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Tips to avoid hypothermia while riding a motorcycle

Added January 10, 2017
Bearded man in stocking cap with icicles on face

Riding a motorcycle in winter is an invigorating experience. The air often seems more clear when it’s cold out, and the sunshine feels so welcome during these short winter days. There’s also a special pride in being one of the intrepid four-season riders. Then again, there is that bone-chilling cold feeling at the end of some rides. 

The wind chill factor

While it’s cool to ride all year, being cold is not good. It’s surprising how fast feeling a little cold can turn into a dangerous situation. While riding a motorcycle, you can develop hypothermia, defined as when your body’s core temperature falls below 95 degrees. Riding at a normal road speed of 55 mph on a sunny winter day with an ambient air temperature of 35 degrees creates a wind chill factor of 18 degrees. You can lose body heat real fast at low wind chill factors.

Understand the risk

Hypothermia is especially dangerous on a motorcycle, since it greatly diminishes mental and physical riding skills. It’s important to realize the decline in your ability to ride safely begins early in the process. Symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Numbness 
  • Weakness
  • Loss of fine motor skills
  • Mental confusion
  • Loss of consciousness

Tips to stay warm

During cold weather, the goal is to preserve your body’s core temperature. A key factor in doing this is not exposing your skin to the cold airstream. Here are some things to keep in mind when riding in cold weather: 

  • Always pack extra cold-weather gear.
  • Plan to ride reasonable distances—remember the temperature drops quickly after sunset.
  • Know the area’s weather forecast before you ride.
  • Dress in layers so you can adjust as temperatures change.
  • If you sweat in your gear, you will chill faster.
  • Layering your rain gear on top can help block the wind.
  • Avoid tight-fitting combinations of riding gear.
  • Wear a full-face helmet.
  • Wear insulated, full-finger gloves.
  • Use electric riding gear—there are many options available.
  • Consider installing a windshield if your motorcycle doesn’t already have one.
  • A handlebar-mounted thermometer can help you stay aware of the actual air temperature.
  • Make frequent stops to get out of the cold and warm up.
  • Fuel your body—eat a hot meal and drink warm non-alcoholic beverages during rest stops.
  • Remember to check on your co-rider. They get cold, too.

With a little planning, the right gear, and some common sense, you can safely and comfortably ride your motorcycle during the winter.

Till next time, stay warm and ride safe!