Friday, December 21, 2012

Riding in Cold Weather......Brrrrrr

As cold weather starts to roll in this season, its time to start thinking about what you're going to do to protect yourself from this chilly winter. As many of us with having no option of owning a four wheeler, winter means no change to our riding habits except the addition of quite a bit of extra clothing!!!

I like riding in this weather or rather used to. My 600RR was PITA to ride in summer with all those hot air being directed to the legs. But come winter, those hot air were a hidden blessings and with those extra layers, it really didn't had much effect in winter. 

Call me Crazy or just 'gifted', but riding bikes in the winter can be quite comfortable and enjoyable. By the way, being a thin & lean guy, I am, by no means, thermally gifted. I've seen even older bikes with decade old carbs with better circulation than myself.

Now, I'm not the type that loves to ride so much that I won't care if my ass freezes over and I would be happy that the ride was done. For me, I like my rides to be enjoyable and comfortable. And comfortable in winter can means staying warm.

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 critical 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
  1. 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 the fancy base layers you see over the Internet. Our own 'mitrarastras' - China and India made thermals are readily available in the Nepalese market. I prefer Dollars and Rupas as they are very cheap and is very comfortable.
  2. 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.
Wearing thermals doesn't make you look like idiots; modern thermals are thin and very effective as well. You get warm and cosy; just don't expect a 'Chick' to be born from an Egg. ;-)

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.

The main thing to do for wind-proofing is to make sure your outer layer is some type of wind-proof material. Wind-proof jackets are 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 Gore-Tex Windcheaters and if I do run into cold rainy weather, it offers water-proofing for protection and a little added warmth!)
The North Face though an expensive option is an excellent choice with its Gore-Tex outer shell provides ample wind proofing and water proofing plus it's Gore-Tex membrane keeps out your body from excessive sweating. Remember, you can get caught with your own body sweat faster than the outer temperature.

Here are a few additional thoughts on wind-proofing:
  • Add a windshield to your motorcycle to block the wind(Not very stylish but if you do lot of highways, it's an effective way. Just did the tour on CBR250R, it's huge windshield does its job very efficiently).
  • Wear a full face motorcycle helmet with some type of covering for your neck and head - I prefer a Neck Warmers. 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 in the forum itself. Not quite sure if it will work while riding. Have seen Mr. Bear from Man Vs Wild do it in his expedition.)

Hands and Feet

I've found that I can insulate my body and legs adequately, but when the temperature really drops, I have the most problems with my hands and feet. Many people have a similar problem. The reason is that as you get cold your body focuses circulation on your internal organs to keep them warm, while your feet and hands get the shaft.
The only way that I've found to keep my hands and feet comfortable in really cold weather is to invest in quality boots and gloves

For boots, I'm a strong believer that you don't have to go and buy a pair of those expensive motorcycle boots to get the performance you need in cold weather. The best pair of boots that I've ever had (and still wear) cost me NRs 3000 from Bhatbhateni (Trekking shoes). They are comfortable, waterproof, and windproof and have seen me through a lot of crappy weather.

The key things you want to look for in boots are:
  • Fit (you don't want them to be tight because this will reduce circulation and make your feet colder)
  • Water-Proof. Don't even consider them if they aren't.
  • Above the ankle. This really helps with wind proofing. Remember how we have habit of hanging our foot in the rear-set and cold wind hitting in the part of the foot where our jeans gets moved upwards and the normal shoes can't cover it.
  • Comfortable to walk around in. You don't want to look like a Racer while moving around with those knee-length racing boots.
  • Insulation is a nice to have, but not a must; you can get most of your insulation from putting extra socks on.
This is ankle length high cut boot with added cup protection for the metatarsal, nice grip and with hard-plastic  crush-proof protection in and around toes for those hard shifting as well.

I've tried quite a few gloves and have found very few that really do the trick. Gloves can really be a trial and error process for motorcycle riding so make sure that you've found the right pair before embarking on your next long cold weather ride.

In looking for gloves:
  • Make sure that they are long enough that they completely cover the wrist (remember: wind-proof, wind-proof, wind-proof!)
  • Find a pair with a hook and loop closure system at the wrist that allows you to tighten the gloves.
  • Good fit - if the glove feels tight at all, get the next size up. We don't want anything to impede circulation!
  • Good insulation - you want the high-efficiency stuff like 3M Thinsulate, not just a bunch of fluff.
  • Good insulation placement - most gloves only put insulation on the top. You want a pair with a little bit in the palm and other parts of the hand as well.
  • Pre-curved fingers - motorcycle gloves can wear you out if you're trying to squeeze that throttle all day. Pre-curved fingers alleviate this. If at all possible, try to squeeze a throttle before purchasing. Make sure the gloves don't get tight or bunch up - you'll really notice it after 30 minutes of riding.
  • If you really don't like the bulky insulated gloves, here is another trick I got. You don't want to leave the comfort of the protection Leather gloves provide, then no worries. Here is what I do. Go to any medical stores and ask for Plastic Surgical Gloves. They don't cost much. In my area they cost Rs 45 per pair. I used them inside the leather gloves. They are wind-proof as well as water-proof.
A warm and water-resistant gloves with the closure loop belt helps keep your hand warm and dry in the testing conditions.
Notice the inner fleece; this is important as it keeps the hand warm in the most adverse condition.

Finally, after you've got all your gear sorted out there are a couple of things you'll want to be aware of in terms of safety before getting out there in the cold: Frostbite and Hypothermia.

Exposed skin is always at risk for frostbite, so make sure you don't have any exposed skin! If you feel like your skin is being pricked by needles, frostbite is on its way and you need to do something immediately. If your skin starts to turn white or waxy and feels numb and hard you need to get immediate medical attention.

Hypothermia is a separate concern. Hypothermia is where your core body temperature drops below the minimum temperature required for your body to operate. Hypothermia causes mild confusion, sluggish behavior, poor muscle coordination, and incoherent behavior. 
If you start feeling cold and can't decide if you should pull over, you are facing an early stage of hypothermia. Pull over immediately and get a hot tea or coffee!

If you start shivering uncontrollably, feel sluggish, or even drunk, then you're in serious trouble. Hypothermia is already underway and you need to stop immediately to warm up. DO NOT RIDE. I know it's your passion to ride; but even to ride, you need to LIVE. So, ride up this winter; ride safe and comfortable.


Unknown said...

Thoroughly enjoyed the post. Surgical cloves...will give it a try. About the knee guards, i was thinking of laminating a normal bandage (ofcource mitrarastra made) with plastic to protect it with the chilly wind. Will post the progress as well.

I do sincerely hope this very post might help fellow forum members as well. Have you considered sharing it over there as well.

Unknown said...

Great conceptual ideas. Some pretty simple DIY's. I'd like to see this share in the forum as well. Hope to catch it there.