The short answer is yes. It’s possible, and even enjoyable, to ride your motorcycle in the winter. But you have to be prepared to face the cold temperatures and less than ideal road conditions.
So here is everything I learned when riding a motorcycle in the winter.
1. Make sure riding a motorcycle in the winter is lawful in your country, state or region
I told you that it is possible to ride a motorcycle during the winter, but it doesn’t mean it’s lawful in every part of the world.
Some countries require you to have winter traction tires installed on your motorcycle between certain dates. Some don’t allow to ride at all. Some have no specific law about winter riding.
So before going for a ride in January (if you’re in the Nothern hemisphere) when it’s cold out there, make sure that riding a motorcycle in the winter is lawful in your region, and that you meet all the requirements.
2. Be smart about when you ride
Here in Belgium, it is lawful to ride a motorcycle in the winter. Yet, it’s not always smart to do it.
I use my motorcycle mainly for commuting, and while I think it’s fun to go from one meeting to another with my motorcycle, I’m not playing with my safety.
If it’s snowing, I will never – ever – ride my motorcycle. Same goes for temperatures below 2-3°C (or 36-37°F); the weather changes way too quickly here to even think of gambling with my life.
I just don’t take a chance and wait patiently for better days. Be smart and do the right thing: wait for a better day too.
3. Get gloves suited for winter riding
First and foremost, you want your hands to be nice and warm. This might seem obvious but trust me: this is even more important than having your body warm.
Because your hands and fingers are vital on a motorcycle, controlling the most vital systems of your ride: the throttle grip and the front brake lever (all operated by your right hand, by the way).
The gloves you should pick will depend on:
- where you live – the actual lower temperature in your region of the world
- your motorcycle – you can get away with a lighter pair of gloves if you have grip protectors or a fairing
- your tolerance to cold weather
But you really don’t want to gamble and make pretend cold is not a problem for you, trust me.
Ever tried to make an emergency braking after riding for 20 minutes on the highway just to discover that your fingers don’t respond anymore because of the cold temperature? Yeah, not being able to brake is terrifying. Don’t be that guy.
So, how do you choose your motorcycle winter gloves?
Pick insulated gloves
Your gloves should be insulated, period. Get winter gloves who will keep you warm no matter what. I know, insulated winter gloves cost much more than your typical summer gloves, but you’ll be glad you spent that money.
If the manufacturer lists a minimum temperature, make sure that it is 5 to 10°C (or 9 to 18°F) below your region’s lowest temperatures. You want a safety margin, just in case. That is especially true when you have to ride on the highway. The wind chill will make you feel the temperature even lower than it actually is.
If the gloves don’t have a temperature rating, just make sure they are made from a reputable insulation material and that they are nice and fluffy.
Your gloves should fit perfectly
Yet perfectly doesn’t mean snuggly!
First and foremost, you have to try your gloves while holding an actual grip. As a matter of fact, wrapping your hand around a grip will make your glove fit your hand very differently than if you just put them on with your hand resting.
While gripping a grip, your glove should still provide a bit of room at your fingertip.
Because the air contained in that tiny little pocket will act as yet another layer of insulation. Every little bit helps!
Not to mention that gloves that fit too snuggly just hurt. You can maybe bear the pain for 10 minutes, but for actual all-year riding and commute, that’s just a bad idea.
Make sure your gloves are waterproof
Add rain to cold weather and you have a recipe for disaster. It’s just impossible to keep your fingers and hands warm if they are wet.
Make sure your gloves are waterproof, preferably from a reputable company making waterproof material like Gore-Tex. Most of the time, the type of material used for the glove insulation will show as a tag at the opening of the glove.
Don’t worry about design
I think most winter gloves look big and kinda bad. But design comes last.
If your favorite pair of gloves checks all of the above checkboxes, feel free to get your preferred design. If not, let go of them and be serious about your security; get a good pair of motorcycle winter gloves.
Winter gloves will always give you less feel than summer gloves because they are bulky. But that’s just the way it is. You’ll adapt after just a few rides.
I am using the Richa Arctic Waterproof Winter Motorcycle Gloves (check out reviews on Amazon). Not the best looking gloves out there for sure, but I’m really happy about them nonetheless.
4. Install your helmet breath deflector
If your helmet came with a breath deflector, now is the time to install it on your helmet. You may have removed it during summer, or it was not installed when you bought your helmet.
The breath reflector will prevent any mist or condensation from your breath to cover your visor, keeping your view nice and sharp.
Belgium (where I’m from) is not a warm country by any means, so I tend to keep the breath deflector on my helmet most of the year, save for that May to September period.
5. Install top grade or winter tires
Here’s the deal:
Your tires are the only physical contact between your motorcycle and the road. Which is cold and probably wet. And those contact points are just two really small disks…
So you want those two tiny contact disks to grip as much as possible.
I like multi-compound tires as they give you the best of both worlds: great mileage when you’re riding on straight roads, and great handling in corners.
Don’t take this lightly and get yourself a good set of top grade or – even better – winter tires for your motorcycle. I’ve been super happy with my set of Dunlop RoadSmart II (check out reviews on Amazon).
6. Get proper winter jacket, pants, and boots
Of course, this is a no-brainer. You need to have proper motorcycle clothes that will keep you warm, dry and protected.
For the jacket, I like to have an all-season textile jacket with a set of insulation and waterproof layers that I can remove, depending on the weather.
What’s in for you?
You don’t have to have 3 or 4 jackets in your closet and, because you always have all the layers with you, you can adapt to any change in weather conditions in a matter of seconds.
Yes, all-year motorcycle jackets are very expensive, but they are so convenient and comfortable that I wouldn’t put a leather jacket ever again for daily commuting.
Same goes for the pants. I mostly use insulated and waterproof textile overpants. They are super easy to put on and will keep you warm and dry.
Because they are overpants and not just regular pants, you can wear your favorite pants underneath and don’t have to get changed once you reach your destination.
Just remove those overpants and off you go.
If you have waterproof boots, you might be able to get away with them without too much problem. But you really have to keep those feet warm.
By having one or two layers of thick, winter socks. And this is why you might need a pair of motorcycle boots for winter specifically: your feet will get that much bigger, because of the added layer of fabric around them.
So you might need to get a pair of boots that is bigger than the ones that you use during the rest of the year. Because riding with super snug boots not only is painful but is dangerous too.
Seriously, give your feet some love and get yourself a proper pair of winter boots.
7. Dress warmly
Having dedicated winter jacket and pants won’t be nearly enough if you plan to ride more than 15 minutes in cold weather. That’s especially true when you’re cruising at high speed on the highway.
So don’t skimp on layers and add as many as you need to.
When I ride during the winter, I put on a neck warmer, a t-shirt, a polar fleece jacket underneath the sweater, a thick shawl collar sweater and then and my motorcycle jacket.
Why a shawl collar sweater, you ask?
Because the collar of the sweater, being so thick, will fit snuggly between the closed collar of my jacket and the neckwarmer, making the neck region airtight so that no wind can get in there.
Perfect for those long highway commutes.
8. Practice emergency braking
Cold roads. Wet leaves. Slippery patches. The winter is full of (not so pleasant) surprises for the motorcycle commuter. Because you need to be prepared for anything, you want to practice emergency braking as often as you can.
Just go on the parking lot of a local store on a Sunday and practice with nobody around.
Start really slow and walk your way up to greater speeds. Don’t be impatient and get a good feel for each braking. Understand how your motorcycle reacts to light and not-so-light touches of the brakes before going all-in.
Be especially careful if you’re motorcycle has no ABS system. If you lock your front wheel, you’re almost guaranteed to lose it and fall right away. Unless you are a professional rider, but I wouldn’t count on that.
To avoid that problem, don’t squeeze your brake handle hard. Rather, brake with the rear brake first (the right pedal) and the immediately apply pressure progressively on the front brake (the right lever), beginning with your index finger all the way to your pinky. This movement should be quick yet progressive.
By braking with the rear brake first, you lower the gravity center of the motorcycle, increasing its stability. And by squeezing your front brake progressively, you give time to your motorcycle to transfer its weight to the front wheel before applying further braking force. Thanks to the added weight, the front wheel will be better able to effectively stop your motorcycle.
Remember: rear brake first then quick and progressive on the front brake. Practice as much as you need to not even have to think about it anymore.
9. Go for a ride before hitting the road on commute days
Having all the gear you need and having practiced emergency brakings doesn’t mean you are ready to hit the road on your typical commute day (yet).
Have a feel of what actually riding in the cold is.
My 2 rules to stay safe on a motorcycle:
- Other drivers never see you
- You never have the right of way (even if you do)
So increase your following distance and have both eyes wide open at all times.
Riding in the winter is fun. When you’re used to cold and rain, it really is not that different than riding your motorcycle on a bright sunny day.
So get that engine started and enjoy the ride!