Street Skills Tip:  Winter Riding

Street Skills Tip: Winter Riding

Posted by Team Motorcycle on Jan 15th 2016


It seemed like a good idea at the time. Sunny skies. Dry roads. So what if the thermometer reads 35 degrees, just bundle up and flip on the heated grips. Wrong. Moisture combined with freezing temps can fool you in a hurry. Don’t fall for it!

Ice is a seasonal hazard that sneaks up as winter sets in. Either large or small areas, icy patches can ruin a ride quickly. Without warning, it’s the most unforgiving low traction surface.

“Black ice”, sometimes called clear or glare ice, refers to a thin coating of glazed ice on the road surface. It provides zero traction, similar to slipping on oil. Once you hit ice, recovery is extremely difficult because you’re down before even realizing there’s a problem.

“Snow drift ice” can also be quite a handful. This occurs when snow blows across the road in drifts. The drifts are then compacted by traffic creating ultra-slick strips across the lane. A rider can be motoring happily along on dry road until suddenly this patch of white appears before him or her. In most cases, maintaining straight-line speed and direction is enough to get through them.

Riding in low temps can be safe and enjoyable if you have your head in the right place. The following are some cold-riding tips:

Before the ride:

Consider installing hand guards and frame sliders on your motorcycle. If you venture out in cold weather, the probability of falling over does increase. Therefore, it might be worth the added expense.

Make sure you have an anti-fog face shield so you can best survey the surface and other hazards.

Dress right. Winter riders should not only consider bundling up for insulation, but armored material can make a spill a minor event.

Wear heated clothing. Hypothermia occurs in cold weather. These products are typically wired to a motorcycle’s electrical system to provide endless warmth.

During the ride:

When it's biting cold, turn on the “delicate switch” in your brain. Be as smooth as possible.

Your ultimate goal is to keep the motorcycle as upright as possible. Increased lean angles make it easier for a tire to slide out. Transition to a lean gradually, as ice may form along the outer edge of a tire when it is not making contact with the road.

Focus more diligently on the riding task, especially the surface. It’s easy to forget after a few miles just how slippery the roads are. Reminders placed in map case might be useful.

Be extra alert where shadows appear, especially under bridges. It might be above 35 degrees, but well below freezing out of the sunbeam.

Avoid areas where water collects, such as potholes, cracks or ruts.

Be on the lookout for excessive salt and sand, especially at intersections.

Never trust a bridge when it’s near freezing.

Keep speeds down. This provides more time to visually process surface and other hazards. And since cold weather conditions increase the possibility of a crash, it might be a good idea to ride slower. Cutting your speed 50% reduces crash force by 75%.

Maintain lots of space cushion. Keeping distance between you and other vehicles will reduce contact potential if a skid or slide does occur.

Don’t get overly excited when you see a corner up ahead. It’s easy to pick up the pace after a while. Always ride super cautiously under 40 degrees.

One last note about traction. When you first start out in frigid temps your tires are cold, which makes them hard. Hard tires cannot press into the road surface peaks and valleys as well as warm ones. Use extra caution immediately after your kickstand goes up.

Reply with any of your own tips or to share your icy experience.