It’s that time of year - temperatures are starting to come down in most of the country. If you're like me, a Denver resident, you aren’t lucky enough to live in a southern hemisphere ocean border state (see: California). So it’s time to stick that bug-splattered textile jacket back in the closet and hunker down for another expletive-inducing winter.
That doesn’t mean you need to put away your motorcycle in a dark closet until spring - but you do have to put away your ego and exercise extra caution when rolling out. Read on for five key winter motorcycling survival tips to make sure you come out of hibernation shiny side up.
Check Your Tire Quality
Going into the winter months with a shagged set of 3-year-old race take-offs is a recipe for a high side. If you prefer to avoid intimate engagements with the city’s roadway, then take winter head-on with a motorcycle tire that has at least 50% tread life – try the ol’ penny tire tread test.
Check the birthdate of your tires by scoping out the 4-digit code usually adjacent to the DOT markings. The first two digits indicate the week of manufacturing and the second two point to the year. Safe to bet anything older than 6 years won’t be good enough.
There are also tires designed for the all-weather motorcyclist that heat up faster and include additional grooving to assist in liquid dispersion. These tires are often a better winter choice than the hypersport category that blend street and track together. The pace necessary to keep that type of tire up to optimal temp simply can’t be achieved during cold street riding.
Check Your Tire Pressure
When the mercury dips, extra attention needs to paid to your tires' pressure. Cold temps cause air pressure to drop, which in turn will make you lose a few PSI on both ends of the bike. General rule of thumb is a 1-2 pound air pressure drop every 10 degrees.
If you find a passenger crazy enough to ride with you in cold temps, adjust the PSI accordingly for the increase in weight. See OEM and tire manufacturer’s recommended PSI. Your bike and underwear will thank you.
Be Aware Of Tire Temperature
Decent street rubber and asphalt generally don’t get along until the tire gets to 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Without a crew chief waiting with a temperature probe at the corner gas station, you should probably assume your tires will take longer to heat up to proper grip temp.
How do tires heat up, you ask? Not by swerving back and forth like the left-turn racers of NASCAR. Braking and acceleration push heat into tires by flexing the carcass and causing friction. The cold tire motorcycle crash excuse is used more often than Obama’s golf clubs, so keep your inner Rossi tamed until that rubber is warm.
Wear The Proper Gear
Without getting into an ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time) sermon, allow me to say that compounding layers in the winter is one of the best things you can do to stay upright. Taking crash protection off the table, if you are shivering on-bike while riding, then you aren’t devoting all your attention to the road.
The wind chill index calculates that a balmy 45-degrees turns into an angry 25-degrees at 65mph without sun. I can attest that highway speeds in anything under 35-degrees is downright painful. That doesn’t mean you have to look like the 10,000-mile tourer with heated gear cords protruding from every limb though. Research motorcycle gear specifically made for cold weather riding and accessories like heated grips. Gore-Tex infused gear is often very handy, wind-proof underlayers including neck guards and balaclavas help as well. For those with budget, Aerostich one-pieces are universally given a thumbs up. Not every winter riding glove is created equal either, find one that still allows lever feel without being too bulky.
Be Prepared For The Roads
Roadways take the brunt of winter’s wrath in the form of sand, leaves, gravel, potholes, construction, and distracted drivers. Combat these killers by keeping your eyes far ahead and assume the worst. Great riders scan ahead for things like steel plates covering construction, potholes conveniently in the riding lane, and sand washed into the road. You still need to worry about all the normal hazards we enconter while riding, but this time Mother Nature is stacking the cards against you. When in doubt, slow down, brake early, modulate levers smoothly and don’t be afraid to take that next exit so you can regroup and warm up. Your bike, ego, health, and wallet will thank you.
Winter doesn’t mean the end of the motorcycle season and most riders actually find it addicting after conquering the elements. Just make sure you and your machine are prepared for whatever the forecast throws at you. Now you can smile at all commuters in their warm cars that are looking at you like you belong in a looney bin. Ride on.