A guide to winter motorcycle riding

Darker mornings and nights, icy roads and bad weather can be challenging when riding your motorbike in the winter. But with the right equipment, slight modifications to riding style and some good old common sense, there’s no reason to be put off. Here are some top tips for winter motorcycle riding.

Darker mornings and nights, icy roads and bad weather can be challenging when riding your motorbike in the winter. But with the right equipment, slight modifications to riding style and some good old common sense, there’s no reason to be put off. Here are some top tips for winter motorcycle riding.

Julie Daniels
Insurance expert
6
minute read
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Posted 23 OCTOBER 2019 Last Updated 16 FEBRUARY 2022

Essential tips for winter motorcycle riding

1. Choose the right winter riding gear 

When you consider that at 0°C the wind chill can feel like -10°C when you’re riding at 50mph, the right gear is essential for keeping out the cold. 

While all weather clothes like one-piece leathers are ideal for extreme winter temperatures, they don’t come cheap and you could end up spending thousands of pounds. If you haven’t got money to burn, layering up properly can keep you just as warm and comfortable. 

What you’ll need: 

  • Thermal base layers – some sports brands can be just as effective and are often cheaper
  • A neck warmer or snood – can make a big difference on short to medium distance rides
  • Motorcycle jacket – in wet weather, waterproof textiles with a warm lining can be more practical than leathers
  • Motorcycle boots – it’s worth investing in a good pair of waterproof boots and some decent quality motorcycle socks
  • Insulated gloves – these are not to be skimped on. Well-insulated, good quality gloves should keep your fingers warm while still allowing you to shift gear and brake with ease
  • Heated grips – on crisp winter mornings, the cold can seep into even the thickest gloves, so heated grips could be a luxury well worth investing in
  • High-vis gear – you need to be as visible as possible on dark winter days and nights, so reflective materials are a must.
Did you know?
Some insurance providers may consider fitting ‘heating grips’ as a modification. If you’re planning on installing some, check with your provider first as it could affect your insurance or even invalidate your policy.

2. Keep your battery charged

Cold temperatures can take their toll on your battery, so you may need to charge it more frequently during the winter. Regular long runs should keep it fully charged. But if you don’t want to travel too far, a trickle charger should also do the job.

3. Check and lubricate your chain 

It’s important that your bike responds well in slippery weather, so make sure your chain tension is set correctly. 

Cleaning and lubricating your bike’s chain should also be a regular job during the winter. Trapped moisture can freeze in below-zero temperatures. This could cause slower acceleration and even snap the chain. Regular cleaning and a good lubricant should reduce the risk of your chain icing up.

4. Check your tyres 

Another essential maintenance job is taking good care of your tyres. Make sure you regularly check your motorbike’s tyre pressure and ensure there’s plenty of tread. It’s vital to have a good depth tread when tackling the icy or slushy roads that inevitably come with the cold winter months. Under UK law, motorbike tires must have a minimum tread depth of 1mm.

Top tip
Always check your tyre pressure when your motorbike tyres are cold rather than straight after a ride. This is because the air inside can warm up and expand while you’re riding, giving a higher than normal reading.

Check your bike’s handbook to find out what the recommended pressure level should be. 

5. Clean your motorbike 

It might seem a lot of bother, especially when it’s cold, but it’s important to wash and clean your bike after every ride in the winter. Dirt and grime can build up, causing your bike to rust. Salt used to grit the roads in icy weather can be especially nasty and corrosive. 

Pay particular attention to cleaning your lights and check them to make sure they’re working. And don’t forget to top up the anti-freeze.

6. Warm up properly 

When you ride in colder temperatures, you should warm up your motorcycle by running the engine for 30 seconds to a minute before your journey. It can take 15 minutes for your engine to warm up on the road, depending on the driving conditions.

7. Respect the winter elements 

As a biker, you’re already acutely aware of cars and pedestrians, and have probably felt invisible at some point out on the roads.

Add in any of the following winter driving elements and you know you’re facing extra challenges: 

  • Black ice 
  • Slippery surfaces 
  • Leaf falls 
  • Fog 
  • Low winter sun
  • Heavy rain and snow 

But don’t panic. The key is to respect the elements. 

  • Ride slower than you would in normal circumstances
  • Position yourself in the middle of your lane to allow for any unexpectedly strong gusts of wind
  • Leave as much space between yourself and other vehicles as you can

8. Keep your distance 

Remember that on wet and icy roads you’ll need longer to slow and stop your motorcycle. What’s more, increasing the distance to the vehicle in front will mean less spray from its wheels. 

Also be aware that increased concentration can lead to tiredness – so be sure to allow for added rest breaks in winter.

9. Get motorbike breakdown cover 

The last thing you want is to be stranded on a freezing cold road in the middle of winter. The right motorbike breakdown cover will ensure that help is on the way if things go wrong.

Frequently asked questions

What is black ice?

Black ice isn’t black. It’s actually a thin, transparent layer of ice that forms on the road, showing the black asphalt below. Black ice can be deadly because you can’t see it so you might not be prepared for it. Black ice is caused by wet road surfaces freezing when the air temperature falls below zero.

If you’re taking your bike out in icy weather, be extra careful in areas that are prone to black ice. These could include:

  • Bridges and overpasses exposed to cold air and wind
  • Hilly areas where there’s more chance of snowfall and melting snow
  • Shady areas that get less sun, like roads with overhanging trees
  • Congested roads – water vapour from the exhausts of slow-moving vehicles can create black ice on the road surface in freezing weather.

Look out for warning signs like ‘slippery when wet’ if you’re riding on unfamiliar roads.

Should I get winter tyres for my motorbike?

You’re not legally required to fit winter tyres in the colder months and weather in the UK isn’t extreme enough for it to be necessary. But if you’re taking your bike to Europe in the winter, check what the legal requirements are for the countries you’re visiting.

Are there motorbike training courses for winter riding?

There are a number of advanced motorbike training courses available to help you improve your skills and become more confident on the roads. 

While courses aren’t specifically focused on winter riding, they can equip you with the knowledge and skills to deal with bad weather conditions and other hazards on the roads. An accredited motorcycle training course might even get you a discount on your insurance premium. 

Find out more about accredited motorbike training programmes here.

Where should I keep my motorcycle in winter?

If possible, you should always try to store your motorbike securely and park it off-road on your driveway or in a garage.

Storing your bike safely in a garage might bring down your insurance premium. It can also protect it from the elements. If you only have a driveway, a bike cover could also offer some degree of protection. 

If you decide not to ride your bike over the winter and don’t want to tax and insure it during that time, you must keep it off the road and declare a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN).

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