For some folks, winter simply marks the end of daylight saving time. For many motorcyclists, though, it signals something far more important-the end of the riding season. But just because the days are short and the air is cold, it doesn't mean you have to stash the ol' scooter. With a little knowledge and the right combination of gear, you can feasibly ride year-round (except for those of you located in the icy, snowy, northern climes).
When it's cold, your primary goals should be to keep your body warm and to avoid hypothermia (which often means keeping a lid on perspiration, too). Hypothermia is a condition brought about by the body's temperature dropping lower than it needs to function normally. The initial symptoms include shivering, which can occur with as little as a 1.5-degree (Fahrenheit) decrease in body temperature. At this point, just stepping inside from the cold and getting something warm down your gullet usually is all it takes to recover.
But if your clothing gets damp (from either perspiration or the elements), it's a good idea to change into dry togs pronto-wet gear offers very little (if any) protection from the cold. Don't take wind chill for granted, either. As air moves past your body (either as wind or while you're riding through it), it causes greater loss of heat than would occur with no air movement. In other words, wind makes conditions feel colder than they are (most of the chilling effect occurs by 30 mph).
Fortunately, the right gear can mitigate potential riding misery. For protection from the cold, the wind and the rain, consider the following:
Helmet: A lid offers insulation as well as crash and wind protection. If it's downright frigid outside, add a balaclava with thin, insulating material on the head (so it's easier to slip on a helmet) and thicker insulation around the neck.
Base Layer: This is the layer of clothing closest to your skin that keeps you comfortable (and, ideally, wicks away moisture). There is a variety of fabrics to choose from-wool blends, silk, silk blends and various nylon and polypropylene materials-but there's only one rule: no cotton. Cotton can be wonderful in the summer, but in the winter, it retains moisture and dries slowly. Also, when choosing tops, pick one that claims to be odor resistant. You'll thank us later.
Mid-layer: This layer provides the bulk of the warmth, retaining body heat and letting perspiration escape. It's usually made of man-made fabric, like fleece, which comes in different weights for varied temperature ranges. Some of these garments even have their own windproof and/or waterproof/breathable membranes, making them suitable for wearing off the bike.
Outer Layer: This is where your jacket and riding pants come in. Think textile-despite leather's superior abrasion resistance, it's usually neither windproof nor waterproof, and thus not ideal for winter wear (unless, of course, it has a built-in windproof and waterproof barrier).
Gloves: Again, windproof and waterproof/breathable barriers are your friends, and a little insulation goes a long way, too. Extra glove liners will come in handy if it's really cold.
Boots: As with the gloves, jackets and pants, an included windproof and waterproof barrier is essential for riding comfort. And don't forget the synthetic socks! You can choose from a variety of motorcyclist-specific designs these days, and ski and snowboard socks work well, too. Additional liners can help keep things cozy and dry.
With the right wardrobe and a smart approach, it shouldn't be too difficult to get out of the garage and onto a backroad for a comfortable winter ride. If the temperature starts to warm up, you can always stop and peel off a layer; if you're really cold-blooded, there's hope, in the form of our buyer's guide to electrically heated riding gear in this issue's BTL section.