So you've decided to ride your bike through the winter. Well good on you, despite the temperature dropping and the nights getting longer a bike can be a better form of transport. With more people switching to cars you have the ability to get to places faster then those who have switched over to using a car but you also have the satisfaction of having ridden a bike through tough conditions.
As with every endeavour a little preparation can pay dividends in the long run. If your bike is prepared for the winter then this minimises the amount you need to do on it when the evenings are cold and dark.
Carry out all the following tips, or only those that you want to but rest assured that every little bit helps. All of them are designed to ensure that you have a worry free winter.
1. Service the bike, at very least change the oil and oil filter. Once done that is one thing you don't have to worry about.
2. If your bike is water cooled then check the anti freeze. If you don't have a way to check this then consider replacing the antifreeze/water mix.
3. Check the battery and the terminals. If your battery is old then consider replacing it, cold weather causes a battery to be less efficient so an old battery will struggle even more. Clean the battery terminals and makes sure they are securely connected. To protect the battery terminals connections during the cold weather smear a covering of Vaseline over them.
4. Check your electrics. Where the cabling is exposed examine the cabling for breaks, fraying or damage. If there is a section damaged then replace that section. An easy way to do this is to run a finger tip over cables, you will soon feel and breaks or fraying. Make sure all the lights are working including instrument lights. I tend to make sure that I have replacement bulbs and fuses in the garage, if a bulb or fuse does blow then I can change it with the minimum of fuss - better then having to make a trip to a motorcycle dealer just to buy a bulb or get fuses when it's cold outside.
5. Consider getting a trickle charger. If possible plug in the bike in overnight to a trickle charger then this is worthwhile doing. Remember that when riding home in the evening you will have the lights on, and possibly heated clothing plugged in, all of which means less charge for the battery.
6. Lube the clutch cable. During riding it is possible to get grit and water trapped in the cable. Not a problem during the summer but that water can freeze during the winter - at best this means a stiff clutch lever, at worst a broken clutch cable.
7. Check your brakes both front and rear. Replace pads if they are worn, and check for calliper corrosion. You may want to consider replacing the brake fluid if this has not been done for a while.
8. Give the bike a clean. Take some time to make sure the bike is clean. During the winter you will probably need to clean your bike every 1-2 weeks to remove all the road crud, starting with a clean bike means this is easier.
9. Seal the bike. There are a number of products that will protect the bike over the winter and ensure that damage from road crud will be minimised. Two such products are FS365 from Scotoiler or ACF50 available from most bike shops. In either case you wash the bike and then apply to the bike avoiding the brakes, discs and callipers, effectively giving your bike a shield. During the winter, after washing the bike, you need to check that the protective coat is still intact, if it isn't then simply apply more after washing the bike.
10. Consider getting the bike "fixed". If you have any niggling problems with the bike that you have been putting off repairing then getting them fixed now would be the best idea. Whilst being broken down during a long summer night may not be so bad, standing at the side of the road in the middle of winter is definitely not recommended.
11. Consider replacing the tyres. Worn tyres will not give you the grip you need on slippery winter roads. If you are unsure remember that you can hold on to your current set of tyres and refit them come the summer.
12. Check the tyre pressures - cold temperatures will reduce the pressure in tyres, although this may not be significant it may make a difference to the handling.
During the winter you need to make sure you keep the bike clean, make sure all the lights are working and the tyre pressures have not fallen, all the mechanical preparation having been done this means less time spent in a cold garage.
When it comes to riding in the winter then there are a few things to bear in mind.
1. Practice your riding in winter kit. Bulky clothing may keep you warm but restrict your movement. Make sure you are happy and comfortable in the gear you are wearing and can control the bike fully. Make sure that your clothing fits well, the last thing you want is a cold breeze blowing in through gaps in the clothing.
2. Carry some wipes with you - when you are riding along the spray from cars and lorries can smear a visor quickly. Being able to give it a quick wipe without removing the helmet or your warm cloths is certainly better then having to lift the visor to get a clear view.
3. If the riding you are doing means long times on the bike or the area is very cold then consider heated clothing, this gives me warmth for less bulk. The price of heated clothing has come down significantly over the last few years to the point where it is worth while considering for the few months it will be used. Waistcoats or cummerbunds keep the body core warm and you get heated insoles and gloves. Whilst heated grips deliver heat to the inside of your hand (resulting in cold outside from the windblast) heated gloves deliver an even heat all over.
4. Practice your braking. With the roads slippery and/or icy it is worth remembering that this will affect your ability to stop.
5. Keep a good lookout. I know this sounds obvious but remember that people in their cars may be cold, possibly its dark, they couldn't be asked to de-ice properly so their only view of the road is no better then that of the sea that a submarine captain has through a periscope, there are any number of factors that mean they are paying less attention.
6. Carry spare clothing. If your gloves or scarf get wet on the way somewhere it's always nice to slip on dry gloves for the return journey. Look around for options with regard to clothing i.e. you don't need 2 pairs of winter gloves, you could use inner gloves with your summer gloves (the inner gloves can be worn alone so you have warm gloves if you need them) go give you more warmth.
7. Check the weather forecast. There will be those days when riding is simply not an option. Better to know this in advance rather then when fully kitted up and half a mile from home.