I’m a New Englander, so if I want to get in a good year of riding I have to ride every day there is no snow on the ground. That means for two months in the Fall and two months in the Spring I ride in temps that range between 50 and 15 degrees.
If you’re living in Florida, just skip to the next thread but if you have been caught in temps that numbed you to the bone no matter where you live, then read on.
What’s a Ride? … When I say riding in the cold, I don’t mean hopping on the bike at noon and riding 10 miles down the road to the nearest warm building. I mean rolling out just after the sun comes up, riding all day and coming home sometimes, after dark.
You know, 8 to 10 hours outdoors, most of it on the bike.
I’ve learned a lot doing this kind of riding and I thought I’d share it with you… one, for your safety and two, for your enjoyment.
Wind Chill Factor… Just the quick basics.
A 30 degree day on a motorcycle feels like it’s 6 degrees below zero.
A 20 degree day, at 45 miles an hour feels like 22 degrees below zero.
Not the kind of weather where you can stay out all day in the wind without proper protection.
Hypothermia… Can you get it? Oh yes you can and it can injure you, sometimes dramatically.
Medical Definition of Mild Hypothermia:
The body’s core temperature has dropped to 35 - 34 degrees Celsius ( 95 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit ). Uncontrolled, intense shivering begins. The victim is still alert and able to help self, however movements become less coordinated and the coldness is creating some pain and discomfort.
What is most important to the motorcycle rider is "movements become less coordinated". Have you ever been so cold that you had a hard time pulling the clutch in? Or shifting? Or starting from a standing start without stalling the bike? Have you ever been so cold you dropped the bike when you came to a routine stop?
Have you ever gotten home, got inside were still cold and it took hours to warm up? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions then you were probably experiencing the first signs of hypothermia.
Rules for Staying Warm …
No Exposed Skin. At 20 below zero (wind chill) human tissue cannot replenish it’s heat source fast enough to avoid frostbite. For really cold weather riding the first rule is to cover everything... the face and neck are very important.
Heat Your Extremities. The human body has a predictable shut-down sequence when faced with hypothermia. It’s shuts down the blood flow to the extremities first. This means hands and feet, then arms and legs. In extreme cases the torso is next and finally the body saves whatever heat is left over for the brain in a desperate attempt to, at least, keep the brain alive. So…. Good gloves and socks are critical for cold weather riding. Most of my friends have Gerbings electric gloves, some with thermostats.
Because we ride cruisers, our hands and feet are completely out in the breeze, unlike the Gold Wing guys and others behind full fairings.
Heat Your Torso. Once the extremities are warm the next thing to attend to is keeping your core body temperature up. For some people, multiple layers of clothes including PolarFleece and down insulation is enough. Personally, I had my jacket liner heated by Gerbings because the liner included a nifty heated neck warmer that tucks in neatly underneath my full-face helmet. If I feel a bit chilled, a simple twist of the thermostat can take care of it.
Darkness is Different. At 30 degrees there is a huge difference in how warm you feel if you are in the sun or if it is dark out. This is worth remembering when you are 100 miles from home, are getting chilled and the sun is going down, because you are going to be very uncomfortable for that next 100 miles. You have to have enough cold weather gear to insure you can handle a perceived 20 degree temperature drop for a couple of hours because that’s what it feels like when the sun goes down on a cold night.
Block the Wind. The wind chill factor reduces the apparent temperature on your body by 30 to 40 degrees. You can negate some of this effect by blocking the wind with a fairing, windshield, oversized lowers and a full-face helmet.
That’s all there is to it! Please feel free to use any or all of these hints when preparing for a long winter ride. It could save your life.
Keith Bettencourt "BlackMagic’" 99 Road Star