Winter Motorcycle Riding – Part 1 – Choosing Gear
I live in Buffalo NY and we’re known for our long cold winters. For me, one of the great things about owning a cheap Chinese dual sport is winter riding! If you don’t mind the cold, and I really don’t, then why not extend the riding season year round?
The first thing I learned about winter riding is if you’re not comfortable, you’re miserable. You want to stay warm. The best way to do this is to dress for the season. Warm jacket, gloves, maybe some thermal underwear, and sensible warm clothes like flannels, and thick denim jeans.
I selected my winter riding gear by trial and error. I have a closet full of leather jackets and various motorcycle jackets. Surprisingly I didn’t find any of my specialized riding jackets appropriate for winter weather. I tried a big heavy goose down bubble jacket but discovered the frigid cold wind blew right through the material when you got up over 30 mph. That was no good. My black leather riding jacket didn’t cut the mustard either in below freezing temperatures no matter how many sweaters and hoodies I wore under it.
Finally I tried a designer Calvin Klein winter jacket that someone had given me as a gift. It was in the back of my closet. It was windproof, waterproof, had a flap that goes over the zipper (this is an important feature because the wind will blow right through most zippers), it also covers my neck, and it’s insulated. The jacket has proven to be more than sufficient for temperatures above 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes the best riding gear isn’t expensive specialized riding gear, but what actually works, and for me this jacket works. The jacket also has an insulated hood, that I wear under my helmet.
During the summer months I generally wear a half helmet or no helmet at all depending on what state I’m in and the legal requirements for that state. After doing a lot of research I decided on an extra large full face helmet for my winter helmet. It’s warm, protects my face from the elements, and I ordered it two sizes larger than I needed so I could wear a balaclava ski mask and the insulated jacket hoodie underneath it. I keep the visor open about a 1/4 inch on the bottom to keep it from steaming up. On really cold days I’ll add some goggles under the helmet to protect my eyes from the little bit of cold air that blows in through the 1/4 inch crack. The helmet, combined with the balaclava and insulated hoodie from the jacket keep my head nice and warm.
Before I put on my jacket. I wrap a scarf around my neck. I’ve found keeping the back of your neck warm is very important. The cold air on the back of your neck will actually give you a dull ache, like you get from drinking a cold slushy drink to fast in the summer. The brain freeze as some people call it. While you’re riding, this can be a very unpleasant feeling. A nice long scarf that wraps around your neck a couple times is a perfect remedy to this.
I didn’t spend a lot on my gloves. I’ve seen winter riding gloves over a hundred bucks. I try to be frugal when I can, and I settled for a pair of black leather gauntlet gloves. I bought them on ebay for fifteen dollars with free shipping. They’re insulated, and so far have worked great for temperatures over 20 degrees. Besides the insulation, having the glove come up over your jacket sleeve keeps the wind from blowing up your sleeves. You can have the warmest jacket in the world, but if the cold wind gets in, as we say in New York state, “Fuhget about it!” you’ll be freezing. Keep the wind out, stay warm!
The streets get wet, slushy and icy in Buffalo NY. I needed a pair of boots that would keep my feet warm and dry, and also have traction so I don’t slip on ice when I put my foot down at a traffic light. I decided on a pair of Xelement engineer boots. They have a thin layer of insulation, great tread for traction, and they ride up over my calf keeping my lower legs warm and dry. Combine this with a decent pair of socks and your feet will stay nice and warm in the coldest of weather.
My final piece of gear is a rain suit. Mainly rain pants. I bought a cheap Frog Toggs rain suit at Walmart. The pants are loose enough that they fit over my clothes, and I leave them in my backpack for when I’m leaving work and the streets are wet and slushy. They work well for the most part. Any rain pants that keep you dry will work great. When I get some extra money I may actually order a pair of black leather chaps. For now, I’m content and happy with my rain pants.
For the most part, these are my essentials. I combine this with warm, comfortable clothes underneath. I mainly wear thick denim jeans, flannel shirts, sweaters, heavy socks, and occasionally thermal underwear. Utilizing this system, I’m rarely cold on my motorcycle and 90% of the time, I’m warm and comfortable.
The most important thing I’ve found is that you want to stay warm and dry. Layering works great, but also maintain mobility. You have to be able to turn your head and look over your shoulder. You don’t want to be stiff and restricted by the clothes that you’re wearing while you ride.
Here’s a basic checklist of the clothes I use for winter motorcycle riding.
balaclava (ski mask)
extra large motorcycle helmet that fits over hood and balaclava
warm insulated gloves
Layer up with some warm sensible clothes underneath.
This system has worked out great for 20 degrees Fahrenheit and above days. We haven’t reached the teens yet, and I do have access to a car if the temperature drops below zero. I’ll keep you all posted on any added gear I use in the future. Thanks for reading and safe travels!