Planning A Motorcycle Ride in Cold Weather

Planning a Motorcycle Ride in Cold Weather

Two words to keep in mind when planning a ride in cold weather.  “Discretion” and “Adjustment.”

Let’s define our terms.  By “cold” I refer to temperatures at or just above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Or about 7 for Celsius friends.  The issue here is not so much the temperature on you but the road surface on the tires.  At 40 degrees where you it is just fine, but out on the back roads where you like to ride it can be a few degrees colder, and there is shade, and wet leaves, and run-off and potential frost. Or ice.  If you hit a patch of ice on your motorcycle while turning or braking you are either going to crash or you are incredibly skilled. Or lucky.

By “ride” I mean a meander for fun, not commuting. Commuting is different, in that the distance is usually defined, may be fairly short, and is probably used by a lot of cars, which can be your friend in terms of warming drying the road surface. I commuted to teach school for a few years when we could afford two cars or one car and one nice motorcycle.  Well duh!  Easy choice. The deal was I would take the bike each day unless it was snowing.  If snowing, we would talk…  This was made easier the first two winters by two separate friends who each had a circumstance where each had a car they did not want to sell until spring, but wanted them driven once in a while. I was happy to help out. The 3rd year I was dismayed when nobody I knew had that odd problem, but even then, the ride was about two miles each way – easy to survive, and a small price to pay for having a nice motorcycle.

In the 14 years I worked in the motorcycle industry I was usually commuting, but hear again, my job required motorcycle gear rather than a suit and tie, so I arrived dressed for work anyway. For a couple of years I was charged with the break-in of a series of brand new Harleys destined for the rental fleet.  Harley had decreed that each one had to have 500 miles before it could be rented. I would take a brand new bike, ride it for a couple of weeks, and then turn it over to the lot techs in a muddy and sorry state, and take the keys for the next one!   Tough duty. I also did the break-in of the first BMW 1000RR that would become a demonstrator, and I was so impressed with the suspension.  The rain did put paid to the video camera on my helmet, because I forgot it was “water resistant.”  There was a lot of water.

For a fun ride in cold temps, you need some preparation, both physical and mental.   I presume the bike is in fine fettle. You amass whatever cold weather gear you have. I do not have heated gear, but I do have heated grips, some good long johns, and some serious waterproof and padded jeans  (Triumph), a warm jacket and liner (Fieldsheer), and additional liner (Vanson), motorcycle boots (Rev’It), warm socks (BMW), a throat sock, and several sets of gloves.

The mental aspect of preparation is more important. You must be ready to adjust your expectations before and during the ride.  In the Seattle suburbs, you may have heavy freezing fog in the morning, and it will get dark before 5pm, so a good day’s ride will start later and end earlier than the fondly remembered rides of the summer months just past.

Today looked promising, with highs FORECAST in the high 40’s – perhaps even 50!   That will do!  I arranged to meet some friends at Adventure Motorsports in Monroe, just 15 miles from my house and near to the roads we want to ride.  I set the time at 10:30am – time for the fog to dissipate.

First adjustment. Backing out of my garage the driveway was slippery.  Riding up the street there were patches of frost and near ice. And it was colder than forecast.   About 35 or so.  Hmmmm. The turn at the end of the block was almost iced over. Hmmmm.  Perhaps it will be better on the main highway to Monroe.

Well yes, but near Monroe I ran into freezing fog, heavy enough to form a layer of ice on my visor.  You know it will be a cold ride when you leave the sunglasses at home to better see ice in shaded corners…

I rode along, using my left glove, heated by the grip, to wipe the accumulated ice off the visor.   Second adjustment. I eliminated the first back road I had planned to use, and then the second.  Maybe just a short ride on main roads to Granite Falls?  Hmmmm…  Wait; there really are no main roads to Granite Falls…

Once at the dealership, my friends showed up and displayed varying degrees of discretion. Walt had looked at the weather and drove his van – just to say hello!  Marv lives near my house but had taken a different route. He’d already decided that this day was not going to get warm enough for safety, and planned to bail and ride back home.  Rick had ridden his Ducati from inner Seattle, and he too was having misgivings, while Tim had ridden from Renton (almost 50 miles).  Even with heated gear, grips, and seat, he also was having 2nd thoughts.   None of the electrics heat the tires or the road surface.

So we adjusted. We spent about 45 minutes in the dealership talking motorcycles.  Still too cold. So Marv rode home, Walt drove home, and the three of us remaining adjourned four blocks to a café.  The café had extremely slow service, which was just fine.  Rick ordered French toast and eggs, and when he asked why there was only one egg instead of the advertised three; the waitress brought him a complete second order.  To be polite, he ate all of both orders.

At the end our long lunch the temperature had reached all of 40 degrees, in the middle of the sun in  downtown Monroe.  What would it be on the back roads?  Still too cold.

So Tim took off back home, staying on back roads but roads that had a lot of traffic.   Rick and I headed West on a small back road that I thought would be clear (and it was) and enjoyed a few miles of what we sought. Once in Snohomish I was contemplating interesting routes for the rest of the ride, but decided I’d been fortunate enough for one day.

So we took the most obvious routes to our respective homes.  It got pleasant two miles before I reached my driveway. Coming down my street I noticed a car parked around the corner I’d been through that morning. Someone had lost it on the ice and deranged the door, front fender, and front bumper of the car.

At the end of the ride I’d covered a tad less than 40 miles. I’d also used adjustment and discretion, which is why the Triumph is sitting in the garage unscathed and awaiting the next adventure.

Riding in the cold can be great fun, and I did have fun today.  But discretion and the ability to adjust are required.

 Until next time!

Copyright 2017                                David Preston

About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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One Response to Planning A Motorcycle Ride in Cold Weather

  1. Patrick Doran says:

    As a rational person… It is somewhat of a dichotomous state of mind to mount a motorcycle, knowing full-well, that a marginalized state of traction exists on the roadway one is about to embark upon… Sort of like deciding to run cross the freeway to get to the other side in the midst of traffic at night, rather than taking a less risky alternative or not crossing…

    Its one thing to get caught in slippery conditions when meandering, and another to make a conscious decision to challenge your luck/fate… No medals are handed-out for embarking on and surviving a ride in sketchy conditions. Riding in slippery conditions is tedious at best and given a choice at this point of my rational maturity, not something worth doing on purpose… Using rational discretion, the odds of my person getting mangled is greatly diminished and I’ll live to ride another day… I’ve done it… but find no reason to revisit the experience by my own devices.

    I’ve found riding here in the Northwest, one must expect, during the Winter months, that meandering through the back-roads and mountains, conditions will arise, that create marginalized traction for two-wheels. Even with ABS and traction-control, its fool-hearty to challenge these conditions at any level beyond a healthy respect for ones well-being and rational assessment of the potentials for disaster.

    From the movie “Karate Kid” Mr. Miyagi says: “Sensei say… best defense… no be there…”


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