We’re in the middle of winter, and that means a greater potential for inclement weather and treacherous roads. That does not mean, however, that you can’t ride at all during the winter, it simply means that, as with four-wheeled vehicles, you simply have to pay that much more attention to road conditions and be judicious when you travel on your motorcycle.
If travel on potentially troublesome motorways is unavoidable, it helps to do two important things: wear your riding gear, and invest time in tyre maintenance.
Maintaining Your Tyres
It’s important to consider the following when it comes to maintenance on your bike tyres:
Tyre Pressure. Proper tire pressure means your tread doesn’t prematurely wear out. Know your bike’s tyre pressure backwards and forwards when changing tyres, and have your tyres inspected regularly for any issues (including punctures), and replace old tyre valves as leaky valves can be problematic.
Adequate Tread. Even if you keep up with all other aspects of tyre maintenance, tyres will show normal signs of wear over time. This is particularly important to manage in the winter, as you are on only two wheels, with fewer road contact points than if you were driving a four-wheeled vehicle.
Riding Warm In The Cold
You might not think that keeping warm whilst riding has anything to do with paying attention to icy roads, but it does. You can know the basics of navigating slick surfaces (use ultra-gentle inputs and avoid braking hard, etc), but unless you are properly warmed up, you are bound to experience issues with being able to grip your handlebars, much less operate the bike safely.
Riding warm gives you the ability to keep your focus on safety, rather than on how cold you are otherwise. Items to consider include thermal underwear as well as lined gloves, in addition to jackets that not only wick away moisture but remain flexible in the cold. Leather does keep you warm, but only to a certain point if you know you’ll be heading into truly cold weather, as leather tends to become stiff.
Additionally, if you find yourself getting truly cold despite your best precautions, find someplace to get warm like a pub or a hotel as hypothermia can set in quite easily if the windchill is low enough. Just be sure not to drink alcohol or coffee. Yes, they warm you up quickly, but they can actually contribute to your being colder than before you got off your bike. And alcohol will impair your judgment on top of everything else.
If this is your first winter on a motorcycle, you’ll want to get a nice mental ‘database’ started in your head of what conditions to watch for, road-wise.
Ice on roads doesn’t just form on bridges, though that’s a common area to watch out for. Depending on where you ride most often, or where you’re planning to ride, keep an eye out for any spot where there are trees on either side of the road. Trees block the wind, so not only might you find packed snow here, but black ice underneath.
Additionally, if you live in truly hilly or mountainous areas, altitude makes a difference in the formation of icy spots, so if the weather’s clear further down, naturally, it can be treacherous closer to the top. If you’re on a road on a high hill, get to a lower altitude as quickly and safely as possible. Also, sand or salt spread on the road, particularly in tight corners, can be as treacherous as the ice you’re watching out for, just because you have that much less tyre surface area touching the road.
It’s easy to think ‘no, I won’t ride in the winter, it’s too dangerous,’ and store your bike away until spring. However, if you do that, you won’t gain the experience needed in the event it is absolutely necessary to take your bike out in the cold weather, to say nothing of the potential bracing fun it can be to ride when there’s a nip in the air and a winter wonderland to take in along your journey.