Should you put your bike into hibernation for the colder months, or brave the weather and continue to commute to work? As someone who previously didn’t ride much in winter, I decided to challenge myself this year and commute for a month on two wheels. Here’s what I learned.
Commuting by motorcycle has plenty of benefits, from being cost-effective to giving you the ability to filter through heavy traffic, there’s good reason why you should seriously consider it. But, the downsides are pretty damning if you’re not prepared. The cold, wet and dark mornings put many off, but there are a few tips that you can employ that will make your daily rides more than bearable, and even enjoyable.
For my first ‘ride-right-through-winter’ I discovered these five tips to make the experience as positive as possible.
Choosing your motorcycle
Yes, you can of course commute on any style of motorcycle, but some are a lot better suited than others. So, if you’re thinking about doing it, especially all year round, you want something that’s up to the job.
To make it as comfortable and as safe as possible, you’re better off choosing a touring or adventure style bike if your place of work is a bit of a distance. The riding position these bikes have allows for ultimate comfort, the fuel range is good, as well as wind and weather protection thanks to their rugged designs. You don’t have to break the bank either, just read our "Five top winter commuters for under £2k" for some inspiration.
Over the past month though, I’ve been riding the excellent Triumph Tiger 900 GT Pro. It has dealt with everything thrown at it with ease, from minus temperatures first thing in the morning thanks to its heated seat and grips, to munching motorway miles made easy with its cruise control, and giving shed-loads of confidence on winding country roads and in town thanks to the updated chassis and the way it carries its weight, making it feel light and nimble.
Talking of confidence-inspiring, the inclusion of five different riding modes, as well as optimised cornering traction control and ABS on the Triumph gave me a feeling I was in safe hands, and that I had a safety net should I lose traction or needed to apply the brakes particularly hard in iffy conditions.
If your commute’s quite long and includes motorway work, as mine does, a bigger capacity motor like the 900 means you won’t be stressing the engine and it’ll make for a more comfortable journey, for both you and the bike. Tyres are important too, of course, so you want to make sure you have a set that has good wet and cold weather performance.
If your commute to work is short, you might want to consider something super practical, like a scooter. Watch our scooter comparison test for some decent options.
But ultimately, choose something that’s within your budget and right for your circumstances, and you won’t go far wrong. Equipment like heated grips, cruise control and riding modes are nice-to-haves. If you’re happy to go without those luxuries, you’ll save some pennies.
Riding gear and luggage
You need some good waterproof and thermal riding gear if you’re going to be commuting throughout the cold and wet months. Summer kit simply doesn’t cut it, unfortunately. It’s often too vented and doesn’t tend to be waterproof, so it’s a good idea to invest in some decent winter kit if you haven’t got any already.
And good doesn’t necessarily translate into expensive. You can get a full set of textiles, gloves and boots for around £350 if you shop around. I’ve been using the RST Atlas textile jacket and trousers which are fully waterproof and keep you warm, which have been put to the test properly on more than a few occasions in recent weeks! The liners can be removed, so you can use the gear in warmer weather, too, if you plan to ride all year round.
Gloves and boots are equally important, as it’s not just uncomfortable if you’ve got cold and wet hands and feet, it’s unsafe as well, as you rely on them for controlling the motorcycle, from braking to changing gear. The last thing you want to be focusing on while riding is how cold and wet you are, rather than on the road in front of you.
If you want to spend a bit more on your kit, you can get heated gear too, like gloves and jackets that are either battery powered, or that can be powered directly from your bike. The Tiger 900 GT Pro has two 12v outlets which is really handy, one just under the 7” TFT colour dash for the rider, and one just below the pillion seat (intended for the pillion, of course).
If you’re carrying a laptop, chargers or a spare set of clothes, make sure you invest in a good waterproof bag, too. You can get a decent one for around £50, or alternatively, if your bike can carry a top box, that’ll work just fine.
Commuting by motorcycle in the winter requires a mindset change, especially if you’re a regular summer-only rider. You’ll likely be used to more than enough grip, a good feel from the bike and good visibility.
During the winter, all of that is flipped on its head – good grip is at a premium, cold, wet and mucky roads means feel is diminished and the dark mornings and early evenings coupled with mist, fog, or spray (or all three) require a lot more focus.
In the cold and wet, braking distances increase, and as you’ll likely be riding during peak times means there’ll be a load more traffic on the road. The most important thing to remember is to always ride to the conditions, and give yourself plenty of room on the road, and should anything unexpected happen, you’ve got time to react accordingly.
If you’ve ridden in the wet before, you’ll know just how grim your pride and joy can get with all the road muck spraying all over the bike, as well as your kit.
The roads are wet and salty, and country roads are often muddy at this time of year, so regular cleaning and maintenance of both your machine and riding kit is an absolute must. Otherwise, corrosion will set in, and both your bike and kit won’t last as long as you’d hoped. Also keep an eye on your helmet, especially the visor, as it will take the brunt of any spray and will need to be in tip-top condition to cope with the cold and low visibility conditions.
A bit of extra motivation is certainly needed, especially when it’s dark and cold, but the effort will pay off in the long run. If using your motorcycle daily, you should aim for giving it a good spray down to get rid of all that grime a few times a week, and giving it a thorough clean at weekends.
Finally, if you are considering commuting throughout winter, then making sure you have good breakdown cover is a lifesaver. No one plans to get a puncture, have a flat battery or break down, but it happens and is even more likely in winter.
Having decent breakdown cover can definitely get you out of trouble, and give you the ultimate peace of mind should the unexpected happen. That’s why all of our Carole Nash motorcycle insurance policies include UK and European breakdown cover as standard.
Words: Andrew Luckie
Picture and video: Too Fast Media