Ultimate Guide to Cold Weather Riding ❄️ | 6 Top Winter Motorcycle Riding Tips

Last Updated on: 22nd February 2024, 10:21 pm

Want to extend your riding season and enjoy the unique thrills and challenges of winter riding? You don’t need to head to Arizona, Florida, or California in the winter months when you want to hit the road on two wheels: with the right gear and knowledge of cold weather riding, you can explore snow-covered national parks or check out popular motorcycle routes during the off-season.

Riding a motorcycle during wet or freezing weather isn’t for beginners. Riders need the skill, gear, and cool head to handle everything from black ice to bitter winds and cold rain. This ultimate guide to winter motorcycle riding includes all the tips you need to stay safe and have fun.

#1. Be Prepared for How Cold Weather Affects You Physically While Riding

Winter riding challenges go beyond challenging road conditions: the cold temperature can also affect you physically in ways you may not expect. The cold weather can make you tired faster, reduce your dexterity, and even affect concentration and reaction time.

We naturally feel more tired and sluggish in the winter due to reduced sun exposure, a disrupted circadian rhythm, and using more energy to stay warm. You already know how physically exhausting a long ride can be, so don’t underestimate how much harder your ride becomes when your body is burning more calories while staying warm, and dry winter air irritates your eyes and throat.

Don’t expect to cover the same distance you can handle during warm weather. Keep winter motorcycle rides short, especially your first few.

Your dexterity is also affected as the temperature drops. In the cold, the body reduces blood flow to the hands by constricting the capillaries. Without heated gloves or other high-quality gloves to keep your hands warm, you will struggle to maintain fine control of your fingers when you need it most.

Finally, be aware of the ways that chilly temperatures can affect mental and cognitive performance, especially with extended exposure to the cold. Cold air exposure can negatively affect:

  • Reaction time
  • Movement time
  • Accuracy
  • Memory
  • Decision-making
  • Focus
  • Vigilance
  • Complex tasks

Simply being cold can make it harder to stay focused and vigilant for potential hazards, react in time, and perform complex maneuvers when needed. With impaired judgment and slow reaction time, the risk of a motorcycle accident increases.

Do your best to counteract these effects by investing in proper gear for the cold and wet climate, keeping rides short, and taking breaks regularly to warm up.

#2. Know the Winter Road Conditions & Hazards That Cause You to Lose Traction

While riding in winter conditions, you will be dealing with reduced traction and cold winds, plus many potential hazards on the road. Here are just some of the dangers you will need to watch for when the weather is cold.

  • Black ice. It’s nearly invisible and often catches riders off guard. It usually forms when there are puddles, after wet snow or rain, or when air temperatures drop below freezing after mild weather. If you hit a sheet of ice, gently slow down and steer straight without sudden acceleration or braking.
  • Road salt. It causes you to lose traction like gravel.
  • Cinders. In some areas, it’s used instead of road salt and can be even worse for traction.
  • Tar snakes. They aren’t just a summer hazard; in cold weather, these patches get hard and very slippery.
  • Frost heaves. These bumps on the road happen when water under the road freezes then expands.
  • Snowplow grooves. These uneven ridges and grooves can be dangerous and unpredictable.

#3. Cold Tires Have Reduced Traction & May Lose Pressure

Tires are designed to function within a wide temperature range, but you will get ideal performance within a smaller range. When tires get cold, they become harder and lose traction because they can’t grip the road as well. If you start a winter ride with very cold tires, they will behave like they’re very worn with no tread.

Hard acceleration and braking are the most effective ways to warm up motorcycle tires. Just make sure you are aware of road conditions and do this safely!

Freezing temperatures can also reduce your tire pressure. This also reduces your control of your motorcycle.

Before a winter motorcycle ride, check your tire pressure and tread. Look for any bulges or signs of rot. Winter tires are hard to find for motorcycles, but you can look for mud and snow-rated (M+S) tires. Otherwise, stick with all-season or adventure tires, and remember that softer tires will maintain better traction when cold.

#4. The Right Gear for the Cold Starts with Insulating Layers and Waterproofing

Dressing for winter motorcycle riding means more than just adding extra layers. To maintain your body heat, focus on layers that add more insulation with a snug but not tight fit. Airflow between layers and breathable inner layers is important because this helps moisture evaporate. Otherwise, you will get sweaty and feel overheated initially but unable to remove layers without risking hypothermia from the wet material. Moisture that stays close to your skin eventually makes you cold.

You will want to limit airflow around any exposed body parts and pay extra attention to the wrists and neck. Gaps here can cause you to lose body heat on the road. A balaclava or thermal buff can keep your neck and face warm and guard against windchill.

Start with a moisture wicking base layer with a breathable material. It should be snug so it can wick away moisture. Synthetic materials like polyester and nylon are ideal at wicking away sweat. Cotton is the worst choice as it retains moisture.

The next layer should provide insulation to your torso and arms to lock in heat. Finish with an insulated, waterproof outer layer. Waterproof gear is important because you may encounter snow but also rain. Getting wet is one of the fastest ways to lose heat in cold temperatures!

#5. Special Winter Riding Gear Can Be a Life Saver & Preserve Your Dexterity

Along with dressing in the right layers, it’s smart to invest in rider gear that helps you withstand the elements. Here are some important winter gear recommendations for riders.

Flip-Up or Full-Face Helmet

These helmets may be hard to use in the summer, but they are ideal for a winter riding season. A full-face helmet offers the best protection against injury in a crash and cold weather. To prevent fogging, use an anti-fog solution or invest in a pinlock visor, which eliminates fogging and acts as an insulator.

Heated Gear

You can find a wide range of heated gear to make riding a motorcycle in chilly weather easier and more comfortable. Most heated winter gear can connect to a standard 12V battery with a control system integrated into the fairings, but some have their own separate battery source.

Heated handgrips are one of the most popular options for winter riding. After all, maintaining dexterity in your hands is critical for controlling your bike. Some riders appreciate heated seats, a fairly simple modification you can do yourself.

You can also supplement your gear with heated gloves, vests, and even socks to keep your feet toasty.


Handguards are even more effective than heated grips at keeping your hands warm and your fingers flexible. This simple upgrade keeps the cold winter wind off your hands. With handguards, you won’t need to worry about heated gloves: a good pair of insulated gloves will work well.

Waterproof Winter Boots

Waterproof, spacious boots are an absolute must for any cold or wet weather ride. Keep your feet warm and dry with thick, moisture-wicking socks and boot liners.

Large Windscreen

Invest in a larger windshield, which makes a huge difference in deflecting frigid wind. This can dramatically reduce lost heat, even more so than heated grips and other gear.

#6. Take Care of Maintenance Before Winter Motorcycle Riding

Before hitting the road, make sure your bike is ready for the harsh winter conditions. Here are just a few important areas to cover:

  • Fluids. Make sure your fluids are at the correct levels. Note that coolants are usually rated for specific temperatures. Check your manual to see if different oil weights are called for depending on the riding conditions. Because motor oil thickens and flows slower when it’s cold, make sure you have the right grade for cold weather.
  • Sprockets and chains. Because they’re constantly exposed to wet conditions and salt, your chains and sprockets will need regular lubrication and occasional cleaning.
  • Battery. Check your battery before heading out. In case of emergency, make sure you have a battery jump starter. Remember that cold weather hampers your motorcycle battery by reducing its ability to deliver power. Starting the winter season with a weak battery will increase this effect.

Ready for the ultimate motorcycle adventure challenging snowy conditions, slippery roads, and brisk winds? If you’re an experienced rider, winter riding offers an exciting new frontier as long as you’re prepared. Make sure you invest in proper cold weather gear and practice maneuvers on wet roads before you strike out on your first winter ride.

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