So it's winter and the snow is falling down. Most riders will call it quits and tuck their bike away for another day, but what if you just have to get your ride in? Can you even ride in the snow?
With the right precautions, like all-season tires and snow gear, you can still ride in the snow but it comes with a lot of risks. Sure, it takes a bit more preparation and caution, but when there's a will there's a way. We should stress, however, that it's still dangerous and should be treated as a last resort.
In this article, we'll dive into some tips about winter/snow riding, and everything you need to do when preparing for an icy ride. Driving in the snow is a huge game changer, so take our advice to make sure you can still ride safely.
IS IT SAFE TO DRIVE A MOTORCYCLE IN THE SNOW?
While riding in the snow is generally not recommended, it can still be done after taking the right precautions. If you must ride in the snow, you should get yourself some four-season or snow tires. Cold weather riding means a huge decrease in tire traction, so don't make the mistake of thinking that regular tires will cut it.
Generally speaking, if you can find another way of getting around then you should probably take it. Winter motorcycle riding can be done if you're careful and well-prepared, but it should be thought of as more of a last option than a habit.
ESSENTIAL TIPS BEFORE YOU RIDE A MOTORCYCLE IN WINTER
Cold weather motorcycle riding can be loads of fun. Once you've got the hang of things, you can kiss those cold weather blues goodbye and jump on the bike during those miserable winter days.
With that being said, take in these tips so you can be well-prepared for your next winter ride. Snowfall comes with additional risks on the road, so stay safe and in control if you decide to brave the weather.
KNOW THE RISKS OF WINTER MOTORCYCLE RIDING
The first step to riding in winter weather is knowing what you'll be dealing with.
For starters, keep your speed to a manageable level. This isn't the time for heroics. You'll need plenty of leeways to deal with the change in traffic conditions and unexpected hazards. Slower speeds will also compensate for the loss of traction when you need to come to a stop.
Your following distance will need to be tweaked as well. While two to three seconds is the norm, that distance should be increased for winter conditions. Remember, most people don't see bikers even at the best of times, so keep on your toes and allow for the unexpected.
The road conditions can get tricky during winter months, so watch out for slippery obstacles on the ground. Black ice, which is a term for transparent ice because it blends in with the road, can be especially hard to spot while driving. Keep your eyes peeled for any ice or morning frost, which can easily cause a skid.
Think about your visibility as well. That means seeing in front of you and being seen. High-vis gear or reflective tape will make you less invisible to other drivers, who just won't be expecting a motorcycle on the road. As for yourself, it's important to constantly scout out for the road ahead to be ready for whatever might pop up.
GEAR UP WITH THE PROPER EQUIPMENT
Cold temperatures mean adapting your bike and gear to the conditions. That means getting yourself some proper snow tires or all-season tires. With the steep loss of traction that comes with icy roads, you'll need all the help you can get.
Does your helmet have a face shield? A cold blast of winter wind in your face and eyes can be a real bitch, not to mention it completely blocks your vision. The skin around your face, nose, and ears is quite delicate, so don't leave it exposed to the unforgiving winter winds.
A pair of winter riding gloves will help keep your fingers from freezing up in the cold weather. The last thing you need is frozen fingers when operating the controls, so grab yourself a pair of winter motorcycle gloveslike these so you can stay in control.
Lastly, you'll need to think about keeping your body warm. Motorcycle jackets that are made for winter like this armoured puffer jacketare the best mix of warmth and protection you can get. Remember, you'll be completely exposed to the elements so make sure you've got motorcycle gear that can keep you feeling nice and toasty.
START THE BIKE BEFORE YOU RIDE
Cold engines need a bit more time to get going, so make sure to warm the bike up before you jump on. It's a bit like us getting out of bed on a cold morning. It usually requires a bit of extra effort.
Warming up your bike is crucial because it heats the oil and lets it circulate throughout the bike. This protects the high-stress components of the motorcycle. The bike's battery also won't perform as well in cold weather and the viscosity of motor oil increases.
Speaking of oil, check out your bike's manual. It should mention something about changing the viscosity of oil for colder temperatures. It's a small change that helps to maximise the bike's performance.
CHECK THE WEATHER CONDITIONS
So at what point should you call it quits entirely? There is such a thing as too cold, so don't be a hero or you might end up paying for it.
As a rule, temperatures below freezing are too cold to ride. You might be a tough nut, but trust us, your body can't handle it. So before you even start riding, check the forecast and decide if today is actually worth it.
Consider where you're riding as well. Higher elevations mean lower temperatures, so watch out for those high-peak mountain ranges. Temperatures tend to drop rapidly after the sun sets, so try to plan your rides for during the day.
The wind chill is a very real danger for motorcycle riders in winter. The wind chill is the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the combination of wind and cold, so basically how cold it feels outside while the wind is blowing. Here are the warning signs:
You start feeling very cold
Tingling, itching, and burning sensations
Unusual joint clumsiness
Hypothermia is even more serious, which happens when your body is exposed to subfreezing temperatures. Hypothermia happens when your body's core temperate falls below 90 degrees Fahrenheit (or 35 degrees Celsius), so be aware of the warning signs:
You start feeling numb or weak
You notice a decline in motor control
Start losing consciousness
HAVE A GAME PLAN
What's your plan to stay warm and safe? Frequent stops are a good way to prevent your body from getting sore and stiff, so think about a route with some warm places to park and maybe grab a meal.
Speaking of food, pack some quality snacks that will help sustain your energy. Go for proteins and complex carbs while avoiding junk food. The aim is to fuel your body over the course of the journey, so eat smart.
It's a good idea to plan your rides during winter. As mentioned above, the temperature can drop dramatically after sunset, so try to have your trip wrapped up before the sun goes down. If you can, avoid high altitudes as well.
DOUBLE-CHECK YOUR BIKE'S CONDITION
Your ride will be working overtime during the cold weather, so double-check to make sure everything is in good working order. It should be in tip-top condition with properly inflated tires, good brakes, and of course functioning lights.
Is the bike on its last legs? An old bike might still get the job done while the weather is nice but don't expect that same performance when winter hits. If the bike is questionable then consider leaving your riding for sunnier days.
SHOULD I RIDE A MOTORCYCLE IN THE SNOW?
There are bikes specifically made for ice racing, but these are specialist vehicles, so avoid riding directly on the snow. Snow will kill the traction control on your bike, so forget about accelerating, leaning into a turn, or braking.
So what if there's a heavy snowfall, but you've taken all the right precautions? Riding on snow is unavoidable, right? In these cases, you're best leaving the riding for another day, or at the very least waiting for the roads to clear. It's just not worth it.
Not only can snow affect a bike's traction, but falling snow obviously impairs your vision. If you can't see what's in front of you then maybe it's not the best time to ride. So either wait until the roads are more manageable or find another way to get around.
HOW COLD IS TOO COLD TO RIDE A MOTORCYCLE?
There's no concrete answer to the question of how cold is too cold to ride a motorcycle. It really depends on a rider's experience level, the type of bike you're riding with, and of course the weather conditions.
But as a general rule, it's not recommended to ride your bike when the temperature drops below 45°F (7°C). Icy temperatures like these can cause issues with the bike's handling and create potentially dangerous riding conditions.
If you decide to brave the cold then make sure the conditions are manageable. Gear up with some cold weather clothing, a helmet with a face shield, and make sure you've got winter wheels that are up to the task.
WILL SNOW HURT A MOTORCYCLE?
Will bits of snow hurt a motorcycle? While the real danger is in the road conditions, there's actually a small chance that snow will get caught in the moving parts of the motorcycle. This can cause damage to the engine, brakes, and other components.
Salt and other de-icing agents used on roads can also potentially cause corrosion and rust to a bike's metal parts.
So there's a small chance of bike damage from snow. If you live in an area where it snows regularly, it's best to store your beloved motorcycle in a warm, dry place, or at least properly cover it.
CAN MOTORCYCLES BE LEFT IN THE SNOW?
Motorcycles should not be left in the snow. Not only can prolong exposure to cold and moisture damage a bike's components, but the actual weight of accumulated snow causes stress on the suspension and frame.
If you absolutely have to leave your ride out in the snow then don't panic. You'll just need to take some protective measures.
For starters, throw a waterproof motorcycle cover on top to keep it protected. Try to park the bike on a flat surface as well. It's also a good idea to get a piece of wood or another sturdy object and put it under the bike's kickstand so it doesn't sink into the snow.
HOW HARD IS IT TO RIDE A MOTORCYCLE IN THE SNOW?
So how hard is it to ride a motorcycle in the snow? Very hard, as you can probably imagine. Riding in the snow is a challenging task even for seasoned veterans. Your traction and stability are significantly reduced, and snow accumulation on the tires can make handling and braking extra tricky.
Riding in the snow requires not only a good deal of experience but specialised gear like snow tires. If you're weighing up whether to ride on a snowy day, consider how well you can actually handle the conditions when push comes to shove. The risk/reward factor might not be in your favour.
If you do decide to brave the storm, just make sure to adjust accordingly. That means reducing your speed, avoiding any aggressive cowboy moves, and keeping a healthy distance from other drivers.
Gearing up is essential. Along with snow/all-season tires, a helmet with a face shield will help keep the cold out of your face. Grab yourself a good winter riding jacket like this armoured puffer, and a pair of riding glovesto keep your fingers from freezing up.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I RIDE MY MOTORCYCLE IN THE WINTER?
How often you should ride your motorcycle in the winter really depends on the severity of the weather conditions where you live.
If you only experience mild winter with little snow and ice, you might still be able to get some regular riding in. On the other hand, if your area is known for having harsh winters with plenty of snow, you're better off waiting for clear and dry conditions.
Think about the condition of your bike as well. If you plan to do some winter riding then try to store it somewhere dry and warm, like a garage. Will it be left outside? If that's the case, throw a waterproof cover over the top and try to park it on a flat surface.
Some people choose to forego winter riding entirely and store their bikes until the weather clears up. This is fine, but you should take some steps to get it ready for storage. This includes things like draining the fuel, changing the oil, and taking out the battery.