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How to Keep Warm on a Motorcycle in Cold Weather

 10 tips to keep you warm and toasty on your next winter ride

Published on 01.13.2014
Know how to keep warm on a motorcycle when cold weather hits unexpectedly.

It seems like every year we plan an adventure ride in the winter not knowing what the weather will do. We set a date several months ahead of time so that all of our riding buddies can arrange their schedule. We pick a location in the desert that is likely to be dry, warm, and free of snow, then we cross our fingers and wait.

There isn’t much you can do to control the weather, but you can make your ride more comfortable if you know how to keep warm on a motorcycle. No one wants to cancel a trip that has been planned for months, but you don’t have to suffer if you are prepared for cold weather riding. When you are able to keep warm, you can focus on enjoying the scenery and terrain instead of just how cold you are. Here are 10 tips to help keep you warm on your next winter ride.

1. Winter Gloves

Your hands are exposed to the wind on a motorcycle and are the first part of your body you notice getting cold. When the temperatures drop, those thin leather or mesh gloves aren’t going to cut it. You need a winter glove that offers insulation from the cold. Winter gloves are more bulky, so they can feel a bit spongy if you use them off-road. But you will want to switch gloves to keep warm on the highway. Choose a gauntlet style glove that covers the wrist so that no wind or rain can seep into your sleeves. Gore-Tex® waterproof gloves will also ensure your hands stay dry without getting clammy.

2. Thermal Underwear
Your body has a layer of warm air around it that maintains your core temperature. Anything that disturbs this layer of warm air around you will make your temperature drops quickly.  Thermal underwear insulates this layer of warmth around your body and protects it from being disturbed. Using a thermal top and bottom is extremely effective at keeping your entire body warm on or off the bike. Thermal underwear can keep you warm without extra bulk that can restrict movement like a heavy jacket and pants. Choose a product that uses synthetic materials. Cotton stays wet if you start to sweat during off-road riding, causing you big problems when you cool off again. Synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon, spandex and lycra, will move the moisture away from your skin and allow it to evaporate quickly.

3. Heat Packs

Sometimes you just need an external heat source to help you get your core body temperature up. The least expensive way to do this is using disposable heat packs. Heat packs can be placed strategically in your gloves, boots, down your pants or around your neck and torso.

If you buy heat packs in bulk, you can get them for less than a dollar each. Each heat pack will provide up to 18 hours of warmth. These handy heat packs can also help you keep warm off the motorcycle during camping or while repairing a flat.

4. Heated Seat
If you want to keep warm on a motorcycle, a heated seat offers the ultimate cold weather comfort.  Nothing feels better than heat on your tush when you are logging a lot of hours on the highway.  You will be riding with a smile through the worst conditions if you upgrade your bike to a heated seat.  Aftermarket seat makers Corbin and Sargent both offer heated seat options.  You can order a custom-built seat with the heated seat option or you can create your own with a seat heating kit for your existing seat.

5. Heated Vest
There are many heated gear options out there, but our favorite is the heated vest.  There are heated jackets, pants, gloves and socks, but we think a vest is the best option for adventure riders because it provides plenty of heat without the extra weight and bulk.  A heated vest easily fits under your riding jacket and it is small enough to keep packed away for use just when you need it.  A heated vest keeps your core warm and that warmth emanates out to your extremities. Heated vests are also less expensive than a full heated gear setup and reduce the wiring you have to manage around you.

6. Balaclava

Your helmet is not enough to keep your head warm when temperatures drop into the freezing range. This is especially true for some of us that are missing some hair on our heads. Your head is the area where you lose the most body heat, so keeping it insulated is important for maintaining your warmth.  A ski mask or balaclava that covers your head, face and neck is the best choice.  Keep one of these where it can be easily accessed when you first start to feel the chill. Make sure you choose a balaclava that uses breathable, moisture-wicking synthetic material.

7. Neck Warmer
Your neck is the next most important area on your body that needs protection from the cold. Your neck is an area where cold wind can get through the cracks, even if you have your jacket fully zipped.  Using a neck warmer will help to insulate this area and keep cold air from going up toward your head or down into your torso. When you put on your neck warmer, you will instantly feel a difference in the warmth. Keep one of these where it can be easily accessed when you start to feel the chill. Make sure you choose a neck warmer that is breathable but still blocks the wind.

8. Windproof Jacket and Pants

If you want to keep warm on a motorcycle, you have to use the correct layering method.  You need a soft, warm inner layer that insulates your body and an outer shell that protects you from the wind. Adventure riding jackets and pants need to be versatile so they can keep you warm in cold weather and not get too hot when the temperatures rise. Most adventure riders choose gear that is made of textile material because it is breathable, waterproof, windproof and durable. Adventure riding gear that is made of Gore-Tex® material offers the most protection from the elements and has excellent durability.

9. Close Your Vents
It may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how often riders realize that they had a vent open hours into a ride.  Adventure gear has so many vents that it becomes easy to lose track of them.  The most common location of vents are on your jacket’s arm pits and back or in the thigh area of your pants. You may also have vents in the front, top and back of your helmet.  It is always a good idea to pull over and take inventory on all of your vent locations and make sure they are fully closed.  Otherwise, you could be losing precious body heat unknowingly.

10. Heated Grips

If your adventure motorcycle did not already come with heated grips, you can still add them as an upgrade. Adding a set of heated grips is an easy install that you can perform yourself or have your local dealer put them on. Heated grips typically have different settings so you can get the temperature just right for the weather. On some of the basic kits that just provide heating elements and no grips, you may notice that your left side is cooler than the right. The best heated grip kits come with the heating elements inside the grips, providing even heating between left and right grips.

If All Else Fails Think Like a Hobo
Sometimes you can be caught off guard when the cold weather hits. You might be unprepared when a storm arrives that significantly drops the temperature.  In these situations you just have to think like a hobo and look for materials around you that can insulate your body and block the wind.  Search for newspaper or cardboard that can be used inside your jacket to cover your chest.  You can slide newspaper up your pants legs to protect you from the wind. Plastic bags can also be used to block the wind and keep you dry.  Cut out holes in a plastic garbage bag for your head and arms so you can wear it as a vest. Get out of the cold and get some shelter as soon as possible, while you wait for the weather to improve.

Author: Rob Dabney

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