Winter is coming, are you and your ride ready?
If you’ve been riding a fair bit this summer you’ll have noticed it’s starting to get a bit nippier in the mornings. Now is the perfect time to get your machine ready for the dismal days ahead...
The two main areas that need extra consideration when riding in winter months are the safety of yourself, the rider, and also the preservation of your bike or scooter.
Preparing your motorcycle or moped for winter
The cold weather can affect your bike in many different ways. But, that doesn’t mean you should haul your machine into hibernation for the colder months. With a little winter bike maintenance, there’s no reason not to ride just as much when the temperature drops.
Here are a few practical tips to stop you and your scooter or motorcycle getting caught out by the seasons.
One item on a bike that could potentially take a pounding in cold weather is your battery, especially if you are running extras like heated grips. If it’s already past its best, now might be the time to consider replacing it. At the very least you should check the acid level and top it up if required.
The best way to maintain a battery over winter is to keep it connected to a bike trickle charger when you’re not using it, they’re not too expensive and will keep your battery in tip-top condition.
As the tarmac gets colder and the roads wetter another key thing to consider before you head out is whether your scooter or bike is still wearing summer slick tyres!
For those who do change their tyres depending on the season, consider wet weather tyres, or if the forecast is even worse then check out some winter-specific options.
In some countries it is required to have winter-specific tyres should snow fall, and while that’s not the case in the UK, it does mean that tyre manufacturers have developed tyres to meet these regulations.
If this is your first foray into winter tyres, don’t worry: we’ve put together a full guide to winter tyres full of everything you need to know.
If you’re not changing your tyres you will still need to ensure your main contact patch with the road is in the best condition. Give your tyres a good visual check for tread depth, cuts, bulges etc. and if they’re fine check the tyre pressures. Also consider which compound you’re running, a sticky race tyre might not be the best choice for icy conditions so think about swapping for some good all-rounders with a better tread pattern.
If your machine is liquid-cooled check the antifreeze is ready to battle the elements, even if your bike is hibernating for winter the cooling system can still freeze.
Also check the oil level and grease any cables or components that may get attacked by road grime and salt. Moving parts such as brake levers and pedals, switches, control cables are all susceptible to corrosion.
Oil your chain as well and make sure you keep it well lubricated throughout the colder months.
4. Clean and protect
As temperatures drop, councils and agencies set out on a mission to grit the roads as often as possible in an attempt to stop them freezing over. This will not only accelerate corrosion of the cosmetic parts of your bike, but can also play havoc with some of the controls too.
The general rule of thumb is to clean your bike more often in the winter, as this not only removes the potentially corrosive grit and salt, but will also give you the opportunity to examine the various parts and take any preventive measures necessary. You will also find your lights get dirtier far more quickly in winter months too, so make sure they get a good scrub before heading out as well.
If you have an older scooter or bike you might want to consider using an anti-corrosion/lubricant compound such as ACF-50 to protect the metalwork. It is an ultra-thin fluid film compound which I’ve used for a while now and I'm very impressed with the results.
Brake callipers too should be examined for signs of corrosion, but take care not to allow any kind of lubricant onto shoes, pads or discs.
Another thing to consider is fitting a windscreen. They’re not always the coolest thing regarding style, but the right one could make riding far more comfortable when the weather turns bad.
Also, make sure you have some storage for that extra set of waterproofs and spare winter gloves in case you need them, as having the right winter gear is equally important for these cold times. After all, nobody wants to be stranded at the side of the road when the temperature drops below zero, right?
Winter bike riding tips
Staying safe on the roads in winter takes more than just bike maintenance. It’s important to take extra care when riding in wet and icy conditions. Our regular contributor Ian "Iggy" Grainger has given us his top tips for riding during the colder months.
1. Be confident, not fearful
Being fearful of wet and icy roads is the most common mistake riders can make. It’s like showing an animal you’re afraid of it, you’ll get bitten. Treat the wet with respect, ride smoothly and take a straighter line through corners, using less lean angle than you would in the dry.
2. Watch the road surface
Avoid manhole covers, painted road markings and potholes if possible. Being smooth with the controls and brakes is the most important part about wet riding. Remember, even wet leaves on the road can be treacherous!
3. See and be seen
Good visibility and working lights are paramount. Of course, this extends to you as a rider too. Always wear high-visibility gear if you want to be seen by other road users. Even so, be extra vigilant in dark winter months. Don’t assume that people have seen you, or that they are keeping an eye out too. Treat every other road user with caution.
4. Keep your distance
Approach other drivers with caution, hang back when you need to and be patient. You might be paying attention, but unfortunately this isn’t the case for all road users. As such, try not to overtake other road users in wet or icy weather conditions. And always break and signal earlier in winter to account for bad weather conditions or slower response times due to the cold.
5. Consider your braking distances
In the colder months, braking distances can be up to 10 times longer than on a typical day during the warmer seasons. Always allow additional time for braking during cold and wet weather, and apply the brakes gently to avoid skidding.
6. Stay warm
Staying warm and dry not only makes a journey more pleasant but it also makes you a safer rider. Once we get cold our concentration levels drop, reactions get slower and we’re more likely to have an accident. Have a hot drink and a meal before you head out into the cold. Or stop for a hot drink if you’re on a longer journey, it’ll help to raise your core temperature.
Make sure you’re wearing the right gear, too. Where possible, I always try to buy dedicated winter gear for my motorcycle. From heated jackets and gloves to comfortable riding boots, the right gear in winter makes all the difference. More on that below!
7. Check the weather
When riding in winter, always check the weather. If the conditions are particularly bad, especially if the roads are covered in snow, think before you ride. Be honest with yourself too. Think hard about how comfortable you’ll be and how difficult it will be to ride in the conditions you see. Don’t rely solely on a weather report or app to inform your decision, look out of your window too.
8. Do you really need to go out?
Take some time to think about how other road users and drivers might be behaving too. Is your journey really that important? Is there another way to get to work? Your boss would rather have you at work a few minutes late, rather than a few months late after a spell in hospital.
As much as we love getting out on two-wheels, some days it’s not worth it. If you have the option, on these days it’s better to leave the two-wheels at home and take a different mode of transport.
Follow our handy dos and don’ts of winter riding below:
|Brake and signal earlier to account for wet roads||Don't ride in strong winds, or try to avoid it|
|Check the weather before heading out||Don't wear dark clothing|
|Slow down and allow more time for your journey||Don't underestimate wet, icy roads|
|Wear warm, reflective gear||Don't ride over manhole or pothole covers|
|Use anti-misting spray on your visor||Don't use the same lean angles as usual|
|Watch out for wet leaves||Don't ride if it's snowing where possible|
Winter motorcycle gear
Now your bike is prepared to venture out into the cold, it’s time to get yourself ready too.
Your top priority when it’s cold out will be to keep yourself warm. This isn’t just about comfort; you’ll be better able to react to uncertain conditions if your teeth aren’t chattering! When it comes to keeping yourself warm in the saddle during winter, one easy solution is layers, layers and more layers. But, if you’re planning to be out on the winter roads on a regular basis, it might be worth investing in dedicated winter gear.
From full-body underwear to heated jackets, dedicated gear not only reduces the need to empty your wardrobe every time you go for a ride. It also means that you won’t be fighting to move against thick layers, and you’ll be more comfortable too.
Oh, and dedicated winter gear is often waterproof, which is handy for unexpected rain or snow showers; if you’ve ever ridden in waterlogged leathers, you’ll know how heavy they can get!
For more advice on what to wear when the temperature drops, our guide to winter motorcycle gear has you covered.
Although it might be a bit colder and darker there’s no need to stop riding. There are plenty of bright dry and sunny days over the colder months. As long as you wrap up warm, your bike is prepared and you don’t mind a bit of cold you can still enjoy riding as much as you do in summer.
Are you planning to keep riding in the cold? How are you going to keep warm this winter? Let us know how you plan to fend off the chill in the comments below.