It’s a misconception that riding through winter is no fun. At Bike Social we’re big fans of riding through winter. Get the right kit and you’ll become a better rider, feel energised everytime you get off the bike and be able to take the mickey out of your mates for putting their bikes away for winter.
I've been riding every winter (admittedly not every day) for the last 21 years and love the feeling of being on the road when most riders have put their bikes away.
But to make it enjoyable you must have the right kit and make sure every bit of exposed skin is covered-up. It pains us when we see kids riding around on scooters in tracksuit bottoms and no gloves. Here’s our quick guide to staying on the road longer this winter by buying the right riding kit.
It sounds stupid, but thick ones are warmer, and that’s a fact, as long as they’re designed for motorcycling. They might be clunky to ride in, but you’ll soon get used to it, once you’ve hit the kill switch and indicators a few times by mistake!
It’s amazing how many so-called gloves from mountaineering and walking shops are often very little use on a motorcycle. They may be fine on the ski slopes, but add in 70mph wind chill and most
walking/climbing technical gloves fail unless they’re specifically designed for riding in. In lots of gloves the seams aren’t sealed and they feel like they’re blowing a gale within five minutes of leaving the shop.
Plenty of glove manufacturers like Spidi, Alpinestars and Dainese offer mid versions of winter gloves so you get the style of a summer glove, with some of the warmth of a winter glove. But we reckon as much as they look good, you can’t beat a big old black winter glove. We’re big fans of Hein Gericke’s Pathan 3-finger-glove. They look hilarious as they only have three fingers, but the fact your fingers sit next to each other in the glove adds to the warmth in your hands. They’re waterproof, come with a mix of fabric and leather on the back with protective leather on the palms and key crash points and are simply the best winter gloves we’ve ever used. They cost around £40.
Whatever you buy try and make sure they’re waterproof and lined with something like Thinsulate. A mixture of fabric and leather can be better for warmth as they simply don’t take on as much water when they’re drenched, but they’re not as protective should the worst happen.
A simple investment of a few pounds can make all the difference when it’s really cold. If you haven’t got one of our Bennetts neck warmers we were giving away last year, then pick up any neck warmer from your local bike shop. Buff are the best, they last that bit longer than most we’ve tried and are versatile enough they can be used in the summer too. Plenty of fleece neck warmers work well but can be a bit thick when trying to tuck it into the top of your jacket. Try one of the over the face ones, but if you wear glasses, having something over your nose could make your glasses steam up.
Balaclavas will help as we lose most of the heat from our bodies from the top of our heads, but make sure they’re silk if you can get one as they’re better at keeping in heat and they’re thinner so your head will still fit in your helmet properly.
Tons of technical clothing from your local outdoor shop, or somewhere like Cotswold Outdoor will transform your riding in the winter. If you’re on a tight budget, get down to your nearest army and navy store and buy secondhand thermals for a few pounds. If you have a few more quid to spend, companies like Oxford make bike specific thermals which are thinner at the back and warmer on the front where the windblast hits you. Our favourite are brands like Helly Hansen and Ice Breaker from the outdoor pursuits world. Get a top with a zip on the chest area for different climates, and see if you can get thumb loops on the arms, you’ll be amazed what a difference this will make when tucked into your gloves.
Leather will protect you better in most cases, but for riding in winter, Cordura or a similar fabric will keep you warmer and dryer than pretty much anything but to-end waterproof leather suits.
Our current favourite suit for riding in all weathers is from American firm Klim, but at £1500 for a suit, it’s no surprise that it works well in all weathers. But you don’t have to spend anywhere near that much. When looking to buy, find a two-piece fabric suit that zips together, and has plenty of adjustment on the legs, arms and waist so you can layer-up or layer down depending on the climate. A removable liner also gives you this flexibility.
Double zips are better than one and a storm flap between the two-zips will make all the difference. Try and find a suit that has waterproof flaps over the zips, and one that uses the new style of sealed zips to stop the water running in your pockets.
An adjustable collar will keep you warm, and if you can, find one with a removable collar so it’s suitable for all weather conditions and you can zip it on and off if it’s warm or cold.
If Cordura and Gore-Tex type suits are way out of your budget then a padded one-piece set of waterproofs will keep you warm and dry when put over a set of leathers for around £50. More importantly, any waterproof or two-piece suit will keep the wind off and keep you warmer for longer.
Couriers in London often use motocross boots but that’s often more to do with being able to kick taxis than just keeping warm. However, many off-road style boots will be warmer and dryer than most road boots.
There’s a whole selection of good-looking boots that mimic sports boots but feature Gore Tex linings from companies like Alpinestars and Dainese. But basically any sturdy, black, boring looking boot that has a waterproof lining and the fewer seams to let water in the better, will do.
TCX have a great range of reasonably-priced boots and we’ve had some brilliant experiences with them over the years.
There’s a reason that arctic explorers layer-up and that’s because you can always add more or take them off. Lightweight thermal layers, added to things like featherdown gilets, and if you can afford it, heated jackets, will transform your winter riding. And if you get too hot you can always take a layer off and stick it in your rucksack. And let’s face it, when was the last time you rode a bike in December of January and thought ‘You know what, I’m a little bit too hot!’.
Fancy visor systems like Pinlock anti-fogging systems will massive improve your chances of actually seeing where you’re going when you’re riding in the cold. Many helmet manufacturers now sell ant-fog visors and double-skinned visors like the racers use, but these can cost upwards of £50. In our experience most sprays don’t actually make that much difference.
If you can’t afford a fancy double-skin visor then washing your visor in good old soapy water with Fairy Liquid (or similar) will keep the fog at bay, but do it every day, and tuck a wet rag into your handlebars or behind your clocks so that you can wipe the winter crud off when you’re out and about.
If you can afford it, go electric, so that means heated boots, gloves, vest and handlebar grips. Basically anything that can get a heated current to your body will absolutely transform your riding in winter to the point where occasionally you have to turn the heat down! It's expensive to get fully wired up, but honestly you can't beat it. I've been riding in a Keis heated vest for years and wouldn't get on a bike without it between November and February. Gerbing are also the masters of heated clothing and worth a look, but what is best depends on personal preference and your budget.