'Extreme' Winter Motorcycle Riding
I’ve lived in MinneSNOWta all my life, 35 years as a biker. Winter motorcycling isn’t particularly fun for me, even with crazy PMS (“Parked Motorcycle Syndrome”) right about now. But if you simply MUST ride a motorcycle in the winter, here are our top tips for doing so.
Layer. Start with a long-sleeve base (such as Under Armor) that wicks moisture away from your body. Add an insulating layer (like fleece) and/or a heated vest with controller.
Your jacket is no place to skimp; get the best. Gore-Tex is popular for its breathability and waterproof features. Same with boots and gloves; add a neck warmer and a full-face helmet. Think like a snowmobiler but buy like a biker!
A motorcycle windshield goes without saying here, and extras like the Desert Dawgs Rain/Wind Guards and motorcycle hand guards or muffs are a huge help as well. If you’re able to install heated grips, they’ll go a long way toward keeping your hands warmer.
If your bike is water-cooled, make sure the antifreeze is fresh and mixed properly and that all hoses are in good shape.
Tires: make sure you have awesome tread if you plan to ride in snow. Check your tire pressure, as it can change with temperature swings. Also, be aware that cold motorcycle tires offer less traction.
First, the obvious: if it even remotely looks like ice, stay away! If you live in an area that uses salt on the roads (like we do), be very cautious; it can cause you to lose traction (just like snow can).
Also remember that snow, salt, fluctuating temps and equipment like plows can really do a number on road surfaces. I swear some of the cracks and pot holes around here are big enough to swallow a motorcycle!
Visibility and Following Distance
During winter riding, look further down the road so you can recognize hazards before they occur, and/or react to a potential problem more quickly. And give the vehicle in front of you plenty of space. You might not have the same space available for stopping (or avoiding) due to less traction.
Keep an eye on the forecast; if the weather folks are calling for multiple inches of snow, leave the motorcycle at home. And if you’re out riding and it starts snowing, get home. The white stuff can accumulate quickly and make for some seriously slippery conditions (even in a car).
If you’re really into winter riding, consider a snowmobile. Just kidding! (But you can buy studded snow tire kits here in the northland.) Riding a motorcycle in the winter can be challenging, but it can be done with the right attitude!
- Tracey Cramer
How to Get the Motorcycle Accessories you Really Want
Step 1: Know what you want
This seems straightforward, doesn’t it? And it’s easy for some people. But when it comes to owning a motorcycle, you’d be amazed what you can find to dress it up, or things to make your ride more comfortable or safer. So do a little googling. Check out a forum specific to your motorcycle and see what people are raving about. If you’ve got your heart set on something a little more complex (like, say, a motorcycle radio or a mount for your phone), do a little research.
Step 2: Know your Gift Giver
Bikers, let’s face it. Sometimes the person who’s got your name for Christmas is not a biker themselves. (Even if they are, they might not have the same interests as you.) And it’s not always easy for that person to get you that cool motorcycle accessory you’re lusting after. But if you’d rather get something for your bike (instead of a new shirt or tie), you gotta give them a little help.
Step 3: Be Specific
- Let them know the make and model of your motorcycle (ex: Harley Softail). Really. They all look the same to some people! It’s no fun to open a gift and discover it won’t fit your particular motorcycle (although our URBAN mounts are about as universal-fit as it’s possible to be).
- Instead of saying “I’d like a way to mount my GPS,” say “I’d like a chrome mount that attaches to my Yamaha V-Star’s handlebar that holds my Garmin Nuvi” (the words in bold can help them choose the perfect GPS mount!)
- Instead of saying “I want to get rid of updrafts” try: “I really want a set of soft lowers (Desert Dawgs) for my Kawasaki Nomad 1700.”
Step 4: Share your Interests and Passions
Do you like to video your rides? Let them know a mount for your camera would be awesome. Want to plan an off-road trip, or take that guided tour to Alaska? Let them know – Travel-related DVDs, books, guides, etc make great gifts.
Step 5: Be Obvious
Depending how well you know the gift giver, the best way to ensure you get what you want is to print off a description of the item with a B-I-G circle around it, and leave it in a very conspicuous spot (or text/email a link to the product you want)!
- Tracey Cramer
The Dreaded Updrafts: What to do About Them
One complaint we hear a lot is that updrafts come up under the windshield and blast the rider in the face. (In Minnesota we're usually concerned about COLD updrafts LOL.) If you can minimize updrafts, you’ll have more enjoyable riding not just later into the season (and earlier in the spring), but all season long.
The Desert Dawgs Rain Guards/Wind Deflectors do a fantastic job of repelling water away from your legs and feet if you happen to get caught in a rainstorm.
But did you know they also reduce updrafts and helmet buffeting? Instead of air hitting your legs and being redirected up toward your face, the Desert Dawgs force the air out and around (rather than up).
The effectiveness of the Desert Dawgs (or any lower deflector for that matter) varies depending on the motorcycle itself as well as on the windshield. For instance, I’ve noticed certain OEM windshields (such as some of the Yamaha ones) result in more wind in my face than the Memphis Shades windshields I’ve had on two different motorcycles.
Factors that can affect wind flow (updrafts):
- curvature of the windshield
- angle of the windshield
- space between the windshield and the engine guard bar
- rider foot placement and height
They are quite possibly the easiest and least costly way to protect your body. And because they are a cinch to remove and store in a saddlebag, you don’t need to keep them on in warmer weather (although they have no temperature restriction and can be used in warmer temps).
Read more about the Desert Dawgs - and check out Tracey's video about "the little things" - right here!
- Tracey Cramer
Riding in the Rain: Get Visible
One key to being seen in the rain is visibility. Here are some simple steps you can take to be more visible when you ride in the rain.
#1: Bright Colors
Like many bikers, I love black and leather. But when it comes to riding in the rain, I want to be seen at all costs. After all, decreased visibility is one of the main contributors to accidents (rain or not!).
The BEST idea is to get a bright-colored motorcycle. (In fact, some police departments and emergency services are going all-out in that regard)
But the reality is, most of us are NOT like this guy; we don’t want a neon green or bumble-bee yellow bike. I’ve never once chosen my motorcycle (in over 30 years) by the color, but rather by an intuitive desire, and I’d be willing to bet you’ve done the same.
So, the next best thing? Wear bright clothing. Take a tip from the construction industry: they wear yellow or orange to stay visible when working in a high traffic area. So why wouldn’t you do the same?
If you don’t want a neon-colored riding jacket, then wear a reflective vest.
I love my red/white/blue reflective vest, but a yellow or orange vest is even better. They don’t have to LOOK like a construction vest, either - nowadays you can get very stylish vests.
#2: Extra lights
“Fog lights” aka auxiliary driving lights typically come in two varieties: lights that project a somewhat short but wide light pattern (a 30 to 35 degree spread is common) and lights that project a longer and narrower light pattern (20 degrees). Either type added to the front of your bike will make you more visible to traffic.
This article from Webbikeworld does a good job of breaking down which type of light is best for you.
#3: Ride Defensively
Altering your position in the lane can make you more visible by creating an abnormal driving pattern (and light pattern) that car drivers are more likely to notice. A gradual shifting to the right and left also gives you more opportunity to spot upcoming traffic situations.
Stay away from cars whenever possible, especially their blind spot. Many riders won’t turn their head before making a lane change, especially if they’re also trying to see through a rainy windshield. If you must pass, do it quickly and get into a situation where you’re better seen by all cars on the road.
Use your brake light as a blinker by tapping on the brakes several times in quick succession. This can catch the attention of a driver behind you and/or - heaven forbid - a tailgater (which this guy is apparently expecting)!
- Tracey Cramer
Motorcycle Travel: Part I: Dreamin’
Do you dream of life on the road, just you and two wheels (or three)? Places you’ve always wanted to go, but just haven’t made the time to visit? Start planning your motorcycle trip and make this the year you make it happen!
Planning a motorcycle trip can be daunting. Where do you begin? We all have places we’ve been daydreaming about. Pick one from your ‘bucket list’ today!
Pick the route
The beauty of traveling on a motorcycle is that no one just “takes the freeway.” For some the point/goal is to pick roads they’ve never ridden on. Others look for scenic drives, roads with lots of curves (hooah!) or quaint towns they can explore along the way.
Google the words “scenic routes” and all kinds of things come up. Roadrunner Travel is a great resource when planning your trip. This website/magazine has tons of riding routes along with events and organized tours. Get out your “old-fashioned” map and peruse your route to see what towns and sights are near it.
If you’ve always wanted to see a landmark (say, Mount Rushmore or Niagara Falls) or tourist attraction (Disneyland?!), plan your route to take you through it (or by it).
Now that you’ve got an idea of where you want to go, what kinds of things should you consider? Check out this article for ideas!
- Tracey Cramer
Riding in the Rain: Traction & Tactics
In the article It’s All About the Gear, I talked about a number of ideas for finding the right gear and clothing to keep you safer and more comfortable.
In this article I’m going to talk about skills and tactics that can help you be safer and more confident when riding in the rain.
Possibly one of the most overlooked improvements in the world of motorcycles relates to tires. Today’s touring tires are marvels at accommodating all the road conditions we’re continually up against. Even so, they can’t give you the same degree of traction and confidence on a wet road as they can on a dry one. And they certainly can’t help you if there’s no traction left on them! Be sure to change your tires out when they start to wear. Tires are like so many things in life: you get what you pay for. It’s just not worth skimping on tires when it could be life or limb on the line.
And, having said that, don’t forget the rest of the puzzle: keep your tires at the correct PSI! Even if it means an extra couple of minutes before you ride off into the proverbial sunset. Underinflated tires are more prone to hydroplaning on wet or rainy surfaces (NOT a good thing)!
Speed and Distance
This seems obvious, but let’s do some simple math to help drive home my point.
If you’re traveling at 60 mph, your motorcycle will have to start coming to a stop while moving at 88 feet per second. Under perfect conditions, a skilled rider can come to a full stop in around 5.4 seconds; that includes a one-second delay before hitting your brakes.
Tip: Try keeping two fingers on your front brake lever. If you can do that, you’ll save about a second - aka about 88 feet of stopping space!
Now, looking at the numbers, you can see why it’s also a good idea to increase your following distance when riding in the rain. This gives you more time to react to any unfortunate incidences that may unfold ahead of you.
Another advantage of a slower speed is that it reduces your angle in turns (which is where problems are often encountered). Which leads nicely to my next point…
Keep it Upright
I know sometimes we want to hunch up when we’re getting pummeled with rain. But the more upright you are on the motorcycle, the more weight is applied perpendicular to the road, which increases your traction.
Avoid last-second turns and unnecessary swerves, and when braking, never apply only the front brakes because it can cause your front wheel to slip. (If your rear wheel slips, you can control/recover, but if your front starts skidding, you’re in trouble.)
Tip: Don’t “grab” the brake lever suddenly, but instead, ease the front brakes on to set up the suspension before hard braking. And use the rear brake in combination with the front (something I’m constantly having to work on) at a 60 rear / 40 front ratio if possible. Using the rear brake helps stabilize the chassis, which is a VGT (Very Good Thing).
Read the Road
The worst rains of the season are the first ones. Oily scum has yet to wash off (and, here in Minnesota, the road salt), making the surface particularly treacherous. Rain also has the bad habit of spreading gravel and dirt around; so be on the lookout for this, particularly in rural areas (a BIG issue where we live!).
I think it’s safe to say that most of us would rather NOT hydroplane on a motorcycle (which occurs when a layer of water gets sandwiched between your tire and the road, resulting in zero traction) so avoid standing water or puddles whenever possible.
Slippery surfaces that you might not even notice in a car can be problematic for a motorcyclist. The unstable nature of a two-wheeled bike and the smaller, lighter size mean that sliding on the road can easily result in a crash. Slick surfaces are even more dangerous when the biker is turning. The list of potentially slippery objects/surfaces is long but includes:
- Crosswalk Lines
- Any painted surfaces
- Anti-freeze or oil
And, last but not least: reduce your speed. (Are we noticing a theme here? Slower is better in the rain!)
- Tracey Cramer