Big Ed's Tips for Winter Riding
It's cold, it's wet, it's windy. Yep it's winter in Britain again. But that doesn't mean the bike should stay tucked up safe in the garage. By taking a few simple steps you can still get out there and enjoy your bike!
Step One: Maintenance
Always worth giving your bike a good check over if your going out in adverse conditions. If the old girls on form you'll stand a much better chance out there! Lights, tyres and brakes should be your first point of call.
Lights: You want to be seen on those dark winter mornings and evenings, make sure all your stop lamps are working as well as dipped and full beam.
Tyres: The condition of your tyres can really effect how your bike handles on the road and in bad weather this can make a real difference. Check for uneven wear and also the thread depth. MOT standards require 1mm. Also if your tyres are new make sure you've given them a good 200 mile run in as the sheen that comes on new tyres could leave you a cropper.
Brakes: Very important to check into because you don't want to end up in a situation where you can't stop! Check your fluid levels (hydraulic brakes) and top up where necessary. If the fluid looks dark in colour and you're finding your brakes feel spongy it may be worth flushing the system and filling with new fluid. This can be a bit of a job what with bleeding the brakes etc so only attempt if you're feeling confident, if not pop it into your local garage. Pads also need a good look over. Check for uneven wear and if the pad material is low.
With those three main points out the way you'll just want to have a good look round the bike. Lubricate all the moving parts and places that the weather is going to get into. Even grease up some points if you wish. Anything to keep your baby protected.
Step Two: Extra Gear
There are lots of little extras you can get to help you at this time of year, making you more comfortable and safer when riding.
Heated Grips: Now I know some people will turn there noses up at this but I can tell you if you're riding all year round heated grips are a lifesaver. Your hands and fingers are right at the extremes of your body and extended out when you're on a bike. Not only that but they are getting all the wind and weather your fairing can't hide. Even the best gloves will give eventually. Heated grips give you warm/hot hands whatever the weather. This is going to help with your concentration and riding. We've all tried to warm the hands up on the engine but if you can keep them warm and on the handlebars you'll be winning. I'm telling you; don't knock it until you've tried it! You can pick up reasonably good sets for quite cheap too if you shop around. If you fit them yourself run them through the ignition switch rather than straight off the battery (as instructions will probably recommend) because if you forget to turn them off you'll end up with a flat battery. Running them through the switch means they'll be off when the bikes off.
Muffs: I've never actually used muffs myself (couldn't handle the look of the things) but I've heard they're fantastic. Basically they are just padded waterproof pockets fitted to your handlebars to slot your hands into. Marry this with heated grips and your hands will be as toasty as... well toast.
Waterproofs/leathers: It's always worth buying into so decent warm wet gear when out this time of year. Concentration will be lost through being cold and you need to be switched on all the time especially if there's ice about. There are great ranges of clothing for motorcyclists out there these days at affordable prices. Shop around and find the best stuff for you bearing in mind you want to be warm and dry. Weise offer a good range, take a look!
Snow Spikes and Chains: If you're feeling really confident even when there's snow on the ground you can still get out. Snow spikes and chains are readily available for most bikes. They'll give you that extra grip you're after if the white stuff comes.
Step Three: Out on the road
So you've checked over the bike, collected together some extra gear and now you're venturing out. I'd always check the weather forecast before you head out just to make sure there's not a blizzard approaching, unless that's what you're after of course. But I wouldn't recommend it. You could have a snowmobile but they'll still be that idiot who slams on his brakes, locks his wheels and slides into you. People cannot drive in snow anymore it seems...
Generally check the road surface before you go out and when riding. If it's a frosty morning/evening or it's been raining, they'll be the possibility of ice or even worse, the invisible black ice. These pose the biggest danger for you when you're out as the bike can jump out from under you searching for grip, if you do have a slide be prepared for when the grip returns. Best Advice I can give is don't fight it, let the bike sort itself out and try to stay upright.
These days the road gets a good spreading of that horrible salt mixture. Which to be honest does a good job of clearing snow and ice but does leave a sort of slush which can be slippery anyway. Just be aware of it. It will also cover your bike in grime so try and give her a good wash down every week or the salts going to start eating away at metal components.
Last point and sounds simple I know but just adjust your riding style to meet the conditions. Go careful, always being aware of the road surface and people around you. Bad weather tends to make the roads busier and also more dangerous especially if visibility is being affected. Take account for your stopping distances, always give more room. I ride all year round with my lights on, even in the day. It's just going to give people something else to see.
Well those are my winter riding tips, be careful out there and most of all have fun!
14.12.12 - Big Ed