness, like in-helmet communications and traffic.
And yes, there is still a risk of damage even on a rainy day when you're riding slower.
One last thing
The final tip for riding a motorcycle in harsh conditions, is the most crucial for rider safety - make sure your mind is in the right place. Riding in extreme weather can be safe, even fun (no, really!). Just like when it's dry and temperate, you need to ride within your limits, and when you're riding in harsh conditions, those limits have been reduced.
Stay present and listen to your inner voice – if you’re tired, thirsty, sleepy or way too cold, stop and rest as soon as you can. Cool down, dry off, warm up - do whatever you need to do. And if the ride becomes too risky, you can choose not to ride - only a fool would think less of you for refusing to take chances like that.
Get out there and ride safely and comfortably!
Read more about the essential motorcycle gear in Motorcycle Safety Course 201: 5 Types of Gear You Need Every Time You Ride.