Living in Houston, Texas means that the normal riding seasons are a little backwards. Rather than a winter of unsafe temperatures and conditions, the biggest issue is actually the peak of summer heat. While I will ride when it’s hot, I prefer not to and actually have never found a day in Houston where it has been truly too cold to ride. After years of winter riding though, I’ve come up with the must-have motorcycle accessories for cold weather riding. I don’t own all of them because the temperatures here never get that cold here but based on what I have, I can make a guess as to how much colder than my personal record low of 25 degrees Fahrenheit I could go. A disclaimer or two are in order before I proceed. First of all, I am incredibly cold natured and realize I am in the wrong climate. I am that guy that is out in a short sleeve shirt at 40 degrees loving every moment of it. I ride a bike now with a good amount of wind protection as well, but my low of 25 was done on a naked v-max and finally, I rode on a day with frozen temperatures but one that was dry so there were no concerns about ice. Ice and four wheels is bad enough; on two, I can’t even imagine.
1. Proper Cold-Weather gloves
Possibly the most important component to comfortable cold weather riding is a good quality glove designed for cold-weather riding. Getting a good glove that is both comfortable and warm is important for any cold weather activity, especially those that involve wind speeds of 60 or 70 miles per hour and the wind chill factor that comes with that. I have gloves I hate because they are too squishy and padded on the inside area where I grip the handlebars causing hand fatigue fairly quickly. My next pair will be something that is more modern in design and will work well in the milder Houston winters as well as being able to handle much colder temperatures as well. I’m eying the Firstgear TPG Tundra Gloves because of the design and the lack of padding in the palm area. The other feature of these gloves that really appeals to me are the very generous gauntlets, which every pair of quality cold weather gloves should have. Sealing out cold air is the key to success in comfortable winter motorcycle riding.
2. A Wind Proof Motorcycle Jacket
A quality motorcycle jacket that is designed to be suitable for colder weather is vital. It can be made of a good quality textile or leather; it really doesn’t matter so long as it is as wind proof as possible on the outside and can expand to handle layers of clothing underneath. The included liner for most jackets is a good start but a winter jacket should have a little more wiggle room in it than a summer jacket. I have actually had the most success using my rain suit as a starting place because it is oversized, giving me plenty of room to just layer underneath.
3. Layered clothing
Regardless of if you have a jacket with a liner that liner is not going to be enough for serious cold weather motorcycle riding. Layers are the key to successfully winning against mother nature. My personal choice of layers include long underwear, a long sleeve wool or flannel shirt then a vest made of polyester fleece, which is best insulators. This last layer is one of the first I would replace with an electrical piece when my budget can fit something like that in. With my jacket choice, I have room for more and have a wool sweater available should it be needed.
4. Long underwear
I realize I mentioned long underwear above but it is even more important for keeping one’s legs warm than one’s core. The biggest challenge, in my opinion, is preventing the rider’s kneecaps from freezing, literally. In my skirmish with 25 degree temperatures, I was overall fine but I think I actually had a bit of frostbite on my kneecaps. The clothes I was wearing got compressed from the bend in my knee and since then have made sure to have enough layers on the bottom as well to help prevent this in the future.
5. Thick pants
As part of my leg protection, I have discovered that thick wool pants are a great choice. Wool is a nice, sturdy fiber that still works when compressed as an insulator. The other trick that I have discovered to protect my knees as well as the rest of my legs is my denim riding jeans. These are a thick denim, with a washable leather liner. They came with CE rated knee armor that I can’t stand any other time of the year but that physical barrier between the jeans and the under layer of long underwear makes a dramatic difference. Thick pants work, but a pair of pants with knee pads and a layer underneath work much better.
6. Wind protection for legs (Chaps)
As with the top half of the rider’s body, a good wind block is vital to comfortably surviving a sub zero (Centigrade, of course) motorcycle ride. I use my rain pants because they work very well but I have been eying some cold-weather specific riding gear. My current cruiser style “bagger” would work with some leather chaps or any number of motorcycle pants designed for cold weather. The jury is still out; I just don’t see myself as a chaps type of guy, however, those that I know who wear them in the winter swear by them.
7. Neck Gaiter
I stumbled on a neck gaiter a couple years ago at a motorcycle store here in Houston, Tx and even with our mild winters, it was a miracle in a box. The particular one I got acts similarly to a muffler of years ago. It wraps the neck and goes up the chin. When you zip up your jacket, it seals at the bottom and can work with any type of helmet to keep the neck area at least protected from the cold searing wind. Other designs are made of neoprene and can include face masks as well.
8. Face mask or good Full face helmet
A good quality helmet is vital for crash protection but few people look for a helmet that is a four season helmet. A good helmet should let in plenty of air on warm days to keep the wearer’s head cool but it should also allow the wearer to seal up those vents so on cold days the helmet itself actually works as an insulator. I have a full face that I rarely wear but it is my first choice on cold days, especially with the neck gaiter on and the helmet seal I picked up installed as well. This piece of neoprene is attached with reusable sticky material to the bottom of the helmet and seals around the neck, preventing cold air from shooting up from the bottom into the helmet.
For those without a full face helmet, I highly recommend a facemask. I started out with a half mask I had leftover from my days as a skier and have since moved up to a full face mask with a glow in the dark skull design. Why skulls in glow in the dark material? I’ll go with visibility while secretly hoping to try it out before Halloween. I put it on when it came in and was too warm at 75 degrees in about 5 minutes. I have high hopes once it becomes necessary.
9. Proper Tires
This is probably the one that no one thinks of. I hadn’t until a forum poster from Canada mentioned it a few years ago. Motorcycle tires are engineered for normal riding conditions and many tires simply do not work well if the temperature gets down too far. The problem with this is the manufacturers are quite mum on what the operating temperatures of their tires are. They may not have tested them below freezing because the number of riders that might have their tires down to that temperature are so few or they simply don’t want to say a certain number and have someone get in a wreck and site the tires when it is a degree or two higher. It is something to look into though and the best advice is to ask other riders of the same make and model what they use. From my limited research, it seems sport bike tires are the pickiest about temperatures. My bike actually has a car tire for the rear and the particular car tire actually is designed for snow, rain and dry pavement so I am probably pretty safe.
10. Heated Everythings
A couple years ago, on a dreary day in November or December, I decided to do a test ride of a new Goldwing. The temperatures were around the 40 degree mark. My original plan was to sign the paperwork, don my helmet and run home to get a riding jacket as the weather had degraded from the morning time when I had left. However, the salesman cranked up the seat (both bottom and lower back) and the grip heaters. I decided to give it a run to see how much of a difference these accessories made and I was blown away. I was a little chilly but nowhere near how bad I would have been. With some tweaks to get warm air blowing on me from vents, I was fine for the 35 minute test ride I went on. At that point I was sold on their usefulness and it is on the to-do list of upgrades for my current ride and a must have for any future touring type bikes I will own. Now, there are heated gloves, heated vests and even pants. Combining too many of these is enough to fry the electrical systems of some bikes but are definitely able to keep a rider warm on the coldest days.