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Preparing for winter motorcycle riding hazards

Added February 9, 2021
Motorcycle covered in snow

For avid motorcycle riders whose bikes sit idle for months, winter can be frustrating. Even after three ride-filled seasons, the cold winter can seem to last forever. But it doesn’t have to be that way. More and more riders are discovering that winter can be another time to ride. But like the other seasons, winter riding has a unique set of risks you need to consider. Here we’ll address some winter road hazards and offer some tips on how to safely enjoy winter motorcycling.

Increase visibility for yourself and for others

To car and truck drivers, winter motorcycle riders are likely an unexpected sight on the road. Because other drivers are less likely to be aware of winter riders, you need to be extra aware of other drivers and make sure you’re easy to see. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Face shields: Cold air and warm moist breath can quickly fog your face shield. While keeping your face shield open helps prevent the problem, the tender skin on your face can freeze. Consider trying a Pinlock™ face shield—the double layer with an air gap can stop the fog and help you avoid frostbite.
  • Lights and signals: Check your headlight and turn signals before every ride as part of your pre-ride safety inspection. This is especially important during the winter, when daylight hours are shorter. If your state legally allows using a modulated headlight, consider adding one. It’ll help you stand out in traffic.
  • Reflectors: To some, removing reflectors is considered a way to make your bike look more custom or cool. However, these passive devices are important to help you stay visible, especially during the winter darkness. If your bike doesn’t have reflectors, add them. The sides and rear benefit the most.
  • High-visibility riding gear: Just like lights, signals, and reflectors, bright hi-viz gear helps other drivers see you. The bright colors and reflectors stand out—especially against the winter backdrop. This gear is reasonably inexpensive and is worth the investment for your safety.

Practice safe motorcycle riding tactics

Mastering your motorcycle’s handling, traction, acceleration, and braking comes from consistent practice and prudence behind the handlebars. All these skills are just as important during the winter.

  • Riding skills: Keep your skills sharp by practicing every chance you can. You can use long winter evenings to study and learn riding techniques on the Motorcycle Safety Foundation website. With some digging, you can also find good motorcycle safety videos on YouTube.
  • Speed: Reducing your speed gives you more time to manage road and traffic hazards—especially when road conditions aren’t ideal. Increase your following distance so you have a longer time to react to hazards on the road.
  • Lean angles: Enter turns at lower speeds so you don’t have to lean as far. It’ll also be easier for you to respond to surprises around corners.

Be aware of surface hazards

Winter surface hazards are one of the reasons motorcyclists don’t ride in winter. However, if you know what road conditions to watch for, along with practicing safe riding, you can enjoy a nice winter ride.

  • Black ice gets its name from its near invisibility on black asphalt, though it’s just as hard to see on concrete roads. A thin sheet of ice can form on road surfaces that collect water when the temperature is below freezing. 
  • Salt and sand help improve traction for vehicles on the road when snow and ice are present. However, those materials can be as slick as ice for motorcycles—particularly in places where they accumulate.
  • Frost heaves occur when moisture penetrates cracks in the road and freezes. As the water freezes, it expands and pushes the road surface up in a ridge along a crack or joint in the pavement.
  • Tar snakes are road surface cracks filled with tar. These can create slippery strips across the road.
  • Snowplow grooves are dips in the pavement caused by snowplows. The grooves can catch your motorcycle tires or force your wheels to steer along the grooves’ paths.
  • Potholes can fill with ice and cause a slippery riding surface or become disguised by snow.
  • Gravel from construction sites, driveways, and road shoulders can spread and cause slick riding surfaces.

Use proper tires

Experienced motorcycle riders know that managing the traction of their tires is a key motorcycle-riding skill. Cold tires on cold road surfaces can reduce motorcycle tire traction. At the beginning of a ride and after any moderately long stop, your tires will be cooler than the ideal temperature and heat up a little slower than they would on warm pavement.

  • Tire type: While you probably won’t find motorcycle snow tires as easily as car snow tires, you can still choose effective tires for winter riding. If you need new tires this winter, consider tires that offer more grip than ones offering higher mileage. They may not last as long, but the extra grip in the winter is worth it.
  • Tire inflation: Cold temperatures reduce the pressure in your tires, so be sure to check your tire pressure before heading out on a cool-weather ride.
  • Tire condition: Your tires’ condition is crucial to riding safely. Always check your bike’s tire tread depth and inspect for any cracks on the sidewalls before heading out for a ride. If your tires are worn, avoid riding until you replace them.

Winter offers the opportunity to experience the joy of year-round motorcycling. When you’re prepared, riding in the cold air can be invigorating. Possibly the best of all is the look surprised car drivers give you while you sit next to them at a traffic light. If you want to know more about riding during the winter, we’re happy to share more tips with you.

Till next time, ride safe!

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