Many of you may recall me proudly saying that I was going to ride bikes throughout the winter. Well, I’ve now had a decent bit of miles of cold weather riding and have learned some interesting things...
To preface, cold doesn’t bother me that much. I love to swim in water that’ll give you hypothermia if you stay in it too long. I basically refrigerate my condo in the winter. I’ll even wear a low cut dress when the wind chill is below zero.
My cold weather tests were run during long rides. These rides were at minimum an hour long and I ran at highway speeds. Understanding the dangers of cold weather, I made sure I was no further than a mile or a few from a place to warm up.
I started off by seeing how well my summer gear protects me in the cold. My jacket isn’t that thick and it doesn’t vent or breathe. In the summer, this causes me to overheat unless I have the jacket not fully zipped. This was the same story with my pants, though thankfully I don’t care about hot legs. My boots weren’t anything special, just fashionable sturdy faux-leather boots. Finally, gloves were just the thin ones with armor I bought when I bought the Buell.
This gear keeps me pretty toasty on my GS850G down to about 45 degrees at about any speed. My jacket zips up to my helmet so my neck doesn’t even feel the wind. Of course, I wasn’t even layering up, either.
At 40 degrees, my hands start feeling a little cold, but the feeling is nothing compared to swimming in Lake Michigan in April. My wrists start getting very cold here due to the wind, but I can handle it so long as my destination isn’t over an hour away.
Last night’s forecast was especially cold, so I decided that I would ride to see a friend an hour away as another test. It would be my hardest yet.
Unfortunately for me, when I left my friend’s apartment last night (Tuesday) the area had a sort of flash freeze...a whole new frontier. Temps showed 30, wind chill even lower. Ice formed over everything not generating its own heat. Familiar roads also became treacherous, but more on that later.
My Suzie’s mirrors fogged up within ten minutes and they only cleared when I wasn’t moving (and thus the engine was radiating heat onto them). I could make out that there were cars behind me and how close they were, but the mirrors were otherwise useless. My helmet would also fog up unless I breathed really really slow. I found the remedy to that was covering my nose with cloth. I had repurposed some old socks to extend my gloves into my jacket and that was enough to keep my wrists warm for the whole trip home. Sadly, I faced a new danger: Hands.
My gloves were hilariously inadequate for the task of protecting me in 29 degree weather with a low wind chill and going highway speed. I could go no longer than maybe 7-10 minutes at a time before my hands would get so cold I started to lose feeling in them. For the sake of testing, I decided to soldier on, simulating perhaps a similar situation but where a warm store/petrol station could not be found.
First remedy was the engine. In the summer this thing burned my fingers a few times, however in the winter it’s a welcome source of heat. I found cupping my hands near (or even on) the rear cooling fins to be an amazing way to get a lot of heat in just a few seconds. However, it’s somewhat distracting to do and led me to wander a little bit when maneuvering my left hand to throttle while the right hand got heat.
Halfway into the ride I noticed that painted lines and tar seal lines may as well have been black ice in this weather. If I happened to be in a curve the bike would slip on the tar and if I hit a painted line while changing lanes, the bike would feel very “floaty”. This - combined with using the engine as a hand warmer - made for a dangerous second half.
It was at that point I realized that I didn’t need the engine for heat and that I could just...sit on my hand. Sure enough, my own body did the job just as well as the engine and it was easier to do as well.
Upon arriving home I noticed the cars were covered all over in ice. Thermometer said 25 and I don’t even want to know what the wind chill was. As for myself. My hands were freezing, but they were okay. By reaching home the rest of me was a little cold, but considering I was on a bike without fairings or a windscreen, I call that a win. My winter bike (TBA) will have a full front fairing and windscreen.
Based on my findings I’ll be getting winter riding gloves, a mask for my face, and I may layer up depending on temps. Otherwise, riding in the cold thus far has been a blast!