Riding a motorcycle in winter can be very dangerous if the proper precautions are not in place. It’s not as easy as riding on a clear road in summer, but the right attitude and accessories can protect the rider. New riders will benefit from knowing a few tips on how to ride a motorcycle in snow.
The 5 tips for riding a motorcycle in snow are:
- Wear The Appropriate Helmet
- Keep A Safe Distance
- Don’t Speed
- Use Winter Tires
- Stay Vigilant
This does not mean that riding in winter is to be avoided completely, as risks can be minimized to ensure rider safety. Keep reading as we find out the best ways to stay safe by following a few simple rules to enjoy your winter motorcycle rides in the next few paragraphs.
Is It Safe To Ride Your Motorcycle In The Snow?
While it is safe to ride your motorcycle in the snow, you need to know snow imposes some restrictions that have to be respected, or there can be disastrous consequences. The biggest risk is skidding, so alertness has to be maintained to maintain a low speed and watch for patches of slush and ice.
There are a few major differences in the type of snow on the road that you need to be aware of so that you know exactly what to do for each one. The types of snow are:
- Freshly fallen snow
- Compressed snow
- Melting snow
- Black ice
Freshly Fallen Snow
Fresh snow is snow that has recently fallen and feels crunchy underfoot but not many vehicles have moved over it. Since the snow is fresh, it behaves like sand under the tire and does not pose much of a risk. Stretches of the road where fresh snow has fallen can be navigated easily as long as there is no need to suddenly brake. The tire is able to get traction from the road underneath the snow.
As long as the edges of the road are visible so that you know when to turn, this type of snow is the easiest of all to ride over. Ice has not yet had time to form, so there will be patches where the road under the snow is visible and gives your tires the friction they need. Riding cautiously is preferable but a decent speed can be maintained until you come to areas of compressed snow.
As more and more vehicles move on the road, the fresh snow gets compressed into hard snow containing ice pieces. Snow that has been compressed can be easily identified by a large number of tire marks on the road. As more vehicles move over it, it can become as polished and slippery as ice sheets.
This type of snow is much more dangerous than fresh snow so adequate precautions need to be taken. Because the risk of skidding is higher, speed has to be reduced. The compressed snow gets into the grooves of your tires lessening its grip on the road. If high winds start blowing, it can be almost impossible to control the motorcycle on a slippery road.
Melting snow creates a lot of slush, keeping the road wet and slippery until it dries up. It can be very treacherous until it is completely gone so don’t take it lightly. Stretches of road that are shadowed by trees will have alternating patches of road that are slushy, followed by clear areas where the water has evaporated from exposure to the sun.
The rider can be deceived by slushy roads into thinking that the bad patches are over and accelerate to a higher speed until the next bad patch which can be tricky to navigate at high speed. Areas where the snow has been compacted on the road surface form patches of black ice which is the most hazardous of all.
It is called black ice because the black road can be seen through it. Of all the types of snow that we have looked at so far, this is the most dangerous one because a lot of the time it is very difficult to spot. This thin, transparent sheet of ice on the road surface makes it very difficult for the tires to get any traction which results in loss of braking power.
Effectively, you are riding on an ice sheet with all the limitations that go with it. During the night, it is almost invisible so the rider never knows exactly where these stretches of road are located. This type of ice is most prevalent in the early hours of the morning and it also forms during the night when there is a sudden temperature drop.
Bridges and overpasses are especially prone as there is a layer of cold air circulating on top and below that freezes any water standing on it. The only way around it is to be wary and keep your speed to the minimum. Everything from acceleration to cornering is affected by degraded stability. Black ice is extremely dangerous to motorcyclists, cyclists, and walkers.
How To Prepare Your Motorcycle For Riding In The Snow
Before riding a motorcycle in the snow, appropriate clothing must be worn to keep yourself warm. Extreme cold can cause hypothermia and frostbite so put on enough clothing to insulate your hands and feet. Your motorcycle also needs a few preparations before you set out.
Warm Up Your Tires
Before going out on the road, ride your motorcycle for a few minutes in an empty space to warm up your tires. Rubber hardens in the cold reducing its traction and ability to stop the motorcycle in a short distance. It also shrinks, which reduces friction even more. As its temperature increases, it expands and this cycle continues over and over.
Assuming you have winter tires fitted, this warm-up will allow them to grip the road for maximum safety and braking power. If you haven’t fitted the bike with winter tires, now is your best chance to do so. Be sure to check the tire pressure at regular intervals and ensure that they are correctly inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure.
Heated Handle Grips And Heated Seat
If you are going to be on the bike for some time it is prudent to install a heated seat and handle grips. They are quite inexpensive and use power from your 12-volt motorcycle battery. A switch can be fitted near the throttle to switch them on and off. Together, the seat and grips take about 30 watts of power. Grips and a seat that consume lower power are also available.
It is necessary to keep the motorcycle battery fully charged as over a period of time they can drain the battery very fast and when it is least expected. Another alternative is to buy a separate battery to power the seat and grips so that they do not drain the main battery.
Keep A Visor Spray Handy
A visor spray is designed to waterproof the outer part of the visor by applying a thin coat of wax. After spraying the visor, allow it to dry for some time before gently polishing it with a soft cloth. Remember that visibility is going to be reduced and you need all the clarity you can get. It may need to be re-applied every few days.
Check Your Antifreeze
If your motorcycle uses water cooling, the antifreeze has to be mixed properly and changed at least once a year. Check the pipes that transport the water around the engine for leaks. Any problem with the radiator and pump will bring about deficient cooling with raised engine temperature.
Use Custom Foot Pegs For Optimal Grip
On slippery roads, custom foot pegs are a must because they provide you with optimal grip and the place to keep your feet. Regular foot pegs are not designed for extreme cold and can be slightly short allowing your foot to slip off. A number of varieties are available from about $50 to $100 from any motorcycle store. Custom foot pegs are much more comfortable and sure-footed with their extra width.
Installing custom foot pegs can be simple or complicated depending on the custom foot peg and the motorcycle that the foot pegs are to be fitted on. If you find that inserting the spring followed by the cotter pin is tricky, take the bike to the nearest garage where the pegs can be fitted in a few minutes.
Or the next best solution is to buy custom foot pegs that are fitted by using a single nut and cotter pin. Given the extensive range of toot pegs available, this is easier than it seems.
Most Important Of All
Your tires are the most important part of the bike when riding in snow, so make sure there is sufficient tread before the start of the season. Tire pressure is the key here. There’s no use in fitting new tires when their pressure isn’t maintained to the manufacturer’s standards. Low tire pressure causes instability and reduced steering performance.
Tire pressure has to be checked every two weeks and topped up if required. The average sports bike needs tire pressure between 28 to 40 psi but it is better to use the tire pressure that is recommended by the tire manufacturer. Change your tires as soon as you detect that the treads are excessively worn. Penny pinching on new tires can have disastrous consequences and degraded safety.
5 Tips For Riding A Motorcycle In The Snow
1. Wear The Appropriate Helmet
When riding a motorcycle in winter, an appropriate helmet with a visor is the top priority. It protects your head as well as ensures that your vision is not blocked. Ideally, you need to wear a balaclava under the helmet to keep your face and head warm. A clear visor is the key here, so the first choice is to use one with a Pinlock insert.
If you can’t see clearly, you can’t ride safely so your most basic task is to ensure that your visor is kept clean of anything that could obscure your vision. Before going out, wipe the outside of the visor with a soft damp cloth to remove any dust or dirt that has been caked in. The visor pins can get loose so inspect them regularly and remove any dirt that has gathered around them with a damp cloth.
Use A Breath Guard
A breath guard fits inside the helmet to protect the visor from fogging up due to the warm air coming out from your nose. They are available at a low price for any size and make of helmet. It goes by many names and is also known as a breath box, nose deflector, or breath deflector, and covers your nose and nostrils to deflect your breath downward away from the visor.
What Is A Pinlock Lens?
A Pinlock insert, also referred to as a Pinlock lens is transparent, organic material placed on the inside of the visor to eliminate condensation and any fogginess. A Pinlock insert can be fitted onto the visor of any helmet to keep it from fogging up. Currently, they’re pretty inexpensive and can be used for about a year before any sign of deterioration appears.
A Pinlock insert can be purchased from any store selling motorcycle helmets and accessories. It has to be fitted properly on the inside of the visor before it can be used. Instructions to fit a Pinlock insert are provided with it, so fitting the Pinlock is simple. The main precaution that needs to be carefully followed is that the inside of the visor is thoroughly cleaned before fitting it.
Fogging on the inside of the visor is a form of condensation that takes place when there is a sufficiently large temperature differential between the outside of the visor and the inside. This fog can blur vision and build up with time so it needs to be constantly removed. A temporary solution is to lift the visor up and wipe the inside with a soft cloth to absorb the water droplets.
How Does A Pinlock Lens Work?
The Pinlock insert blocks the exposure to air by placing an additional layer of material between the inside of the visor and the air inside the helmet, thereby sealing off the inside of the visor. It can be used at night even when visibility is very low and on visors that have a slight tint.
Effectively, there are now two lenses that can cause ghosting or a slightly offset double image. This happens as the visor is also a lens that is now coupled with the Pinlock lens. For most, this is not an issue, but the rider needs to test it out first to see if it is usable or not.
2. Keep A Safe Distance
The number one reason for most accidents is the lack of reaction time, so it pays to keep a sufficient distance between your motorcycle and the vehicle in front of you. On an icy road, the brakes are not as efficient as on a dry road, requiring a longer time and distance to be able to exert the same braking force. Bear in mind that the road ahead could be even more slippery.
If the vehicle in front needs to brake suddenly the distance between the vehicle and your motorcycle can be the deciding factor in whether a collision takes place or not. Added to this is the risk of collision with the vehicles behind who also need to stop with little reaction time.
In high traffic when the vehicle in front of you is a 4-wheeler that blocks you from seeing the road ahead or traffic, it is time to be even more cautious as the road ahead is likely to be wet, muddy, or unsuitable for fast braking.
3. Don’t Speed
Riding a motorcycle in snow can be dangerous if the rider does not recognize its limitations. The road is wet with areas of slush, fresh snow, and compacted ice which creates a continuously variable and uncertain surface to ride on. The road surface just ahead could be completely different from what you are riding on now, so you must be prepared for it.
By riding at a slower speed than what you are used to, you are giving yourself the opportunity and time to react to a difficult stretch of road if necessary. Even when the road ahead is empty, the urge to put on some speed has to be resisted. In wet conditions, it pays to be overcautious. On a wet road where there are short patches of ice, the time to come to a complete halt is much longer.
4. Use Winter Tires
If you are planning to use your motorcycle a lot in the winter, an investment in winter tires is worth it. These tires are made of softer rubber with deeper treads and wider gaps to grip the road surface when it is wet and slippery. They are also known as snow tires and can also be used in muddy conditions and when a layer of snow covers the road.
The rubber used has other rubber compounds mixed with it to improve its grip on a wet surface. Harder rubber does not grip as well, so the quality of rubber used to manufacture the tire is of different quality with deeper sides to increase its grip. Regular tires do not compare favorably to winter tires in many aspects even though there is very little difference in price.
Winter tires are able to grip better in snow and show an improvement of up to 30% in braking distance which is a substantial gain considering their operating environment. In some cities, road salt is used to clear the road, but it also corrodes the metal and aluminum parts of your motorcycle so you have to wash the bike as soon as possible.
Winter Tires Need To Be Inflated Properly
Correct tire pressure is necessary to ensure that the tire performs optimally. For every 10 degrees Fahrenheit drop in temperature there is a corresponding loss of 1 or 2 pounds of air pressure inside the tire. As the air pressure changes, the tire interacts differently with the road surface which changes the braking, steering, and acceleration performance.
The Difference Between Summer Tires And Winter Tires
Many people do not know the difference between summer tires and winter tires even though there’s a big difference. Summer tires are manufactured using specific rubber compounds that can tolerate heat while winter tires are made from rubber compounds designed to work in extreme cold. Winter tires will get worn down faster when used on a hot road or pavement as they are made from softer rubber.
Tire manufacturing experts suggest that tires need to be replaced every two years, or 5,000 miles. More than this is dangerous, especially for winter tires that need strict replacement on time. Tires that are meant for winter use have completely different tread patterns compared to summer tires as they are designed to move on a surface with distinct characteristics and temperatures.
Summer tires and winter tires are not interchangeable in that your winter tires won’t be able to handle the summer heat. Before summer starts, remove the winter tires and get your summer tires fitted back, and before winter starts get your winter tires fitted again. Using winter tires in summer gives wonderful traction but they wear down a lot faster because of the increased heat.
5. Stay Vigilant
It goes without saying that riding a motorcycle in the snow is hard enough without adding to the problem by consuming alcohol before riding. Riding when tired or when you are sleepy is not worth it as reaction times are slowed down considerably under these conditions and cause you to make bad judgments.
The highest level of alertness has to be maintained when riding in snow as you not only have to look out for oncoming traffic but also keep a watch on road conditions ahead. Your thinking needs to be absolutely clear so that your estimation of the road condition is reliable enough.
Essential Gear For Riding Your Motorcycle In Cold Weather
1. A Helmet With Clear Visor
This may not be worth repeating, but the primary goal of winter gear is to keep you warm while you ride the bike. The risk of getting caught in strong icy winds or snow falling is always present so adequate protection from them is needed. The most important piece of gear is your helmet with a decent visor because it shields your head and any problem with the visor is going to affect your vision.
Many helmets have pre-fitted Pinlock lenses on the inside of the visor. If yours doesn’t have one, a Pinlock lens can be purchased from any motorcycle accessories store very cheaply and fitted at home. Silicon sprays used to waterproof the visor are available and are very effective in preventing water droplets from sticking to it.
It has to be sprayed on the visor, left for some time to dry, and then buffed off, leaving behind a thin coating of wax so that water droplets roll off. Regular application and polishing every few days are needed as the wax can smear when the visor gets warm.
2. Winter Riding Gloves
Winter riding gloves that are warm and waterproof can be cheap or expensive depending on their construction. Gloves with steel alloy stitched into the fingers for knuckle protection are more expensive but ordinary gloves to keep your hands warm are cheaper. Some gloves have extra length to cover a few inches over the wrists but others are just long enough to cover the hand.
Using short gloves may create a small gap between the jacket wrist and the glove so it is well worth buying the longer gloves for their added wrist protection. Several varieties are available in leather and other synthetic materials that are waterproof with an internal lining to keep your hands warm.
3. Waterproof Boots With A Rain Cover
A regular pair of riding boots that do not slip is needed for gear shifting and brake operation. On top of these boots, a rain cover has to be worn to prevent water from entering the boot at the top. The rain covers come in their own waterproof bag and are made from PVC. They are foldable when not in use and are waterproof, anti-skid, and have a safety reflector fitted on the heel.
They are a little pricey but can be used for many other activities as well, such as fishing, hiking, and hunting. Cheaper waterproof shoe covers are smaller and do not provide the same protection as the more expensive ones.
4. Upper-Body Protection
Upper body protection is essential to keep yourself warm and protect yourself from water and icy cold wind. The balaclava is worn under the helmet to keep your head and face warm but may not be long enough to extend to your jacket collar. You can get a neck gaiter to keep your neck warm. A neck gaiter is just a tube of fabric worn around your neck and extends to just below your collar.
A suitable fleece jacket has to be worn for protection against the cold and wind. Winter motorcycling jackets can be very expensive depending on the insulation material used inside as well as the internal lining. Soft nylon is used for the exterior that retains its shape over time.
Elasticated cuffs and the waist hem ensure that the wind stays out and it can be worn underneath a riding jacket for added warmth. It is well worth investing in a high-quality jacket to keep yourself warm as its value can be felt after riding for a few hours in the cold.
5. Winter Motorcycling Pants
Winter motorcycling pants are available in a number of varieties that cater to every possible demand. Most are windproof and made from ripstop nylon which provides waterproofing to some extent. The inside is lined with taffeta or other synthetic material depending on the price.
The more expensive varieties can include internal heating that works off a 12-volt battery such as the Gerbing motorcycle heated pant liner. These pants also connect to heated jackets, socks, and gloves.
Motorcycle Heated Pant Liner
Heated pant liners use patented micro-wire technology to weave stainless steel fibers with a proprietary waterproof coating into regular clothing. Jackets can be interconnected to pants and socks as well as pre-heated gloves to ensure even heat distribution and powered by a 12 volt, 3.6-ampere battery. If the battery is discharged, then it can be connected to any 12-volt source.
Motorcycle riders can connect these pants to the motorcycle battery and set its temperature for precise temperature control. Temperature monitoring as well as setting the temperature control can also be done through a Bluetooth controller. Once set, the system will raise the liner temperature to the preset level until the thermostat kicks in and switches it off again.
When the temperature drops below a preset level, the system switches on to restart the heating to increase the heat. This is a set and forget temperature control that is ideal for a motorcycle rider who needs to be completely focused on driving the motorcycle. The selling point of heated clothing is its ability to set and maintain a constant temperature even if the outside temperature changes.
Riding a motorcycle in the snow is risky, but as long as the rider is careful, it can be an enjoyable pastime for anyone who loves the cold. Using the right gear and accessories is mandatory when riding in a challenging environment to keep the road safe for both the rider and other people.