By Mark Yager
Gadget Note: Mark Yager is long-time motorcycle enthusiast, Mark is currently an instructor at the Canada Safety Council.
Also see "Cold Weather Riding" and "Feel The Heat! Cold & Wet Weather Riding Protection"
Adverse Weather Riding Gear
September. Get the kids back to school, pay off the Visa from that annual vacation, watch the Christmas marketing arise, and put the bike away until next May. What?!
If you have been around the motorcycle world for any length of time, you have probably found that there are two types of riders when it comes to dealing with the weather. Those who ride during the summer and those of us who ride year-round. Riding for twelve months of the year is not possible in all areas of North America or the world, but I happen to live in a place where the bike goes off the road around December 20 and back on about January 5. Regardless of how long your riding season is, you must be prepared for inclememt weather when you ride. Proper cold weather gear is absolutely essential if you want to stay warm and dry (and therefore safe!).
Let's start from the inside and work out. In dressing for cold weather, begin with long undies. Make sure you get a set that is long enough in the torso and legs so that they don't ride up when you bend over to grab the bars -- that leads to the dreaded cold-draft-up-the-back syndrome. Next, a long sleeve shirt and warm pants. Of course, don't forget warm socks. It's very easy to forget about your feet until they freeze. Now we come to one of the best inventions in the world of motorcycling next to front brakes. That is, of course, the electric vest. For those of you who have never worn one, an electric vest is a lightly quilted vest that plugs into your bike's electrical system. The better models have a rheostat that controls the amount of heat produced by the vest as well as an on/off switch. They usually cost around $100 and are worth every penny. The only time I ride without my vest is on the sunny summer days. All other times, I have it with me, just in case. Some manufacturers also have vests that have a high collar so your neck won't get cold. Electric chaps are also available, as are electric handlebar grips.
The next level of protection is a good jacket. A high quality, comfortable jacket is one of the most sought-after accessories for any experienced motorcyclist. We put a lot of demands on our jackets, and the manufacturers have caught on to this fact by responding with a versatile product line that does more than just cover. If you can only afford one, pick a jacket that is, above all, tough. If you go down, something is going to have to be sacrificed to the pavement, and it may as well be some other hide than your own. Jackets must also be comfortable. When trying one on, make sure you sit on your bike with it on before deciding whether it fits or not. Be careful that the jacket is long enough in the torso and the arms. A jacket that is too thin or bulky will flap and balloon in the wind which will make you tired and reduce your body's ability to keep you warm. The best jackets have a zip-out quilted lining for winter, and venting for summer. Also look for a high collar that will keep the wind out of your neck area, and ensure the collar snaps or zips up all the way to the top. Little features are important, too. Things like double cuffs so wind doesn't get up around your wrists, and a good wind-flap over the main zipper.
A very good alternative is an Aerostitch suit. These are one or two piece suits that are made out of cordura nylon. These are probably the best suits built for motorcyclists. The one piece will run you around $640 and the two piece around $680 (US). They feature at least a dozen removable T- foam armour pads, lots of sizes at at least 15 colours. Get one if you can afford one, if not then buy a good leather jacket. If you can't afford leather, then don't ride until you can.
Insulated pants or chaps are a very good investment if you do any sort of cool weather riding. There are a few of the non-electric species around. The better ones are made of cordura nylon, and are usually coated to be rain resistant (not usually water proof). They are easy to get on and off, are comfortable, and won't leave you with cold legs. These also function as added abrasion protection.
These are another of the absolute essential items every rider must have. Gloves can be split into two basic categories, summer and winter. Summer gloves are the leather, uninsulated type to protect your hands from abrasion should you fall. Winter gloves must provide that protection as well as protect against cold and rain. Winter gloves must be insulated with Dupont Thinsulate ® or some other material. Don't buy gloves that are too bulky in the palm lest you lose the feel of the bike and its controls. Make sure that your gloves have long gauntlet type cuffs that will fit over your jacket sleeves to ensure no wind gets up your arms. Most winter gloves are at least water resistant. Some have a little zip-up compartment in the cuff area which houses a waterproof cover should you get cought in a sudden downpour. Get gloves that have a felt strip on the index finger on the left hand. This allows you to wipe water from your visor without scratching it. As with all gloves, summer or winter, make sure that there are no rough seams in the palm area. If you ride for a couple hours with a seam between your hand and the grip, you'll feel it.
Tricks and Tips
One article I am never without is something to protect my neck from the cold. Whether it's a commercial or home-made model, a lot of riders consider it an essential piece of cold weather riding equipment. The simplest kinds are a felt type material cut into a bandanna shape where the ends connect together at the back of your neck. This keeps wind from coming in and going up your helmet or down your jacket. Some of the more elaborate models actually fasten onto the bottom of your helmet and form a seal from your helmet to your chest. Very effective. Balaclavas can be also very nice. You can buy them in silk or numerous synthetic materials. They are like hoods that pull over your head and extend to your chest. When buying a neck insulator, ensure that it has enough material to reach to your chest, or else it'll come untucked from your collar when you shoulder check or look up.
The best way to handle any kind of emergency is not to let it happen in the first place. Of course, that's not always possible, especially if you live in a place with mountains where the weather can change every mile or so. It is extremely important to keep warm. When your body decides that it's cold, the blood starts getting divereted away from the surface of your body and towards the vital organs. As the cold worsens, the body will start to shut down some of the functions that it deems non-essential. One of the first things to get axed is the judgement functions. Eventually, you can't move your fingers and toes and your mind is operating on autopilot. Obviously a very dangerous situation for any motorcyclist. If you find yourself getting cold, stop at the next available pull-out. If this happens to be a restaurant, great. Take some time and warm up. Don't just inhale a cup of coffee and think that's good enough. Have something to eat to give your body some energy so it can keep itself warm. If it's getting on the cold side but really isn't that bad yet, take some preventative medicine. Buy a newspaper and spread it out in layers between your jacket and sweater. It'll make a very effective wind block, though it has very little insulation value. If you can keep your torso warm, it will help keep the rest of you warm as your blood can warm up in your chest every time it circulates before going back to the colder extremities.
Above all, think about what you are doing. Is it worth the risk to your life to get to your destination on time? Plan ahead. Consider the conditions you will may be riding in. Use the worst case scenario (what's the worst weather I might encounter) and dress for that. You can always remove some layers later, or add some if you brought them. Take it from us, buy the best. The best equipment will be safer, last longer, look better, and will be more comfortable than a similar article of dubious manufacture.
This is an assortment of various sources for some of the gear mentioned above. There are many more distributors of riding equipment than this. Visit a reputable dealer in your area for more information.
- Aerostich Riderwear - Free catalogue call 1-800-222-1994 or write to Aerostich Riderwear, 8 South 18th Ave. West, Duluth, MN 55806.
- Jackets and gloves - Roadgear: call 24hrs 1-800-854-4327 for free catalogue. Also Vent-Tech at 1-800-331-8408 for free catalogue.
- Insulated pants/chaps- Maveric Mt., Inc at 1-800-822-4212 for information.
- Widder 'Lectric Heat (vests, etc.)- For info call 1-800-WYBCOLD in the US, (805)640-1295 outside US.