I get it. You’ve been cooped up for what feels like months and the bike is sitting, clean, set and ready to go and Spring seems years away. For folks that don’t have the benefit of warmer winter weather like me (I had to swat a damn mosquito the other day – in January!) there is hope that you can squeeze in a ride even in the depths of winter. How? Well, a few things have to go your way – it needs to be at least marginally warm and the roads need to be clear of pesky things like black ice, but it is doable … here’s how.
Bundle Up – this means far more than just strapping on your leather. At the very least, you need to understand the effects not of the ambient temperature, but the wind chill at your riding speed. Guess what? It’s probably well below zero. That means that you can quickly become hypothermic and that can lead to decisions that are just as bad as if you had downed a few shots before riding (remember Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”? All the guy really has to do is get a fire going, but he’s too cold to think straight. Spoiler alert – he dies.)
You not only need to protect your core temperature, but also your extremities. This is a matter of life and death, but with some creativity and really good riding gloves, you can do it.
Fuel up – You, not your bike. Since you will be operating at really low temperatures (that wind chill thing again), you need to give your body some fuel to burn. Think carbohydrates for that, but also some protein for the longer haul. It may seem like a great idea to pound down coffee or hot tea, but the overall effects of the caffeine will be to increase bloodflow to the skin – much like alcohol – and that can lead to your warmth wicking away. Obviously, doing a few belts of booze isn’t a smart idea anytime, but even less so when the mercury dips.
An Iron Butt will give you an Icy Butt – In extreme cold, nobody is going to call you a wuss for taking a few extra stops to get warmed up. The real problem with hypothermia is that you often don’t see it coming until it is too late – the road vibration can mask just how cold you truly are and when it finally dawns on you that you’re in trouble, you aren’t making smart decisions. Stopping every half hour or so to warm up is a lot smarter than sliding into a snowbank to be found in three months.
Stay hydrated – It seems counter intuitive, but in really cold conditions, you need to replace fluids just as if it were much warmer. Sure, you’re not sweating, but the simple fact is that your body is using water to keep your metabolism up and creating warmth.
When the temperature dips to freezing, don’t ride if it’s raining. Nobody likes it when it’s warm, and because of the potential for icy conditions to follow any type of water on the pavement, don’t do it. More importantly, even a light mist can magnify the effects of the cold when your clothes start to get damp. Pick a better day, no matter how bad you’re Jonesing to get on the scoot.
There’s a ton of bolt on stuff you can strap on the bike if you want to be super hard core, but the fact of the matter is that riding in the cold – the real cold – really does suck. On the other hand, sometimes you just want to get out.
It can be done, but just be smart and think through how you’re going to pull it off. Thirty eight degrees (Fahrenheit) is cold weather, and when you bump up the wind chill and add in some humidity, it very quickly becomes a negative number when you’re on the road. If you have to do it, though, maybe think about heading South!