Winter is around the corner, so is it a case of, “biker hibernation” or “let’s get out there”?
Hopefully the later, and for good reason. The winter environment gives the perfect opportunity to dial in those skills. For me, after riding for a prolonged period in the rain, as soon as the sun comes out I feel like a new rider! Grip immediately feels better, my view is increased, my level of comfort rises and fatigue lessens. I genuinely feel an improvement in my riding.
It’s the same for winter riding. For all the nasties and perils that it brings I welcome it for a number of reasons. Primarily the chance to train and improve your skills. You have to be more alert, more vigilant and more disciplined in your system and your riding plan.
A good ride out on dry winter roads after a few days of poor weather is refreshing, uplifting and like a huge breath of fresh air.
But the main advantage has to be when the spring returns. It is painfully obvious which riders have had their bikes stabled for the winter - and by that I mean not just the bikes but themselves too. Early March and look at all the riders out gingerly blowing the cobwebs out of there baffles and picking the fluff from the fairings of the blankets which have covered there machines for the last 5 months.
While they look like Bambi learning to walk, a rider who has been on it all through the winter is equally as obvious. They are unfazed, in fact positively relaxed and laid back but smooth and tidy in their riding. A joy to watch.
Some riders opt for a ‘winter hack’. A bike which you are willing to abuse a little more than your main bike, but not everyone has this luxury. If you do lay up your main machine - please have it checked properly before jumping back on and charging down the road.
Over the coming weeks we will touch on a few subjects that will hopefully give you ‘food for thought’ over the winter but for now some things to mention early before the money gets allocated to the Christmas shopping list.
Kit - A good friend of mine reported on his RTTW experience recently, he was soaked to the skin (after spending some decent money on a jacket) during the 7 hours of downpour while his wife was completely toastie dry in her jacket etc. On the bright side his gloves kept the water out and his hands stayed dry.
Get good kit! I can’t highlight it enough and because you are spending a fortune on kit, shop around! There are plenty of good deals out there. My last helmet included free kevlar jeans! The internet is a great place to buy but has the disadvantage of being more laborious to return if it doesn’t fit. So be cheeky, pop into your nearest shop which sells the same gear you are looking at on the web and try a few sizes on. Alternatively you could try this, it has worked for me on a number of occasions. Ask if the store will price match the internet. Most will albeit rather reluctantly, as long as the website you are showing them is a UK based site (and they will expect to see it on your smart-phone).
I got a pair of Oakley glasses reduced from £144 to £90 just by asking the staff to price-match an internet price. Be prepared to walk away if that say no.
Read reviews - Bear in mind though that someone may love the product you end up hating so read a few and get an overall picture. Make sure your review site is independent i.e. don’t read a review for the phone from the shop that is selling you that same phone… There are lots of sites out there doing independent product reviews (hopefully we will soon be one of them).
What decent kit is needed? - Well the top three items have to be winter gloves, helmet and jacket.
Helmet - The most expensive isn’t always the best. Having had Arai, Shuberth, Shark, Shoei, BMW and many others I can confirm two things - 1) price doesn’t ensure quality and functionality and 2) everyone’s bonce is different. What fits and looks good on your mate/partner may not fit you.
Age, is it old/new? Strap, is it fraying, buckles and fixing working and rust free? Ventilation, does it have enough and are they working freely?
So you are happy with your helmet, then check the visor. Is it scratched, chipping and cracked? If it fogs get an insert, breath mask or visor wax/spray but do something to keep your visor mist free.
Jacket - If you are happy with you jacket, fit the liners in on a spare evening when you’re sat at home so you don’t have to do it last minute before you jump on the bike in a hurry and decide to give up half way through. Give your jacket and liner it’s annual wash. Is the waterproofing still up to the job? A can of waterproofing spray is always worth a squirt if not and if you can, get something reflective to help with the low light that winter brings. Reflective is good! Maybe, not cool but lying on a gurney is even less cool.
Gloves - If you are happy with your gloves - great, but are they proper winter gloves and will they keep your digits warm when the ice starts to form. As a naive youngster I rode from Somerset to Cornwall in a February on my sports bike and when I got home stupidly put my ice-cold hands in warm water thinking it would warm them up! The pain was incredible! The problem with winter gloves is the loss of finite feeling but hey, the problem with frost bite is the loss of fingers!
Sunglasses - shorter days mean more chance of hitting the dreaded low-sun at either end of the day.
So following on from those;
Trousers - Either textile or leather and brand-matching your jacket preferably. Zip together stuff is brilliant but some brands deliberately fit specific zip sizes so you are forced to buy the same brand trousers and jacket. This doesn’t cause a big problem if both products are what you want - otherwise you can add your own zip later.
Thermal Layers - I have tried Arktis thermal top and bottoms, Pro-Skins ‘wind shield’ (parachute like material) and I have recently acquired Pro-Skins inner layers which I have heard very good things about. I’m told they will keep me cool in the heat and warm in the winter - we will see! Any decent outdoor shop can sell you thermals at a good price - and thermals can make even the coldest ride more bearable. Oddly, you probably won’t notice their benefit - until you do the same ride without them on at a later date!
Neck warmer - I used to hate these. Couldn’t see the point and felt a little trapped having them around my neck. Oh boy I changed my outlook when I gave in to one on an especially cold day. I still prefer to ride without but it goes on much sooner when the temperature dips.
So your clothing is a massive factor into making your winter riding go well. It stands to reason your bike should be working and problem free all year but it is even more vital now. Tyres for example. The legal limit is 1mm but honestly, are you happy with that in the wet and dirt on the roads? Correct tyre pressures, yes please! Fluids and brake pads? Oil and coolant? Enough petrol? All the basics that should be scrutinised daily need extra attention - do not neglect any areas that need attention.
Battery - the cold weather will kill your battery but also a poor battery will kill your winter ride so invest and get something that will see you through.
Riding - slow up. Take your time, plan your journey and give yourself more time. With the elements already ganging up on you, the winter car drivers failing to clear their windscreens or concentrating too much on their heated seats, it isn’t worth giving yourself even more pressure by leaving late for work so in short - more time, less pressure. More pleasure, less risk.
Finally if all my advice above is a bit too much to take in or maybe you're already happy with your winter riding just remember what Billy Connolly said, “There is no such thing as bad weather, there are just the wrong clothes!”