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Winter motorcycle rides require being aware of the road conditions beneath you

Added January 17, 2019
Tire tracks in the snow

Riding your motorcycle during winter is an invigorating experience. Extending the joy and excitement of motorcycling into this fourth season requires some extra preparation and caution. Winter roads present their own unique set of surface hazards, and they challenge us to be more aware of how we manage bike traction.  

Surface hazards

Your favorite roads have changed since the fall. It only takes a few weeks of winter weather and road maintenance to make a big difference. Here are some of the hazards to watch out for:

  • Black ice: Even when air temperatures are above freezing, black ice can develop where the road surface temperature is below freezing.
  • Salt and sand: While it provides traction for vehicles during winter storms, afterwards, it accumulates on the road and can be as slippery as ice for a motorcycle rider.
  • Frost heaves: This is when rain penetrates cracks in the road surface, freezes, and then expands, pushing the asphalt up.
  • Tar snakes: This road maintenance technique can cover a road with slippery, wandering stripes.
  • Pavement debris:  Snow plows often tear up frost-heaved pavement, leaving debris on the road.
  • Snowplow grooves: This is caused when snowplow blades get damaged or capture debris and cut grooves in the road surface that can wander in the direction of travel.
  • Potholes: Potholes develop from repeated freezing and thawing cycles that break up the pavement surface.
  • Gravel: Gravel used to construct road shoulders or driveways often ends up spread on the road surface by plows after a storm.

Winter traction

Motorcycles ride on two small tire contact patches, each about the size of your hand. These small connections between our tires and the road provide a limited amount of traction for accelerating, braking, and cornering. That’s why it’s important to maintain your motorcycle tires to provide maximum traction. Keep these things in mind:

  • Use the correct tires: Motorcycle manufacturers design motorcycles and tire fit for optimum traction. Always use the correct size and type of tire.
  • Have the proper inflation: Motorcycle tires provide the best traction when properly inflated. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for cold tire pressure.
  • Look for thread wear and condition: Inspect your tire tread and sidewalls before every ride. Replace worn or damaged tires.

Hazard management tactics

Winter motorcycle riding means you’ll continuously need to scan the road surface ahead for hazards, avoid target fixation, and select a line to ride around dangers. Always keep in mind the hazards that reduce traction can be hidden around every turn or under the vehicle ahead of you in traffic. Here are a few tips to give you some traction to spare:

  • Slow down: A lower speed is especially important when entering corners and in areas of limited sight distance.
  • Reduce lean angles: Lower cornering speeds reduce lean angles and allow you to change riding lines as needed.
  • Smoothly use controls: Avoid sudden turning, braking, or accelerating while on a surface hazard.

Till next time, ride safe!

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