Winter Riding Tips

As winter approaches, many motorcyclists are making plans to put their beloved bikes away and take shelter until spring once again thaws the planet. For hardier riders, however, there is an alternative. Year round riding is an option even in northern climates like Canada. This is especially true if you live in an urban centre like Toronto where the streets are rapidly cleared after a snowfall.

I hear many objections when I speak of winter riding. It’s too cold, the icy roads make it dangerous, the salt will damage my bike. I’ve been riding year round in Toronto for several years and have found none of these objections insurmountable  

Its true that road salt can be damaging to a motorcycle. If you have a fancy new sport bike, or an older classic, I recommend putting it away for the winter, but why not pick up a junk bike for winter riding? There are lots of used motorcycles that can see you through the winter without breaking the bank. The aim is to have cheap transportation and fun year round. Consider getting an older, small displacement motorcycle. A duosport with knobby tires will even get you through a snowstorm and offer the option of some off road fun as a bonus. A lighter, less powerful bike will be less likely to spin out and easier to recover if it does. You can help to protect the motorcycle from salt and rust by spraying with a protectant at the start of the season. If you do ride through some heavy salt, spray down the bike after the ride. 

Since you’ll be riding it year round, you can skip the storage tips, but I’d recommend ensuring the tires are good and giving it a fresh oil change in the fall. Check your manual for the correct oil viscosity for cold weather. 10W40 usually works well in all weather, but a lighter weight oil like 5W40 is an option, just remember to change it in the spring. As for tires, check that they have lots of tread. If not, replace them. Winter rated tires are available for motorcycles and are mandatory in some places, like Quebec, during the winter. It’s a good idea to wash the bike and wax it as well at the start of the season. If possible rinse it off after riding during the winter. Spraying your motorcycle with an anti-rust product like ACF-50 can also help. If you leave the motorcycle out in the cold, it’s important to maintain the battery. A discharged battery can freeze in cold weather, so invest in a smart charger to keep the battery charged when not in use. If the motorcycle is liquid cooled, make sure the antifreeze is fresh. If you haven’t changed it in years, now is a good time. 

Ice is the enemy of safe winter riding. As much as possible, ride only when the roads are dry, or the temperature is above freezing. Remember, icing is more likely in low lying  areas and on bridges  so keep an eye out for ice when the temperature is close to freezing. If you encounter some ice on a straightaway, try to relax, don’’t brake but ease up on the throttle to gradually slow down until you’re through it. If going slowly you can use your feet to stop a skid. If you encounter ice on a curve, ease up on the gas and try to go as straight as you can through it, but be prepared to spin out. Fortunately, you were taking the corner slow, right?

Winter riding can be cold. Wind chill can make 32F feel like -4F at 55 mph. Wear warm, windproof gear, and the warmest gloves you can get. A good motorcycle jacket will do a better job than your regular street wear at blocking the wind. Don’t forget your legs. Kevlar lined jeans are great for crash protection, but a good pair of nylon riding pants will cut the wind better and often come with a thermal liner like these Sentry 3 pants from Olympia. Electrically heated grips or heated gloves can be a life saver. Another option are these hand guards from Barkbuster. They keep your hands warm and out of the wind. Thermal under layers can keep you warm even in the coldest weather. If you’re taking a longer trip, there are several brands of electrically heated gear to ward off hypothermia. They will ward off hypothermia and can be powered off the bike’s battery. Just be sure that there is no snow in the forecast before you leave.

Summer is too short in Canada. That doesn’t mean you have to give up riding when the leaves fall. With proper preparation, you can enjoy riding year round. 

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