Common Winter Riding Errors

As published in the WSBMWR “Shaft” for December of 2011

Last month we looked at the idea of storing your bike for the winter, or not.  Most of the article dealt with the “or not,” with ideas for those who choose to ride all year. As the weather turns, if not for the worse, at least toward the colder and wetter, it’s a good time to look at 5 of the most common winter riding mistakes. 

1.         Heated gear: Many riders will go on at length about the wonders of heated gear. There are heated handlebar grips, seats, jackets, vests, pants, socks, and I’m sure others. All of them appear to work pretty well, as long as the rider remembers that every piece of electric gear added increases the load on the electrical system, so having the wattage to amp it up is required.   

Q:  What could go wrong?

A: Such gear may keep you warm, but will not heat the tires or the road.  It is possible to ride along all warm and toasty right onto black ice, and then find yourself sliding down the road with literally no idea of what has just occurred. The road is icy so there is little friction as you slide along in your heated gear that has now parted from the heat source… at least until you hit something.

2.         Not allowing for less sun. With the return to “standard” time, oh by golly does it get dark in a hurry! Even worse, you’re dealing with setting sun and glare conditions mixed with cold, and the potential for rain if you’re not dealing with the sun.  Then there is the temperature, which instead of cooling off in the evening as it does in summer plunges to freezing in almost no time in winter, beginning at about 2pm. Plan ahead and expect your day’s adventure to be at least one hour less in duration, and perhaps two.

3.         Planning too much to ride too far for too long.   Not sure how to deal with this one. Everyone enjoys motorcycle riding in his or her own way, and for a particular subset (and you know who you are) the enjoyment of the ride is directly tied to how far you rode and for how long.  If your idea of a great day is twelve hours or more and 600 miles or more, and you like to imagine yourself cruising along an hour and 100 miles after I have relaxed in a chair at the motel with my pipe and a crossword puzzle, good for you. We all get pleasure in our own way – but on a day where the temperature does not rise about 40 degrees and there is a drizzle in the air that turns to rain off and on, you’re going to have to modify your expectations, or work a lot harder than I want to.   One solution is to plan – less. When the weather throws you a crumb, gnaw on it for a couple of hours of a nourishing ride and then return to your warm abode and resume organizing your collection of rare stamps or whatever.

4.         You can never have enough layers, layers, layers!   I think this one rarely occurs more than once to each person, but once is more than enough.  Both the heat and humidity can suffer spasmodic swings in our neck of the woods, and all the more so in winter. You need to be ready for the weather to get really cold with little warning, but you also want to be prepared for the day that surprises you.  If you’re all bundled up and prepared for 42 degrees and suddenly it becomes 65 you’ll have a problem with hyperthermia you did not expect.  If you get over-heated and perspire a lot and then the temp begins to dive back to 40, you now have a hypothermia problem you’re also not prepared for. In the same day. 

The key is layers.  Some use the terms “base layers” while some older types stick with “long johns.” (Who wasJohn, anyway?*).  A windproof liner, a jacket, perhaps rain gear.  Waterproof riding pants, etc.  And I always carry three pairs of gloves.

5.         Poor tire condition and/or maintenance.  Modern tires are marvels of wear and adhesion. They have high levels of hysteresis, for today’s vocabulary word. In fact, the tires on my bike are more capable than I am in most situations, in that they have more grip and more cornering lean angle available than I believe.  You may be the same.

This is true IF your tires are inflated to the proper level and have tread!  I can’t count how many people have related lurid stories about discovering that white band running down the middle of the tire was cord. All the tread was gone, to be followed soon by all the air.  Tires can be sneaky. They have good tread and do not lose air for a long time, and then suddenly they are low on air AND tread on the same day you are taking on a challenging road – in the rain. 

Do us both a favor. Make a note to check your tires before every ride – like you were taught to a long time ago.  None of us are immune to this sort of thing, as some of the most appalling tales of this genre are told by – me.  And I surely know better. I’ve had friends point out to me a broken cord inside the rear of a tire, a nail sticking out of a tire, and a virtually bald rear tire a day before a 1,000 mile trip.  None of which I had noticed.

You can do better than that, and you need to!  I’ve never suffered the slings and arrows of misfortune my carelessness has earned me, and I’ve promised myself I will do better.

After all, it’s more fun to listen to stories of mistakes than to be the subject of a tale of woe.

Happy Holidays to You and Yours!  

Dave Preston

* Evidently the “John” in long johns was 19th century fighterJohn L. Sullivan.  Or not. Nobody seems to know for sure!


About david

I am a 73 year old motorsports nut who lives in Snohomish, 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 own, at the current time, a Triumph Rocket 3 (2020) and a 2016 Ford Focus ST. What else would you like to know?
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