There are those who return their motorcycle to the garage at the arrival of the first frost, and those who refuse to give up their machine on the pretext that the thermometer is at half mast. Riding when the cold is biting can have unpleasant surprises, even with a suitable equipment.
If there is one good advice to ride in winter, it’s easy: ride well equipped!
All the other tips I can give you for riding in winter conditions are useless if you are not equipped properly to protect yourself from the cold environment.
You can have all the winter accessories on the bike, but the most important thing is to protect yourself, not the bike. And what would be the point of deploying all of your riding skills if your limbs are numbed down by the cold?
You will need winter equipment if you drive at less than 5 °C and for more than 15 km.
It’s on average from this distance that the body begins to cool (variable depending on the speed and protection of your vehicle).
Below these conditions (if it is more than 5 °C ambient or if you do only a few kilometers), winter specific biker equipment is not necessary.
Good mid-season equipment may suffice, if supplemented by some accessories.
To avoid getting cold, even for hundreds of kilometers during 5 to 15 °C conditions, you can often keep the usual biker equipment: helmet, leather or textile jacket, light pants or jeans, boots …
This supposes however that a jacket is large enough to slip underneath a t-shirt (avoid the cotton which does not hold warmth and does not evacuate the perspiration) and a under-jacket, preferably a long sleeve one. All in order to conserve body heat.
This will only be effective if you isolate yourself from the relative wind by wearing a windproof over-jacket. And especially by clogging all the air entry areas: collar (with a thick choker), cuffs (with tight armholes or long gloves) and pelvis (with an over-jacket that goes down well).
For the lower part of the body, the same principle: long thermal underpants under the motorcycle trousers and windproof trousers (rain pants, for example), preferably with high socks and boots as high as possible. Again, the principle is to keep the heat and isolate the legs from the cold air at the ankles and pelvis. If the blood is kept hot all along the legs, you likely won’t get cold feet.
Reminder: jeans don’t protect well against wind or cold!
Long underpants worn under jeans will be useless if you do not insulate the jeans from the wind with a windproof underlay, with more protective shorts at the knees and/or shins.
Remember that your knees are the first part of your body to cool, along with your hands, and it takes a lot longer to warm them up.
Get quality gloves for your hands, the most exposed part of your body.
If you do not have big winter gloves or heated handles, there is still the possibility of under-gloves. But they will only be effective in a pair of gloves big enough to let the blood circulate and/or over- rain gloves. Buying winter gloves is the simplest option and costs about the same if not less.
All this equipment, on and under-wear, are not necessarily expensive and can be purchased either used or new in large stores like Decathlon. If you want to buy online, I recommend using Amazon for quick delivery and often more affordable price.
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If you go for more than 30 km and/or in less than 5 °C temperature you will need stronger equipment!
Jacket and pants must be waterproof while providing maximum thermal protection.
However, I immediately specify that winter motorcycle clothing, even when high quality, generally proves to be insufficient to really preserve body warmth. They are there mainly to isolate, not to warm you up. What you wear below is the thing that retains the warmth of your body.
And anyway, I tell you from experience, after thousands of kilometers traveled in winter, on land, snow and ice, from Norway to Morocco, from the seashore to more than 2,000 meters altitude, temperatures down to -25 °C … it always ends up being cold !
The relative wind created by the speed cools you down, as it lowers the temperature compared to the actual ambient temperature.
Whatever you do, after hours and hours of driving, the cold will gradually go through all the layers of your clothes and right to your skin. Unless you have an external heat source (for example, heating equipment).
All my advice is only to delay the onset of cooling.
To warm up, there is only one solution: stop the bike and move around, go to a heated place, eat and/or drink something hot.
Waterproof, warm jacket
Fundamental element of the winter outfit is having a good jacket. Because it must keep the heart warm, in order for it to send warm blood to the rest of the body.
Preferably choose a three-quarter jacket or long jacket (rather than a short jacket, which stops at the waist) to avoid the airflow at the waist (provided of course that it has a drawstring at the bottom).
To prevent cold outside air from rising from the waist, an airtight “skirt” (inspired by ski equipment) is the best way. One with elastic cords may be suitable as well.
Make sure it has a good thermal seal at the center zipper, if possible with a double flap offset: it takes time to close, but it is very effective. A good jacket must also include a good thickness of thermal insulation behind the central zip closure. Even better if this central zip is itself covered with an outside flap.
A winter jacket must combine the practical aspects with pockets (and waterproof on the outside and inside), a good seal, a high collar, comfortable (non-irritating) and wide enough to accommodate neck protection.
The fit of the armholes by velcro or zipper is preferable to the less adjustable methods.
The ideal is to choose a model with one or two removable liners to vary the thickness according to climatic variations. In addition, the air layers between two liners provide an additional insulating barrier.
A zip link with the pants to prevent backwashing is an advantage. The longer the assembly zip is around the waist, the better. I have this Tri-Tex motorcycle jacket at the moment. It’s not perfect, but it looks stylish and it’s pretty warm, with enough zippers to play around and adjust according to temperature and other conditions.
The presence of protective shells on the joints and back is obviously preferable, if only because these rigid shells provide an additional barrier against the cold. In this sense, pectoral protection is an additional advantage.
A good winter road jacket is a good starting point, but even a “medium” jacket can be quite effective if it’s complemented by both a fleece windbreaker or underpants and by a good over-jacket.
Once again, the best winter jacket in the world will be more effective if it is complemented by a winter collar, ideally composed of a windbreak membrane associated with a layer of polar wool, or even a thin hood.
The area of the neck, from which arteries provide blood to the brain, must be kept warm.
Winter pants should be thick (usually with a thermal liner, removable or not), resist abrasion and go up high enough not to let air through.
Choose preferably a strapless model that will not compress the belly and will protect the kidneys.
At the knees, there should be knee protectors with a shell and a windproof textile envelope that goes from the top of the knee to the middle of the tibia, or even to the ankle. Put on over jeans, they can be enough to keep warm for a journey of a few tens of kilometers.
A good pair of trousers must fit properly around the calves, so that the boots are tight.
Personally, whatever the choice of winter trousers, I strongly recommend the wearing of pants, long underpants, tights … to wear on the skin.
If you wear a windproof, insulating garment, on top of it, you do not need a special motorcycle product. Good, long underpants do the trick.
If you ride in jeans or leather without Gore-Tex (or equivalent), a WindStopper – specific textile motorcycle product will be useful.
Extra tip: To be thrifty, consider that winter motorcycle clothing can be bought at a low price in summer, during the July sales.
All that remains now is to optimize the effectiveness of your clothes.
The basic rule is to superpose several layers of clothes (usually three), sufficiently wide to move, turn the head, and not to compress the joints (elbows, shoulders, pelvis, neck, knees), or the chest. Indeed, under the effect of the cold, the work of the cardiorespiratory system is reinforced. The rhythm and intensity of inhales an exhales increases, most often without our being aware of it. Be careful not to over-tighten the various loops, straps and belts for this reason.
Do not fall into the delusion of thinking that the more clothes I put on, the warmer I’ll be. On the contrary! The more layers you have, the sooner you sweat, which cools the skin. In addition, if you do not have breathable clothing, this sweat stays on the skin and will cool you even more. A t-shirt, a sweater and a good jacket are often enough.
To conserve heat, keep in mind the three-layer rule:
The first layer is worn on the skin, generally consisting of an undergarment consisting of two layers, an inner side of polyester, polyamide or polypropylene, which will take care of evacuating moisture, and an outer face (wool for example) that will dry quickly while providing thermal insulation.
Prefer the fitted cuts, closer to the skin, with stretch mesh (Lycra style). Do not use cotton clothes that do not drain moisture and do not dry. Underwear for hiking, skiing or mountaineering, found in large sports shops and Amazon are perfectly suited.
Some examples of adequate fibers: Dryflo, Carline Polartec, Capilene, Coolmax, Confortemp, Thinsulate, Primaloft…
There is evidence that is good to remember: this first layer is responsible for conserving the temperature of your body, so you have to put it warm, when you’re hot (without sweating too much), being surrounded by hot air! If you are already cold, it will conserve the cold as well.
The second layer insulates and maintains the heat produced by the body. Composed of triple layer polar fiber, light and thin, it advantageously replaces a large wool sweater that would feel like too you’re wearing too much. A simple fleece, unless doubled with a layer of windbreaker, lets the wind through. It will have to be worn with an extra layer of protection (Windstopper, for example) to be effective.
Main materials used in this category: Microfleece, Polarfleece, Polartec, Windpro …
The third layer provides protection against wind, rain and snow. Examples of windproof tags include: Windbear, Windstopper, Antifreeze.. Anways, prefer breathable and waterproof outer protection.
Water repellent treatment can be an advantage. Conversely, avoid all materials that will soak up water, including leather. Or, it must be waterproofed hydrophobic and / or surmounted by a waterproof layer like a rain suit.
Forget the oilcloth and other non-breathable waterproof materials that will turn your jacket into a sauna. The Windstopper alone may be suitable, but if it rains, it will turn into a sponge.
This is the part of the body that’s most difficult to protect because it is necessary to limit the thickness of the gloves to keep a good sensitivity of the controls. Except that the hands are the first part of the body to cool because the blood flows back to the vital organs.
Here too, avoid falling into the misconception that more is better! Nothing is worse than compressed hands, with no layer of air around the fingers to isolate them. In case of numbness, release one hand from the handlebar and shake it to restore blood circulation.
In dry weather, mid-season gloves, possibly lined with silk under-gloves or technical textiles, can do the trick. If it’s raining, that’s another story. In that case only waterproof Gore-Tex (breathable) or neoprene (non-breathable) gloves can really protect.
One solution is to put under-gloves inside gloves chosen specifically one or two sizes too large, to leave a layer of air between the sub-glove and the glove.
No need to buy undergloves if it is to put them in addition to your usual gloves. The undergloves may then compress the fingers, reducing blood flow, which necessarily leads to faster cooling. They are only effective in larger gloves.
As far as buying winter gloves, they’re often too thick. This is the paradox of winter gloves: they must be composed of a thick layer of wadding on both sides of the hand that will retain the heat of the blood, but this thickness reduces the good feeling of the controls. Everyone has to find a compromise.
The most effective “traditional” solution in cold weather: the “three fingers” gloves, derived from the famous Segura Lobster (lobster). I have a pair of these gloves with “three fingers”, it takes me half an hour to get used to early winter.
Some put plastic under-gloves, like surgeon’s gloves. This is a solution, but it is much more useful to have the “windproof” layer on the outside of the glove, not on the inside. The good old recipe is therefore to wear an over-glove rubber, like dishwashing gloves. It is ultra-ugly, but effective and cheap.
A sporty thing you can also use are ointments that stimulate the muscles and activate the blood circulation, like Akileïne.
The essential complement for gloves in winter, or even in the cold regions in the fall, are the heated handles (find one’s for your bike on Amazon), fitted as standard, as an option or as an aftermarket accessory. Only disadvantage of adaptable handles is that they cause an increase in the diameter of the handles, which can interfere if you have small hands, even more so with thick gloves.
Another useful addition: the sleeves. They aren’t all that aesthetically appealing but they’re certainly effective against the cold. It’s convenient, but it’s ugly. Eternal debate…
Some bikers believe that hand guards (or handguards) help withstand the cold. Certainly, the handguards break the flow of air and prevent the wind from wearing directly on the gloves. But this solution does not prevent drafts and the air is just as cold. It’s a slight advantage, nothing more.
Conversely, heated gloves are the most effective solution, but at a high price. I have these Savior Heated Gloves and absolutely love them.
The most powerful are connected to the harness of the bike, with the disadvantage of cables to pass in the sleeves of the jacket. In recent years, there are autonomous heating gloves, powered by batteries. More practical for sure. However, they lose efficiency during use (because they’re fed with 7 or even 5 volts, and not in 12 volts) and offer a reduced time as a result (two to four hours at the most).
Simple: high boots lined with Gore-Tex.
Avoid shoes that are too tight, that would limit blood circulation.
Use a pair of boots a little bigger in winter (one size more than usual) in order to be able to wear thicker socks, preferably wool socks.
You really need higher boots because the ankles are a gateway for the cold air, especially with the pant bottom that goes up because of the movements of the ankle on the controls. I wear these waterproof Bates Men Boots and they’re really warm and comfy. I wore dozens of different winter boots before I got these and I’m happy to say these are the best ones so far. Socks up to the knees like those used for mountaineering are the best choice.
Waterproofing is a fundamental criterion for winter boots. Make sure you have boots that do not take in water at all. If you have any doubt, put on PVC boots (oilcloth).
Consider the fact that the blood that comes to warm your feet disappears in the legs if they’re cold. Keep them warm throughout the ride. Long underpants will protect you efficiently and cheaply.
If you really fear frostbite on your feet, first try straw or newspaper in the boots (at the front, in front of the toes), then warmers under the soles of the feet, and finally heated soles.
The face, the head and the ears
One third of the heat loss is through the head, face and neck.
The helmet plays an obvious isolating role: take a tightly closed full face helmet, if possible with a chin flap/guard.
It’s also crucial to protect the neck because it is there that blood passes to the brain, it is absolutely necessary to maintain it at 37 degrees Celsius. Avoid the big scarfs that squeeze the neck, limit mobility and compress the throat. A turtleneck from soft, fleece, neoprene or wool, passed under the jacket and blocked by the chinstrap of the helmet at the top, is the best defense.
The ears are very sensitive to cold under poorly insulated headphones. To protect them, you can use a headband or a neoprene mask that goes up to the ears.
Do not hesitate to use a moisturizing and protective cream for the lips and the face in case of extreme cold in order to avoid cracks.
General advice for motorcycle winter gear
Put on your road equipment at the last moment, before leaving for a long drive in the winter.
Indeed, the movements, the efforts that one provides before leaving, by stowing the luggage, by going to open the gate, loading the motorcycle and pushing it certainly raise the temperature of the body. It sometimes happens that we sweat, especially if we wear thick and heavy clothes.
On the one hand, the feeling of heat may cause you to remove a layer that will be sorely missed a few kilometers away when you have cooled down. On the other hand, the sweat released will gradually cool down and accelerate your general cooling.
Make sure you never sweat before riding a motorcycle in the winter.
While you prepare the bike, put your motorcycle clothes on a radiator (but not an electric heater!).
The fibers will absorb the heat and restore it, for at least a few minutes, after which the contact of the cold air will cool them very quickly. This will not keep you from the cold, but at least you’ll get warm by the time you get onto the motorcycle.
This is particularly true for gloves because the hands cool very quickly when preparing a motorcycle with bare hands under the wind. And keeping your fingers warm, just the time they warm up a bit, is nice at the beginning of a long winter road.
Now I’m probably sounding like your mother, but this is definitely sound advice that I’ve learned through trial and error. By learning from an experienced motorcyclist you can definitely stay warm during this winter and many to come!