This time of year is particularly challenging for motorcycle riders; in fact, it’s actually a pain being on the roads however you’re travelling. But let’s be honest, no one gets a deal as bad as motorcyclists do. With the constant threat of rain, furious winds, hidden ice and slippery surfaces, it’s no wonder that a good number of riders put their bikes to bed for the winter and search for other modes of transport.
It doesn’t have to be that way though; if you want to go for a ride there should be nothing stopping you. All you need to know is how to stay safe and treat the road with the same respect that you do in the summer.
If you know what the potential hazards are likely to be, you’re already halfway towards beating them. If you’re a regular rider, you’ll already have enough common sense to gauge what’s safe and what’s not, you’ll have to re-evaluate your riding style and approach too but after that, all you’ll need is a little bit of info on the dangers out there. Armed with that knowledge, you should be as safe as houses.
If you’ve ever been in a car when you’re a bit tired and the heater's on, you’ll realise that it’s quite easy to nod off … BUT that only applies to cars! On a bike, it’s the reverse: if you start to get cold, you’ll find yourself getting tired. When you’re cold, your concentration begins to fade, your reactions times will be significantly slower and you’re more likely to become drowsy. It’s because of this reason that staying warm is the most important thing you can do to ensure a safer ride this winter.
As hot as leather gear can get in the summer it has very poor insulating properties. You’re better off with good quality fabric kit with a suitable base and if necessary, additional base layers. Electrically heated garments are becoming increasingly popular and many touring and adventure bikes now have the appropriate power outlets.
Focus on keeping your extremities warm too, as they are more susceptible to the cold. Quality gloves, boots and a neck tube are a must if you’re going to keep the cold at bay this winter.
Knowing that you’ll have to adapt your riding style to the environment is a crucial element to staying upright this winter. The increased amount of rainfall and the fall of dead leaves can transform the road into a slippery nightmare. Couple that with the risk of icy patches, accumulated grit and gravel and of course, the rogue oil spills, and you’re left with a pretty treacherous road surface. Luckily, motorcycles can handle it providing that you understand that the road isn’t the same as it was in summer.
Slow and steady is the keyword here. Reduced grip and longer braking distances will mean that your occasional bursts of acceleration will be a thing of the past for the time being. Ride as safely as possible and don’t take any unnecessary risks.
When we say ‘road users’, we mean more than just motorists. Of course, car drivers are usually the worst offenders but that doesn’t mean that they’re the only ones who’re likely to ignore your presence.
Pedestrians and cyclists are often in more of a hurry than ever when the rain starts to fall – everyone has to be somewhere and whether they know it or not, they take unnecessary risks. Pedestrians running across roads with their hoods up or under umbrellas won’t see you coming and cyclists may move into the centre of the road without looking first. If these guys cause an accident, they’re probably going to walk away from it unhurt – you won’t, so make sure that you proceed with caution and never assume anything.
As we mentioned earlier, the road conditions change at this time of the year; the best way to stay safe is to read the road accordingly and adjust your riding style to suit the conditions. As your brakes aren’t going to act as efficiently, it’s wise to keep your distance from other vehicles. First, if something untoward is going to happen, you’ll have plenty of time to stop; secondly, you’ll be able to minimise the amount of spray would normally drench you if you were following in someone else’s wake.
Be sure to follow all of the signage and take heed of all traffic warnings. The slightest change in the weather or road condition could be the difference between arriving safely or suffering an accident.
The winter also brings another type of hazard to the foreground: visibility (for you and for other road users).
It’s dark in the mornings and evenings, so you can expect not to be as conspicuous as you would be in the summer. To combat that, try wearing the most visible clothing that you can, such as Hi-Viz vests, reflective striping and by avoiding other motorists’ blind spots.
Secondly, your own view will be impaired somewhat by low mist, heavy rainfall and early onset of night time. Keep your visor clean and use de-misters and rain-dispersants as necessary. When your vision is impaired, ride at a responsible speed and always be ready for the unexpected.
Okay, it’s not necessarily possible to improve your reaction times over night but what you can do is put yourself into a better position to foresee a hazard and act accordingly. Don’t be afraid to let other road users know what you’re doing – if you think it would be safer to signal earlier than you usually would, go ahead and do it. If you think the conditions are dangerous enough that you need to slow right down whilst crossing junctions and crossroads – do it! By being proactive and expecting trouble, you’ll be one step ahead of the game if something does go wrong. It’s not exactly ‘improving you reaction times’ but it’s the next best thing.
When riding in the wet, it’s important to take the time to do a quick ‘systems’ check; this could mean trying out your lights, making sure your indicators are working properly and finally, you definitely want to pump your brakes every now and again. You might think that the old ‘pumping’ trick is reserved solely for drum brakes but even discs get wet. Trying your brakes out regularly can also give you a clear indication of your stopping distances at different speeds. It’s definitely worth doing.
Another good way to ensure your safety in the winter is to make sure that your bike is set up for winter riding. Taking the time to service your bike properly and adjust its settings for the wet and cold weather will certainly make a huge difference to your winter riding enjoyment. Even something as mundane as the correct tyre pressures will make a massive impact on your bike’s capabilities, so it’s definitely worth putting the time aside for a quick winter service.
There are products out there that are designed with you and the winter toil in mind; if you want to have an easier time out on the road this winter, invest in them. You don’t have to break the bank either, some small and inexpensive items can really up your comfort level. We recommend those cheap chemical heat pads to help keep the cold at bay and a decent brand of anti-mist spray for your mirrors and visor – a bit of visibility and a heat source can go a long way on two wheels!
What is an ‘unnecessary danger’? Maybe your main route home has notoriously strong crosswinds or perhaps that road to work is prone to flooding? Are you about to drive through an accident hotspot? It’s worth thinking of these things and planning your route accordingly. Strong winds can blow debris into the road, large puddles and floods can hide all manner of sins and if that roundabout is decorated by memorial flowers, perhaps it’s worth avoiding those areas altogether? If there’s a safer, alternative route – take it.
The key to successfully riding in winter is to take it slow, to see everything as a hazard and to ride accordingly. When you look at it that way, it’s not much different to riding in summer. As long as you’re prepared adapt and react then you should have no problems at all. Whatever happens, a slow ride in the wet is far more interesting than a dull train ride, right?
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