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Riding All Winter Long

By Katy Smutz
Originally Published in the IAMC Newsletter, December 2010

The approach of winter does not mean the end of riding until spring. With the proper clothing and equipment, it can still be enjoyable to ride with temperatures well below freezing. My husband, Alan, and I enjoy riding too much to quit riding just because the weather is cooler. We would like to share some of what we have learned about winter riding.

First and foremost, I don’t enjoy being cold. I want to be warm and comfortable. After a little trial and error, I have learned you can be warm and comfortable while riding during the winter months. Proper selection and use of clothing and equipment is essential for an enjoyable winter riding experience. Starting out from scratch may be overwhelming and expensive as well. We started out with basics we already owned such as wool socks, thermal underwear, winter gloves, old style PVC rain suits, and plastic bags over our socks. Utilizing these items allowed us to enjoy cooler weather riding in reasonable comfort, while slowly adding equipment as our budget allowed.

One of the first things we purchase for a new bike is grip heaters. Grip heaters can cost as little as $20 for under the grip styles to over $100 for grips with the integrated heat elements and fancier controls. We run grip heaters on all of our bikes, even our off-road KTMs have the low-priced under the grip heaters. Grip heaters are relatively easy to install and don’t use many watts of power. Another advantage is that once installed, they are always there and available in the event they are needed. Cold weather equipment and gear does no good if left at home because the weather was warm when the ride started (….I have been there more times than I would like to admit.).

A second and related piece of equipment to grip heaters is hand guards that provide wind protection. I am an advocate of hand guards, not so much to protect my hands from hitting trees or other objects, but the protection they provide levers and expensive master cylinders in the event of a crash. Getting hand guards with large plastic shields or adding plastic shields also provides a certain amount of wind protection for your hands. That combined with grip heaters can do wonders for your hands in cold weather.

Selecting Heated Grips: (By cruiser rider) http://www.heatedgrips.org/
MCgMotorcycles: http://www.mcgmotorcycles.com/motorcycleparts/heated-motorcycle-grips/584/

Good cold weather clothing is necessary for cold weather riding. Most of us have our own personal preferences concerning clothing. Properly layering clothing transfers moisture away from our skin, provides warmth, and protects from wind and rain. We have been amazed how much warmer our legs are when we wear rain pants for wind protection and warmth when it isn’t raining. Gore-Tex socks keep our feet dry. A good wind and waterproof coat with adequate insulation is now basic for our cold weather riding.

Good warm clothing and grip heaters can only do so much. Since we have become avid cold weather riders, we realized we needed additional warmth beyond what our own bodies can produce. Heated gear opened up a whole new world for cold weather riding for us. We use heated jacket liners and heated socks. My heated jacket liner is 65 watts as opposed to many jacket liners that use close to 100 watts. We chose 65-watt jacket liners to save total wattage, so we could also enjoy heated socks that use 25 watts. We use our heated gear on our VStroms, and our dual sports. Our dual sports tend to have less available watts to run extra electrical loads. Heated pants and gloves are available if the bike has the power to run that much wattage.

webBikeWorld clothing review: http://www.webbikeworld.com/Motorcycleclothing/Motorcycle-clothing.htm

The combination of good clothing, heated grips, and heated gear (jacket and socks) has allowed us to ride in comfort even when the temperatures have been well below freezing. Our V-Stroms have a relativity good electrical load, and we have no problem running our heated gear and grips for hours at a time. However, our dual sports (like most dual sports) have a limited amount of spare wattage available, and this is where power management is essential.

Experience has shown that running heated grips and heated gear for extended periods of time can result in a low or dead battery. To save power we have installed switches to shut off our headlights. When running off-road or places we don’t feel our headlights are necessary, we shut off the headlight thereby saving enough watts to run our heated gear, and still maintain an adequate charge in the battery. When we come to a road where we feel we need our headlights (paved roads), we turn them back on. The engine is running fast enough that it will usually put out sufficient power to keep up with the load. A voltage meter is handy (Alan’s bike has one) for keeping track of the power load and battery charge.

If you enjoy riding as much as we do, you will find heated grips and heated gear is just what you need to allow you to continue to ride even when the thermometer dips below freezing. Hopefully, these tips will encourage you to get out and enjoy winter riding. Take care and keep the rubber side down.

-Katy

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