BABY IT’S COLD OUT THERE!
Summer’s over, so it’s time to pack away the bike, right? Like hell. Winter riding has its own rewards and there’s nothing tricky about getting ready for the cold end of the year. Let’s take a walk through the basics…
One thing that has changed dramatically over the years is the greater range and use of synthetic materials in riding gear, which has had a couple of effects. Firstly, you really can get windproof gear and, secondly, it’s surprisingly cheap. However, I recommend you go to a real shop to buy it.
The difference is whether you end up with something cheap, or something cheap and nasty. Having sampled some apparently bargain-basement, internet-sourced gear in recent years, I’ve been unimpressed.
The fact is there’s such a big range of locally available brands, there’s no drama walking in with a tight budget and coming out with something reasonable. More money will buy newer materials, nicer tailoring, probably greater longevity and bigger brand names.
None of that is strictly necessary, but there is a feel-good factor.
Fit is absolutely crucial – again, a reason to buy the old-fashioned way, so you know you have the right stuff because you’ve tried it on. Poor fit means cold and rain will get in sooner. So, apart from fit, what should you be looking for?
Leather isn’t ideal in cold weather as it’s a poor insulator, so you’re almost certainly going synthetic. Zipout jacket liners and CE-approved armour for the spine, elbows and knees are worthwhile and pretty standard these days.
Zip-together, two-piece suits tend to be the most draft-free, though a combo of pants and longish jacket with plenty of overlap when you’re sitting down will be fine. Yep, try them sitting down, because that’s how you’ll be using them.
What else? If it’s going to be cold, plan on multiple layers. Thermal underwear works well and you might be surprised at how good decent socks are. Woollen work socks are great, though the world champions, in my experience, are ‘Sockz’ sold by Andy Strapz (visit website here). His other riding clothing is good, too.
The idea of layers is, in part, you can adjust according to the changing conditions. Plus, ideally, you want an under-layer that will wick away moisture from your body, and a breathable top layer that won’t allow your weather-proof jacket to act like a giant oven bag.
Neck coverage is good, with neck ‘socks’ becoming popular.
When it comes to helmets, fogging is the big issue. The most effective product out there seems to be FogCity, which is an acrylic sheet that sticks inside your visor. It stops the fogging, but will probably need changing each year. Also, if your full-face helmet came with a breath guard, now’s the time to fit it.
The only area where layers don’t work is gloves. Undergloves are available, but I’m suspicious of the effect they have on your grip within the main glove. My favourite trick is to carry two sets of gloves in winter, if one gets wet. In any case, good fit is critical, ideally with a gauntlet that’s large enough to fit over the cuff of your jacket to seal out the wind.
Though the temperature difference between summer and winter in this country is hardly catastrophic, it’s enough to create a couple of issues. The main one? This is when your battery is going to keel over. The oil in the bike is going to be a little heavier, while the battery itself will be suffering a little, conspiring to make that early morning start just a little tougher.
If your battery has been a bit iffy up to now, plan on changing it.
It’s also that time of year when road surface grip is going to be down and, in much of the country, patchy.
That means tyres are going to be an issue as well. Wear and age are your killers here. Old rubber (over seven years is an industry benchmark) loses its flexibility and grip, while wear means thinner treads that won’t cut through water the way it should.
I’m inclined to go with the best and softest rubber you can afford if you’re planning a fair bit of riding over the colder months. It’s cheap insurance.
Wet roads have a wonderful way of throwing grime and fine gravel into your driveline so this is a good time to give your chain the occasional wipe with a rag soaked in kerosene and treat it to a fresh lube. It will love you for it and last measurably longer.
Now hit the accessory section of the local bike shop, assuming the wallet can cope. If you’re riding in cold climes, look for a set of heated handgrips. The difference they make on a bitter day defies belief.
If you have a naked bike, a set of dirtbike-style hand protectors can do wonders, breaking the worst of the wind-chill factor.
And, since we’ve raised the topic of windbreaks, you might be surprised just how effective even a small flyscreen can be once the mercury has plummeted.
For many parts of the country, this is the time of year when you’re going to hit cold, wet and crappy surfaces. Your bike is often more capable than you give it credit for in these circumstances, though a bit more space and a smooth riding style are good precautions.
In any case, to follow is my patented guide to riding on a wet winter’s day. Here’s rule number one: if it looks slippery, it is.
Mirror-like surfaces on wet roads are poison and I don’t care how sharp your skills are or how grippy the tyres – slick is just slick.
Right, having got over that, let’s have a squiz at some of the clues you should be looking for on the road.
Painted and metal surfaces are hazardous as is the centreline of your lane, because that’s where the rest of the traffic dumps oil. You should always ride in one of the wheel tracks, almost regardless of the conditions, because they’re swept clean by other vehicle’s tyres. The only exception is the odd polished patch (usually a surface repair), which can make the centre track a better option.
You also need to understand what happens when it rains. If the dump is the first after a long dry spell, the road is being washed of the ingrained oil and diesel, which will form a nice little slick. Time to slow down.
If it’s been raining for a while the tarmac will have been washed clean and will supply a surprisingly high level of grip.
Now for a couple more clues. Is the road cambered? If not, it won’t drain and aquaplaning becomes possible. Is there a hill or cliff on one side of the road? If so, it’s likely there’ll be somewhere around the next bend where the drainage isn’t working and soil, bits of tree, rocks and so on are being washed across the road.
Are you in a farming district or logging area? Look for paddock gates and side-tracks – that’s where the road will have nice, thick patch of mud and dung dropped by the beasties and machinery being moved from one paddock to another across the road.
By now you should be getting the impression that this is not rocket science. Good observation is the key.
The best advice? Don’t let yourself get over-tired or stressed, as that’s when judgement and reflexes can fail. There’s nothing wrong with stopping, warming up, and grabbing a decent coffee.
Like we said at the start, none of this is brain surgery. A little common sense and preparation will do nicely. So get out there and enjoy!