For some riders, winter riding is simply not an option. For them, the bike goes into hibernation in the garage, protected by a thick layer of grease and covered by a tarpaulin until the spring shoots appear. If this is you, then check out our winter motorcycling storage tips.
Riding anytime of the year demands caution, however winter in particular can be treacherous. Almost half of Britain's motorcyclists say that riding on icy, winter roads is one of the worst aspects of motorcycling. Check out these helpful hints from The RAC, together with a list of the common hazards that bikers may face during the winter months plus our guide on winter motorcycle maintenance.
Don't over estimate your abilities. If it is snowing outside or if you know it’s going to snow do not venture out on your bike. Tempting as it is to think you have the experience and response times to keep safe, accidents do happen.
Even if the weather looks mild, ice patches could have formed overnight or black ice formed in the morning, which can radically reduce grip. Even though your tyres may heat up over time, cold tyres on a cold surface provides less traction than hot tyres and a hot surface.
A thermometer may tell you the ambient temperature, but it doesn’t consider the wind chill factor. Wind chill is effectively what the temperature ‘feels like’ and takes into account air temperature, relative humidity and wind strength.
For riders, wind strength is of particular importance. For example, if you are travelling at 20mph the ambient temperature may be 0 °C, but the wind chill is approximately -6 °C. Similarly, if the ambient temperature is 0 °C and you are travelling at 45mph the wind chill is approximately -9 °C.
With winter conditions increasing braking distances the chance of a biker being involved in an accident increases. There are a number of factors that can affect braking distances, be it vehicle weight, speed, braking force and thinking time. But, all of these factors are exacerbated during winter.
During Winter these braking distances can increase up to ten times.
For a typical rider travelling at 30mph, with a 210kg bike, on average the thinking distance would be 9 metres, braking distance 14 metres with a stopping distance of 23 metres. During Winter these braking distances can increase up to ten times. To combat this, increase the distance to the vehicle in front.
Your motorcycle helmet is the most important piece of safety equipment. Generally a typical helmet is good for five years, three if used regularly. Riding in temperatures below 10°C can affect a biker’s ability if they don’t have the appropriate clothing.
What to check before you travel
During the winter it is essential that you check your T-CLOCS. This stands for Tyres, Controls, Lights, Oil, Chassis and Stands, and all should be inspected before you ride. In addition, make sure the drive chain is properly lubricated & check that the bike roles freely without resistance, which is a good indication that the brake pads haven’t stuck to the discs from salt corrosion.
When you do start your bike, if you haven’t run it in a while, let the engine warm up for a couple of minutes before revving it up. Best practice would be to get the bike to normal operating temperature before starting your journey. After that take your bike out for a short ride as one final check.
The simple advice is to take it easy. Save your carefree open-road riding for those glorious summer mornings. In winter the conditions need as much care as you can muster. Not only will there be much less grip on wet and icy roads, you will also be challenged by the wind and the rain as you ride along. So use your lane, and give yourself space to adapt, adjust, and slow down. And if you have a long ride ahead, plan to stop and warm up along the way.
Take your time and pay attention to other road users.
This task doesn’t take long at all and can help extend the life and performance of your bike. If you don’t have a good, automatic chain oiler fitted, such as a Scottoiler, you must lube your chain regularly, at least weekly if being used. Getting your bike on a paddock stand helps as it allows the rear wheel and chain to run freely while you apply. It’s also worth remembering to lube the chain AFTER riding rather than before which lets the lubricant get into all the gaps rather than being flung off straight away.
Whether your bike’s going to be sitting still all winter or out on the road, now’s a good time to change the oil. Dirty oil contains contaminates that can increase corrosion, leading to premature engine wear. Start by firing up the engine and let it run for several minutes to get everything up to operating temperature. Then, drain the old oil, and refill the engine with whatever viscosity is recommended by your owner’s manual. There’s no need for any special ‘winter’ blend or oil additive, so save your pennies and buy your bike’s regular oil.
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Obviously, it’s important to keep exposed surfaces clean from the dangers of road salt and subsequent corrosion. The best way is regular cleaning but there are a variety of corrosion protectants, like ACF-50, XCP Rust Blocker, SDoc 100 Corrosion Protectant, ACS TC200 or Scottoiler FS365 which can protect exposed surfaces, which is especially useful in awkward, out of the way places. Bear in mind, though, that many wash off easily so will have to be continually reapplied.
Grease is still the best way of lubricating and protecting major joints and moving parts and protecting exposed bolt threads so make sure you always have some knocking around. All should get a liberal coating before the onset of winter and regularly checked throughout the cold months.
It’s not a nice job, but after every ride it’s vital that you wash your bike, and particularly the exposed underside. Do this thoroughly with cold water. Don’t use hot water – this dissolves the salt crystal and allows it to penetrate even further into the bike, cold water simply washes it away. Our motorbike insurance customers can visit Bennetts Rewards for an exclusive 25% off all Muc-Off motorcycle cleaning products, plus 10% on a bike specific pressure washer. Plus, check out our workshop wisdom video on how to give your bike a good clean, here.
Your tyres need a good once over in time for winter and it might be a good time to change them if the tread depth has reduced significantly during the summer. You will need a good tread depth to cope with the overly wet or slushy roads. Colder temperatures also reduce pressures, so make sure you check these before each journey. One myth is that under-inflated tyres offer better grip in winter – they don’t and this could be dangerous.
It’s really important to check your brakes regularly during winter as motorcycle brakes are particularly vulnerable in winter riding. Exposed calipers are vulnerable to road salt and can corrode easily so give them a good clean and check as often as possible. .