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Cold Weather Gear for Motorcyclists

Riding in the winter does not have to be cold or uncomfortable

By FastFred Ruddock updated January 15, 2009

Once again it is winter and we are getting an arctic blast; WNC is expecting temperatures in the single digits this weekend. Besides me only one of my pals at work is still riding his bike. I ride everyday but some might say that is because I don't own a cage. However not owning a cage is a conscious decision. I have learned a few more tricks over the past year of motorcycling and kayaking across the mountains of WNC I would like to share. I never let cold get in the way of my fun. The gear discussed on this page has been tested many thousands of miles through brutal winter weather in the mountains of North Carolina. I general ride 700 to 1,000 miles a week year 'round and many of these miles are logged in the mountains.

I often get questions about riding in the cold from curious non-riders and even bikers during the winter especially when riding in the mountains. Recently I have gotten more inquires as to how I stay warm on long winter motorcycle trips beyond 100 or 200 miles. It is my hope this article will help others enjoy riding during the winter and avoid injury.

The first key is layering. What you wear for layers is just as important as using multiple layers. Cotton is not your friend during the winter especially for base layers. The multiple layers will be of no help if you wear cotton next your skin because you will get wet from sweat or rain. Cotton loses its insulating properties when wet in addition to holding many times its own weight in water. Wet cotton will quickly radiate heat and make you clammy and uncomfortable. Base layers of polypro (Polypropylene) and wool work best to help keep your skin warm and dry.

The first thin base layers help wick moisture away from your skin and should not retain moisture. These base layers should be followed by polar fleece, a light weight synthetic, for best results. I recommend TLTec Fleece Pants for a warm yet easily removed layer for your legs. Wool is also a good choice for layering. Finally you need an effective outer shell to stop the wind and water.

Ideally the outer shell should be breathable as well as waterproof. Gortex riding suits are very effective and some like the Roadcrafter have Kevlar and padding for protection in the event of a crash. Black ice may increase your chances of crashing during the winter. My Roadcrafter suit is over a year old with many miles and it is still going strong. However the Roadcrafter suit alone will not keep you dry in extremely wet conditions. I recently purchased a thin rain suit to wear under the Roadcrafter and for use as an additional outer shell. My Patagonia Rain Shadow Jacket and Rain Shadow Pants are holding up great and are easily stowed away until needed as they are thin and light. I have not gotten wet despite riding hundreds if not thousands of miles in the rain since obtaining this gear.

Heavy leather is another option for an outer shell but cheap leathers or summer leathers are little or no help in the winter. Leathers are also likely to absorb water despite your best efforts to oil or otherwise waterproof them. I have invested a substantial amount of cash in leather over the years and I now feel it is more economical and effective to use high quality gortex crash suits in foul weather. Whether you purchase a quality gortex riding suit or quality leathers be prepared to make a substantial investment. The right gear will not be cheap but it will last for years.

Keeping your extremities warm begins by keeping you core warm. Your body will direct blood away from your arms and legs if the head or chest begin to lose warmth. This is becuase your body is wired to protect vital organs by sacrificing your limbs. During the fall of 2006 I purchased a Gears Gen X 2 Heated Vest to help maintain my core temperature; the vest was reasonable priced. Later I also purchased Gears Gen X 2 Heated Arm Chaps; the arm chaps help but I am a little disappointed with their overall performance. Next I would like to test the Aerostich Kanetsu AirVantage Windstopper Electric Liner.

Keeping your feet warm and dry begins with careful layering. A thin polypro or Capilene sock under two thick wool socks will work down to single digits even without insulated boots. Wigwam makes super warm wool socks that hold up well in my experience. Keep in mind a high quality pair of riding boots is very important just as the outer shell is important for the rest of your body. Forget about style and get a good pair of boots; the boots Harley sells are unlikely to work in the cold in addition to being grossly over priced. Aerostich Combat Touring Boots are a much better choice; I have been wearing the same pair for several years and they have never let me down.

Keeping you hands warm is also accomplished by effective layering; one pair of gloves will not do an adequate job of keeping your hands warm. One or more glove liners should be worn within an insulated glove. While synthetic gloves might be warm they are not much help in a crash; I speak from personal experience. However a good pair of insulated leather gloves can be covered by a pair of synthetic insulated triple digit glove covers. Brake levels and clutch levels are easier to manipulate with triple digit covers than mittens. I recommend the Aerostich Insulated Elkskin Gauntlets and Aerostich Insulated Triple Digit Glove Covers; I have been using my Elkskin Gauntlets and Insulated Triple Digit Glove Covers for over a year and they have held up well despite becoming stained and darker with time and use.

Don't forget you head and neck. A good full face helmet will help keep your head warm even at interstate speeds. However you may wish to add a balaclava under the helmet for more extreme temperatures. A fleece neck gator is always a good idea during the winter. Major arteries and veins are near the surface of your neck and present a potential heat sink.

If you have questions about cold weather riding or gear please use the contact button below. Vendors are welcomed to submit products for testing.

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