Opinion: Cold Weather Riding

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It’s official, summer is over. No doubt many motorcyclists have already hung it up for the season as temperatures dip into the single digits across much of the country. While the fair-weather riders among us are plugging in their trickle chargers, others soldier on – undeterred by the shorter days and colder temps. The more hearty among us may even continue to ride all year long.

My friend Grant has lived in Vancouver for the last fifteen years, but recently got a new job in Toronto. He packed up and shipped all of his earthly belongings and took the opportunity to ride his 2013 Triumph Bonneville T100 across the country. It seemed like a great idea in July, but less so when he actually completed the trip in October. In addition to following along vicariously through his Instagram posts, he’d periodically send me direct updates on the trip that weren’t for mass consumption. Mostly because they were riddled with expletives as he described how cold he was. Leaving the west coast under sunny skies and double-digit temperatures spoiled him as he was faced with snow flurries on multiple occasions throughout his journey.

Only far too recently, I discovered the value of heated gear. I picked up a Black Jack 12V heated vest from my friendly neighbourhood motorcycle shop Town Moto. I’m not exaggerating when I say it has changed my life. I’m able to ride longer, safer and in greater comfort when the temperature dips. Once you get that chill in your bones, it’s all over. Using a quick connector, it plugs into the same SAE connection used by a battery tender or most 12V battery charging systems. It has a simple on/off switch that you can adjust on the fly. The best part? It is a Canadian company.

Upgrading his gear as he went, Grant picked up the same vest and repeatedly thanked me for the recommendation. I’m not receiving any kind of kickback and I paid for mine with my own money, but it isn’t stopping me from telling every rider I know about it.

I recently moderated an all-Canadian panel of filmmakers whose movies are being screened at this year’s Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival, of which I am fortunate to have been a member of the judging panel for the last two years.

Blake Sovdi directed the film called A Road Less Travelled. It chronicles a group of riders who embark on an annual 1,000 km trip from Fort McMurray, Alberta to Fort Smith, North West Territories. The ride raises funds for a charitable organization called the Local Hero Foundation who provide medevac services for people living in remote regions of northern Alberta.

Travelling by makeshift ice roads, they passed through areas that are only accessible during the coldest months of the year when the roads are flooded then freeze. They predictably suffered setbacks and challenges, but over the last three years have learned to adapt to this environment as best they can. Experiencing conditions far beyond what the typical motorcycle enthusiast would face, they keep their machines indoors overnight and affix studs to their knobby tires.

While most of us would never ride in such weather, some of the strategies they’ve adopted can be helpful for anyone who rides in inclement weather. Traction, or lack thereof, should certainly be a consideration. You may not want to go to the trouble of installing studs, but do be aware that your tires are likely rated for warmer temperatures and won’t have the same level of grip on cold pavement. Also – watch out for wet leaves.

You’ll figure out early on into any cool weather ride which areas are going to be an issue. Dressing in layers is important. Technical fabrics that wick moisture and will dry quickly if you sweat should be worn close to the skin while outer layers should block the wind. Covering skin will keep you warmer and help prevent frostbite from windchill.

Visors can often fog up or frost over. Wearing goggles will prevent moisture from your nose and mouth limiting visibility. Having cold hands isn’t just about discomfort, you also require dexterity to react and maneuver quickly. Heated grips and heated gloves or hand shields to block the wind.

Drivers rarely have any consideration for motorcycles at the best of times, but they definitely aren’t expecting them to be on the road in cold weather. Riding during the shorter daylight hours will be warmer, but also increase your chances of being seen. Also, it’s no coincidence that autumn is hunting season. Animals are actively looking to mate and find food. You don’t want to come in contact with them while on a motorcycle.

2020 has been one heck of a year, so I know a lot of people who are going to squeeze every ounce out of riding season that they can. Just be sure to do it properly. After all, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just poor gear and insufficient planning.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I ride, cycle and ski so need flexible heated gear. I have Power in Motion gloves (Canadian), Lenz socks (Swiss I believe) and Milwaukee jacket. My bikes all have heated grips and my dearly departed R1200RT had heated seats and also amazing weather protection. I also use a balaclava on cold days. I am outdoors 12 months of the year and the gear is amazing, especially the gloves. Cold hands are painful and dangerous.

  2. Milwaukee Tools has a battery powered heated vest that’s good for about 6-7 hours at the same price as your Black Jack. Anlas makes winter spec tires, but not in a huge range of sizes – mostly dualsport. There’s lots of stuff on the snowmobile market that makes life easier – helmets with dual pane or electric visors, balaclavas and the like. Oxford heated grips are a PITA to install, but help too. No reason to stop until the roads won’t allow it.

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