5 tips for staying warm when riding in winter
Arctic countries specialist and lifelong Northerner Gordon Stuart shares his top tips for staying warm when riding a motorcycle a motorcycle through the winter.
Having spent the past 15 winters riding the roads of North East England and Scotland, as well as several trips to the far North of Europe, I’ve spent a lot of my miles being a bit chilly. In that time, I’ve picked up a few tips that I always share with other bikers when asked.
Know how cold it’s going to be
This is the one riders often forget but is probably the most important, always check the weather forecast ahead of your ride. Look for the temperature and the wind speed and direction to get an idea of what the base temperature of the day is, and also how fast you plan to ride. When I was in Iceland in 2018, I was getting blasted by 70mph winds with the air temperature of 6°C which when you apply the wind chill factor feels like -3°C, and that was before I pulled the throttle. If your journey isn’t essential, you always have the option to stay home and warm.
Layers, layers, layers
If you think it’s going to be cold, layer up and bring a spare layer with you too. Even in early ‘Summer’ in Arctic Norway, I had a base layer of thermals plus trousers, t-shirt, woollen shirt, jumper and then bike gear. In addition, my waterproof oversuit (these are sometimes better at keeping the wind off you than they are the rain) was kept at the top of my pannier ready to chuck on if I got too cold, and boy did that help. The key thing to layers is making sure you have enough room in you’re bike gear to accommodate the extra padding. Whenever I buy a new jacket, I always size up in preparation for being cold on the bike.
Keep the draughts out
Know your helmet vents and get them closed, get a neck warmer, and tuck in your gloves before you set off. These sound like simple things, but they are effective. I’d ridden with mates before who’ve been chilly because they didn’t spend an extra 60-seconds on the basics. What mustn’t be forgotten is the biggest draught of all, your visor. Depending on your preference, an open visor can be a sure-fire way to bring your temperature down very quickly. I discovered the hard way in the Scottish Highlands when, due to the setting sun, I opened my visor to beat the glare, only 30 minutes later to realise my body temperature had dropped and I was suddenly feeling rather worse for wear.
Living in the North of England, this has been especially important. Now don’t get me wrong, fully waterproof gear gets expensive – very expensive if you’re new to biking. I didn’t get fully GORE-TEX textiles until this year but earlier in my bike career I invested in 3 very important bits of kit. Firstly, some fully waterproof boots. These tend not to be the most stylish, but they are worth the investment and lack of style. Secondly, some full GORE-TE waterproof gloves. I picked some up before my trip to Iceland for £50 and they have been worth every penny. Thirdly, that all-important waterproof oversuit. This can make up for being unable to invest in expensive textiles. My waterproof suit was the perfect foil to my leathers for the best part of 12 years.
Invest in some tech (if you can afford it)
For most of my life on the road, I’ve been a budget-biker and making the most of what I could afford. In 2018 I was lucky enough to get a loan from Suzuki of their top-spec adventure bike. I did more than 5,000 miles in the comfort of all things’ heated’. Heated grips are a game-changer riding in the cold, and I urge you to try them if you haven’t already. It was only this year that I took the plunge and invested in a heated vest. This wasn’t just a game-changer but a life-changer. I can’t believe I waited almost two decades to feel the switch adjustable heat warming my core. I can’t wait to put it through its paces in 2021 in Arctic Russia.