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Cold Weather Motorcycle Riding: Wind Is Your Enemy

Cold Weather Motorcyle Ride

As cold weather starts to roll in this season and the last red leaves fall off the trees, it's time to start thinking about what you're going to do with your motorcycle this winter. For some, winter means buying fuel stabilizer, dusting off the trickle charger, and gently snuggling their motorcycle into a warm corner of the garage. For the rest of us, winter means no change to our motorcycle riding habits except the addition of quite a bit of extra clothing!

I clearly fall into the "extra clothing" category - I'll ride anything above 20 degrees (if I had heated clothing, I'm sure I could go lower). Call me crazy or just "thermally gifted," but riding motorcycles in the winter can be really enjoyable.

(By the way, I am by no means thermally gifted. I've seen rocks with better circulation than myself.)

Now, I'm not the type that loves to ride so much that I'll get out there and freeze my rump off just to get miles under my belt. To make winter riding enjoyable, I like to be comfortable, and comfortable in the winter means warm and dry.

Staying Warm

Riding a motorcycle in cold weather comes down to one simple concept: insulation.

Since most people aren't very active on a motorcycle, their body isn't doing much to produce heat on its own to counteract the cold. That means we have to do everything we can to insulate the body in order to keep what precious heat that we do produce actually on our body, and not floating off in the cold winter air.

Insulation boils down to two things: layers (to slow the rate at which our body loses heat), and wind proofing (to keep the wind from stealing our heat).


Let's talk about layers first. Layers are critcal for riding a motorcycle in the cold weather of winter. The number of layers you'll need to wear is based both on personal preference (some people naturally run a little hotter than others) and the temperature outside. I've worn up to four layers in really cold weather. The key is to have enough layers on that you feel comfortable (maybe even slightly warm) when you step outside and just stand in place(before you ride your motorcycle).

Remember two things

  • Your bottom layer should always be some type of snug fitting thermal or fleece underwear. This will create a warm layer of air between your body and this material. (Don't worry about buying the expensive wicking materials like Dri-Fit, etc. - you won't be sweating much so it won't do you much good)
  • Don't wear so many layers that you lose mobility. If you can't hold your arms at your side because of all your clothing, than it's probably time to invest in either some warmer, or even heated, clothing.

Wind Proofing

Now, let's talk about wind proofing. The biggest issue that you will have when riding a motorcycle in the winter is keeping the wind out. Wind, specifically wind chill, is your worst enemy on a motorcycle in cold weather. Doing everything you can to stop this enemy is going to go a long way to helping you ride your motorcycle comfortably in the cold.

Wind-proofing also takes the most trial and error to perfect. It can take quite a while before you finally plug all of those air leaks!

The main thing to do for wind-proofing is to make sure your outer layer is some type of wind-proof material. Leather is by far the most popular choice for this. Ideally, you should look for something that is both wind-proof and water-proof. There are many man-made materials that meet that criteria.

(I personally prefer leather and if I do run into weather, I just throw my rainsuit on for protection and a little added warmth!)

Here are a few additional thoughts on wind-proofing:

  • Add a windshield to your motorcycle to block the wind.
  • While not stylish, duck tape can do wonders to seal any leaks you might have.
  • Wear a full face motorcycle helmet with some type of covering for your neck and head - I prefer a balaclava. Most of your heat is lost through your head so do your best to keep it warm!
  • Put newspaper on your chest between your outer layer and the layer underneath it - this does wonders for blocking the wind (a tip I learned while racing bikes)


confederaterider says:

Just bought my bike in July after being out of the saddle for 25 years. I don't want to stop riding just because it's getting cold. This article was very helpful so bring on the cold and yes I'm a little crazy too. Thanks.
Fri Dec 2, 2016 at 12:40 PM

gtedrow says:

This is my first winter to have a bike. I plan to ride year round so thanks for the tips.
Sun Nov 6, 2016 at 11:09 AM

NatureGuy says:

After several years of riding in the rain & cold (mostly to/from work,) now that I'm retired and living in a warmer climate (Tampa vs Portland), I've become a fair-weather rider. So, I'll leave the joys of winter riding to the rest of ya.
Fri Feb 5, 2016 at 8:36 AM

Cjohnson says:

I ride during the winter too. I love it. Your article was so helpful. I use to own a horse and the gloves, along with the overalls I used during winter season truly kept me warm in the winter months. I got them at tractor supply. The company that makes these great warm articles are from Schmidt workwear. I just purchased my body armor as well. And last year from Burlington coat factory purchased a ski jacket that literally makes me sweat. So I just used the lining and it does very well. So far I have been able to endure 30 degree weather with winds hitting me left and right.
Sat Nov 2, 2013 at 8:18 PM

Doc2nd2 says:

I am also an avid cyclist (bicycles) and all of my base layer clothing has mcome from the cocal bicycle shop. There you will find numerous options for base clothing all very light and affords great mobility. My favorite is my Garneau brand socks. The inner layer is fleece and the outer layer is a type of nylon/ neoprene. I affords a great wind barrier while also creating a warm air space between your feet and the socks. This with a pair of thin socks underneath for the really cold days is great. They are also boot height usually.
One last tip for the legs and feet. This is from my Army days and it works.Guys, pantyhose! Just ask any soldier that has been in the cold on bivuac or assignment. Pantyhose. Dont worry, none of your riding buddies have to know youre wearing womens underwear!
Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 6:45 PM

Ghostbikes says:

Heated grips are a nice idea and you can buy one's that grip onto your handlebars and heat to any temperature you like.
Try something like
Thu Nov 5, 2009 at 2:26 AM

Skyclad says:

Good article. The only thing that I would add is hand guards and heated grips. My bike (Buell Ulysses) came with both, and they make a world of difference.

I went for along ride last weekend. It was in the high 40's when I left, so I didn't think about my winter gloves. By the time I got home, it was right around freezing.

The only part of my hands that got uncomfortably cold were my finger tips. The hand guards kept the wind off most of the hand, and the grips provided plenty of heat. For the finger tips, and just curled them under my hands so they were up against the grips every so often.
Sat Jan 19, 2008 at 7:12 AM

januaryman169 says:

In November,2000, My friend and I, rode our motorcycles from Richmond, IN to Versailles, KY. That was the day after Thanksgiving. He was riding a cb900 and I was on a 750 Suzuki. I rode that bike all year,rain or shine.
Sun Aug 12, 2007 at 5:42 AM

OpenRoadRider says:

For more great OpenRoadJourney tips and tricks on riding in the cold make sure to visit the forums on this topic:
Mon Jan 29, 2007 at 5:56 AM

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