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Motorcycling: 12 tips for cold weather riding on the West Coast

Throttle therapy specialist, Britt Santowski, keeps her eyes on the road and her hands upon the ... handlebars. - From Britt Santowski
Throttle therapy specialist, Britt Santowski, keeps her eyes on the road and her hands upon the ... handlebars.
— image credit: From Britt Santowski

As the days grow shorter and the shadows creep in around us sooner, many riders will be putting away their motorcycles for the season.

Way back, when my knees were younger and my endurance stronger, I used to ride year round. For those of you who still have the knees and the knack, here are a few helpful hints for winter riding on the West Coast.

Never ride in the snow

That’s just dumb, if you’re on a two-wheeled motorcycle. A motorcycle is a single-track vehicle. Meaning that if you hit a patch of packed snow, your upright advantage will be all-too-quickly modified. And you won’t have a say in the matter.

Get heated gear

A heated vest is like a hug from the sun, even on the coldest, wettest day. The (ancient) one I have only has two setting: plugged in, or unplugged. Having experience with this one, I’d recommend you look into buying one with a switch and a range of settings.

Heated equipment

If you’re serious about riding year round, you might consider installing heated grips and a heated seat. Hot paws and snug buns. I didn’t have any of that when I was riding year round a thousand years ago. I had an office with a heater. I’d close the door and melt for three hours. Heated equipment would take the edge off.

Winter riding gloves

Get them. Some have a suede top on the index finger. When I first got mine, I thought to myself, “What a handy-dandy visor wiper.” It only took until my first runny riding nose to realize what this soft cover is really for. After which you’ll never use it on your visor again. It smears.

Slick silk

Invest in a pair of silk socks and gloves to wear as lining, underneath your regular socks and gloves. Silk acts as an excellent insulator for heat.

Foot gear

Make sure it’s water proof. Pack plastic bags if you must. I once rode quite stylishly through Newfoundland with grocery bags sticking out of my boot tops. Yes, I rustled in the breeze, but hey, I still have all my toes.

Head glove

It’s called a balaclava, and it makes you look like your about to commit a criminal act. Wear one under your helmet.

Stay hydrated

Hot beverages are nice. AND they force you off your bike periodically so you can, um, see a man about a horse. Frequently.

Be aware of black ice

This is a tough one, because black ice is essentially invisible. Also, don’t fall under the misconception that black ice only happens in below-zero temperatures. What matters is not the temperature of the air, but the temperature of the road. Well-travelled roads are often warmed up by previous travellers. Freezing rain and an overnight frost are good indicators of considering another mode of transportation. If at all possible, ride behind another vehicle, in their tire tracks. Let them discover the black ice for you.

Be extremely cautious of bridges

Bridges are the first places to freeze. Double that if the bridge is in the shade. When in doubt, turn around and go back from whence you came.

Make the weather forecast your new religion (if you haven’t already as a rider).

Be seen

The sun drops far too early, and the winters here are grey and dark. Wear retro-reflective gear.

Bring a change of clothes

Should you arrive at your destination wet, you’ll be thankful you can ride home dry.

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