As Artic explorer Alfred Wainwright once said ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing’ and riding in winter can be just as enjoyable as any other season, assuming that you’ve got the right gear and a correct frame of mind.
In winter there is far less traffic, especially around coastal holiday spots, and you’re not constantly stuck behind Mr. Caravan. There is less foliage and leaves on trees, which makes the roads appear more open, you can look across and through corners. And finally, winter can have its own beauty, the North Yorkshire Moors in the late winter sun are breathtaking, while the snow-capped hills of the Lake District can be just blissful. But, before you head out, check out our guide to staying warm and dry this winter.
Keep your body warm – Think of your body as a central heating system, with your heart being the boiler. Keep the boiler, your torso, warm and it will pump heat (blood) to everywhere else. When your toes and fingers get cold that is your body’s natural instinctive way to keep warm. Your body finds it hard to pump warm blood to the areas furthest away from your heart, fingers, and toes, so they get cold first, plus they are more exposed. Rather than buying better gloves and boots, simply turn up the heat of the boiler by keeping your torso as warm as possible with multiple layers and/or heated kit. It really works, your hands and feet are usually cold because you’ve let your ‘core’ body temperature drop too much. Heated bodywarmers are ace!
Water-resistant versus waterproof – There is a difference. Waterproof gloves and boots should be submergible, you should be able to put your hand or foot in a bucket of water and stay dry. Water-resistant, repels water but is not 100% waterproof. Check the labels when buying new kit.
Layers – Layer up to keep warm, it’s not just a case of spending a fortune on a quality jacket or gloves. A quality thermal undersuit can be just as effective, again keeping your core warm. Additionally, check out purchasing thermal socks and inner gloves, a simple yet cost-effective way of beating the cold.
Heated kit– I swear by heated kit, it’s transformed my winter riding, I can ride for longer and in more comfort, as I don’t have to rely on bulky wintery kit, which can be cumbersome at times. Again, keep your core warm, so opt for a heated waistcoat or jacket. There are many options on the market, some plug into the bike while others work from a battery pack which fits in an inside pocket.
Heated grips – Again a huge benefit in winter and allows less cumbersome gloves. Some bikes will have these fitted OE, some models will require aftermarket items. These can be fitted to most bikes in around an hour. If you’re not comfortable fitting heated grips yourself a local dealer will be able to accommodate.
Wind protection – The ambient temperature may be around freezing but, combined with the wind blast it will be considerably less. As speed increases, so does the wind chill. Simple and relatively cheap solutions can make a huge difference. Handguards and handlebar muffs are a cheaper alternative to heated grips. Increasing the size of the screen on a sports or touring bike deflects the icy wind more effectively. Even fitting a fly screen or similar to naked bikes makes an impact. Scooter riders can invest in a specialised blanket, which are popular in Europe, as they keep your lower half warm and dry.
Windy – You need to keep the wind out, make sure everything is fastened correctly and try not to rush getting kitted up. If possible, try to purchase a jacket that zips to the trousers. Make sure your neck and cuffs are securely fastened to stop drafts. In winter I always use a quality neck tube or thermal neck warmer. In the old days, I used to push a newspaper or magazine down my front, because the zip on my jacket was so poor, if money is tight it does work and again keeps the boiler warm.
Gloves (under or over?) – There is an argument for both. With gloves inside your jacket, inside the cuff, you risk a draft up the arm. However, when the gloves go over your jacket, cuffs inside the gloves, rainwater rolls down your jacket and into your gloves. So do check the weather forecast. If you can make the gap between your jacket and gloves air-tight, then cuffs over the glove, that way rain can’t run into your gloves. If not and it’s dry, do the opposite.
Helmet – Touring helmets are less drafty than sports helmets, fact, so consider making the switch if you use a race type helmet in warmer weather. Secondly, a balaclava makes a huge difference to your warmth. The first time I tried a balaclava in winter it was a revelation. You can pick one up for less than £10 and they make a huge difference.