While some of us are injecting our bikes with fuel stabilizer, dusting off the trickle charger, and tucking machines into a warm corner for winter hibernation, the rest of us are breaking out the heavy riding gear. Bottom line: The arrival of cold weather doesn't mean you have to stop riding.
For your ride to be enjoyable, you have to be comfortable, and that obviously means staying warm and dry.
Riding at temperatures below 50 degrees requires serious garments to store your core heat. Start with a light base layer to trap warm air next to your skin (go with synthetics, not cotton). Add other layers of wool or synthetics and top it all off with a tough windproof and semi-waterproof shell (fully waterproof if it's raining). A balaclava is a must to keep your head warm under the helmet.
Heated gear keeps you more comfortable, but it may also strain your bike's charging system. Once you've determined your bike can sustain the added load, you can choose from a variety of gear options from Gerbing, Firstgear, Tourmaster, Widder and others. The important thing is to heat your body from the core—so opt for a vest or jacket as your first line of defense. Chemical heat packs are a nice backup also, and slipping them inside clothing gives you a boost if you're going non-electric.
Most riders' hands can deal with rides of 50 degrees or above, but once temps cross into the 40s, few gloves can retain heat beyond an hour or so. Heated grips are a good option. Oxford makes several types for cruisers; Held's Freezer gloves, Gerbings T5 heated gloves or Tourmaster's Polar Tex gloves are also solid cold-weather choices.
Visor fogging can cause nasty visibility problems during cold weather. To avoid having your breath freeze on the visor, add an inner visor like a Fog City or Pinlock insert. At the least wear a half-mask inside your helmet over a balaclava. This lets your breath escape without causing visor condensation.
The days are short, so do everything you can to stand out in winter's low-light conditions. Companies like Respro offer fluorescent and reflective clothing. or you can opt for visible gear like a Veman Jiano EVO glow-in-the-dark lid.
If you ignore the early symptoms of hypothermia, you're going nowhere, fast. Wind chill adds to the danger, so make sure you stop frequently, enjoy a hot drink and let your body warm up. Even donning rain gear as an additional layer will help retain body heat.
Harsh weather conditions can be just as damaging to your vehicle, so it's best to start prepping your bike for the elements early in the season. But winterizing any time will help prevent serious damage down the road.
Maintaining fluid levels is critical to keeping things working during the winter. Check antifreeze and oil levels to prevent internal damage, and keep your gas tank at least half full to prevent gas line freeze. Winter prep should also include an oil change to keep oil flowing freely, even in freezing conditions. Thinner oil during the cold months can improve performance, but check your owner's manual for recommendations. Some manufacturers recommend only one weight of oil, no matter what the temperature.
Worn treads are no match for slippery roads. Get tires winter-ready first by examining the tread for thin or uneven wear, which reduces traction. Damaged sidewalls can also collapse under severe weather conditions. Remember to check the tire air pressure during winter months to ensure best traction.
Don't let your machine slip into rat bike status. Keeping your bike and engine clean is key to keeping corrosive elements at bay. We've had good luck with Muc-Off Motorcycle Cleaner, and S100 makes good choices too. You can gain additional protection with an all-over wax treatment. Wax helps prevent oxidation and if you use one that can be applied to all metal, plastic and rubber surfaces, it gives you a barrier against road salt, snow and other nasty stuff. Also remember that road grit can speed up chain death, so clean it often.
Shunting chilly air away from your body goes a long way toward keeping you comfortable. Add a proportionally matched, functional shield or fairing (get a custom one if you have to) or some temporary lower covers, like ones from Desert Dawgs.
Leave your battery on the charger if you won't be riding. Also make sure your alternator can handle electric accessories if you are opting for heated gear. Check the owner's manual to see how much wattage your alternator generates and how much is used to run lights and other components. Then, subtract the wattage of your electric gear to be sure you have the power necessary. You can also convert your bike's running lights to LED options, if you really want to reduce your load.