'Extreme' Winter Motorcycle Riding
I’ve lived in MinneSNOWta all my life, 30 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
New Year's Resolution: Learn to Ride! How to do it Right!
Have you been thinking about getting a motorcycle and/or learning to ride? Does the idea of riding free on two wheels make you smile? Have you seen bikers go by and wondered what you were missing? Or maybe you just want to save a little gas on your commute?
Whatever your reasons for wanting to ride, we want to help you with a few pointers. If you are a new rider there are some important things you should know before getting in that seat.
Step One: Take a class.
Maybe you’re thinking, ‘my husband/brother/boyfriend rides a motorcycle, he can teach me.’ Well, maybe he can, but it may not be a good idea. It’s better to find a teacher who’s not too intimately involved with you. He/she will be more impartial and less nervous about what you are doing.
I can’t say enough about the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Riding Course. I took it years ago, and when I married I insisted my husband take it, too (because *I* didn’t want to teach him!).
An added bonus to the course is that in most states, you can take the license exam at the conclusion of the course. In addition, in some states passing the MSF course qualifies you for discounts on insurance. AND the MSF course can be completed in one weekend.
You may be able to find other riding classes offered for free, but even if there’s a cost, it’s money well spent. Try google to search out classes offered in your area.
I believe so strongly in getting some basic training that you notice I listed this as Step ONE, and then...
Step Two: Get licensed.
Does a motorcycle endorsement on the piece of plastic in your wallet make your riding skills sharper? Of course not.
The real reason licensed riders are less likely to crash is because of their attitude, not their license status. Riders who take motorcycling seriously, ride legally, ride sober, and try to continuously improve their riding skills are more likely to have long and happy riding careers. It's all about attitude.
Step three: Choose the right bike for you.
Everyone has that dream bike. The one they picture in their mind’s eye riding down the road.
However, your dream bike may not be the best choice for your first bike. Why, you ask? I can think of a couple reasons:
- You may drop it. Everyone does when they are first learning. Wouldn’t you rather drop a bike that you are less emotionally and financially attached to?
- What you think you want now may not be what you want later. You’ll get a better idea of what you really want only after you’ve ridden a while and gotten some experience. No reason to fork out a ton of money only to find out a year later it doesn’t really suit your needs.
One more note: don’t go too big right away (especially women). A big motorcycle can intimidate a new rider and make you uncomfortable, and soon you’ll find yourself less enthusiastic about riding. And we don’t want that!
Get the smaller bike, and just know that at some point, you’ll want to ‘step up’ to a bigger machine. Trust me - you’ll know when the time is right.
Step Four: The gear.
It’s not just about the motorcycle; you need the right gear.
A helmet and gloves are a good start (and in my opinion, absolutely required). I have personally found a good set of boots to be crucial - you don’t want to find your feet slipping when you’re trying to stop or move the bike. Also, think about getting a jacket and pants specifically made for riding.
Gearing up right doesn't have to be expensive. You should always buy a helmet NEW, because crash damage to the interior can be undetectable to anyone but an expert. But it’s easy to find gently used riding pants, boots, gloves and jackets. Many retailers and online mail-order houses offer discounts on sell-outs and non-current styles.
Step five: Find like minded people to ride with.
Motorcycling is a social activity. There are tons of groups out there. You can always find people on Internet Message Boards. Just do a search by the brand or type of motorcycle that interests you and see what you find.
Meeting other riders will introduce you to a level of camaraderie that's uncommon these days. Riding with responsible, experienced riders can help you improve your own skills - and it’s the icing on the cake!
- Tracey Cramer
Eight Tips for Defensive Riding
The best defenses when riding a motorcycle are training, caution and anticipation. Here are some general tips for everyday riding:
- Understand what constitutes a road hazard. Some bikers are unaware that certain things are hazardous for motorcycles. Don’t assume that you know all the dangers because you’ve been driving a car for years.
- Avoid heavy traffic. When possible, travel when traffic is light. That way, if you encounter a road hazard, you’ll have more room and time to maneuver. Look for less-traveled routes where vision is unobstructed.
- Don’t tail the vehicle in front. Follow vehicles at a safe distance (at least two seconds behind). Slow down if you see (or even anticipate) a hazard. Don’t ride in a car’s ‘blind spot’. It’s bad enough when a car driver doesn't turn and look when changing lanes in front of another car; worse when it’s in front of your motorcycle!
- Constantly survey the road and the surrounding area. Keep your eyes up and take note of everything: other cars, children playing, trees that might house small animals, painted surfaces. Change your speed or path accordingly.
- Plan escape routes. As you ride, think of ways you could evade a potential road hazard. For example, can you safely travel on a shoulder to avoid a large gravel patch? Be aware of what cars are around you in case you must swerve to avoid a squirrel or debris.
- Note hazards on roads you use. Make mental notes of hazards that you encounter on roads you travel. That way, you can anticipate problems or even avoid some routes at certain times or during bad weather.
- When it rains, wait. If possible, wait until the rain has stopped before you ride a motorcycle. If you must travel in the rain, try to wait until it has been raining for at least a half hour before you hit the road.
- Get skills. Motorcycle handling skills are often the key to safely navigating a road hazard (or surviving a skid, wobble, or dicey situation caused by a hazard). Get training on how to safely handle your bike, navigate gravel and ridges in the road, and what to do if your tires skid on slippery surfaces.
- 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 Conspicuity Reflective Vest, but a yellow or orange reflective vest is even better. They don’t have to LOOK like a construction vest, either - nowadays you can get very stylish vests (see Conspicuity).
#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
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
Navigation: Three Reasons a GPS May be Better than Your Phone
Should you use the navigation app on your phone while riding, or get a GPS unit?
That's up to you, of course. But I still use a GPS when I ride, and here's why:
- A decent GPS can be purchased for under $100 these days, while a phone can cost upward of $600. If I'm going to lose a device, have it stolen, rained on or otherwise broken, I'd rather it be the $100 GPS than my $600+ phone (not to mention I've also then lost access to all the personal information I store in my phone).
- I like to ride in mountainous areas and out-of-the-way places. Even though cell coverage is getting better all the time, there's no guarantee I'll always have coverage via my phone.
- My phone sucks power way faster than a GPS does. I don't really want to have to wire for power (I like the clean, simple look, no wires). With my luck, I'd run out of power in a very inconvenient place
Having GPS easily accessible on your motorcycle can make you a safer, more relaxed driver. Just be sure to have a high-quality GPS Mount so you'll never lose your phone (My favorite? The SLIDE Mount.)
To see all our GPS mounts, click here.
- Tracey Cramer