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Cold Play - Soldiering on

Tim's no fair weather rider. Here he explains how to survive winter riding to come out of it a better rider...

Keeping snug

The idea of hanging up my riding togs for winter and mothballing the bike until spring has never really occurred to me. I've just kind of got on with it, suffered, then learned to cope with and, as near as dammit, beaten the weather. For years I had no choice (or didn't realise I had one), as I despatched through seven winters in the more reckless days of my youth. These days I don't put so many miles in but I'm still a year-round rider.

Nowadays my commute is a mere 35 miles and a few less minutes, which isn't really long enough for serious chills to set in. An hour or more on the bike definitely is, and is worth preparing for.

Layers are the key to keeping warm. Thermal long-johns and the like are a good place to start, and decent textile trousers and jacket a must, but my top tip for all-over snugness in freezing conditions is a one-piece unlined oversuit. They keep out draughts and rain better than anything else. Get one a size bigger than the rest of your kit so it fits over the top without restricting movement, make sure there's enough adjustment in the collar to seal it up without stopping blood flow to your brain, and wear gloves under the cuffs, not over, for extra water and draught proofing.

Feet and hands always suffer the most. While it's possible to wear loads of jumpers and jackets or half-a-dozen pairs of increasingly over-sized trousers to keep warm, the same doesn't work with boots or gloves. Imagine how big your hands would be... And be careful squeezing your feet into extra pairs of socks - if they make your boots too tight it can restrict circulation so your feet will get cold and numb even sooner. Ditto with thermal inner gloves.

Heated clothing has many fans but I've never bothered with it. Not to say you shouldn't, but your electrics must be up to the job (mine never were) and you've got to remember to unplug it before walking away from the bike (I never could). Having said that, heated grips are now my preferred way of keeping hands warm. When it gets extra arctic, off-road style handguards keep the cold air off, although they might look a bit odd on your R1 and foul the fairing on full lock. Full-on style avoiders may opt for handlebar muffs at this point.

It's important to remember that keeping your core temperature up will delay heat loss in the extremities. The warmer your body is the warmer your limbs will be, and the warmer your hands and feet will be. Or rather the longer it will take for them to freeze.

Don't start the journey already cold. If you have to remove icy-cold locks from the bike or open a cold garage door before riding off, do it with gloves on. If you start the journey with cold fingers they'll struggle to warm up.

If you don't wear earplugs then winter's the time to start. Much of the body's heat is lost through the head, and ears act like tiny chimneys, drawing warmth from your brain. Don't believe us? Stand outside on a cold day and try a 'with' and 'without' earplug test.For associated reasons you want to keep your visor shut at all times, which means you don't want it misting up. Splash out on an anti-fog device and fit it properly for mist-free, visor shut riding.

Will she make it?

You might be ready for a winter's riding, but is your bike? First up, are the tyres up to the job? Sticky rubber with minimal tread that needs working hard to get up to temperature - and stay there - is fine in the summer and on track days, but may not be up to the job of slogging through the winter. Get something appropriate.

Are the electrics in shape? If your bike lives outside, is the battery up to early morning cold starting? Check its connections are tight and smear them with Vaseline to protect them from corrosion. While you're at it, a squirt of WD-40 or Duck Oil in the bike's switchgear and electrical connectors will keep corrosion at bay.

If it's chain drive, keep it lubed. Riding in the rain jet-washes lube off the chain so it needs re-applying more often. Try and lube the chain before its rollers look shiny and oil-free. And always lubricate just after riding, not before. It might be a pain to remember when all you want to do is get indoors, but it's a far more effective way of lubricating: the viscous lube is thinned by the warm chain and is better able to coat its nooks and crannies before cooling and thickening. Not as effective as a Scottoiler, though.

Winter road salt will destroy a bike's finish. The only way to combat its corrosive onslaught is to hose the bike down after each ride - which is often easier said than done as not all of us have a hose to hand where we park. Even if we do, regular thorough cleaning is still a must. It may seem a thankless task washing the bike on Sunday when you know it's going to be hanging come Monday, but it's essential if you want to keep it in good condition. And be aware that regular cleaning means regular lubrication. Anything that moves will need attention with a spot of oil or grease. Pay attention to footrest, stand and lever pivots and, most importantly, suspension linkages. And brakes too. Regular stripping and cleaning of calipers is a must on some bikes if seized calipers and subsequent warped discs are to be avoided.

Ride to survive

Using a motorcycle through winter may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it don't half focus the mind on your riding. It'll teach you at least as much about grip, traction and throttle control than a summer of dry, warm track days will.

The key to staying upright is being smooth and relaxed, which is pretty much the key to good riding full stop. A smooth, fast rider in the summer will, likely as not, be a smooth, ever so slightly less fast rider in the winter, too.

Riding in the wet is something we all have to do and shouldn't purposely be avoided - it's a key part of basic machine control. It becomes more unpleasant in the winter though; being wet is one thing, cold and wet is altogether less desirable. But the more comfortable you are physically, the more comfortable you will be mentally and the better able to deal with the conditions.

And those conditions can range from concentration-sapping cold, to cold and wet, cold and dark, cold and icy, cold and slimy, cold and snowy to a combination of all of the above. Salt might stop ice from forming (unless it gets really, really cold), but it does make the road very slippery. Even on apparently dry winter days, the road will be damp and greasy where the council gritters have been out because salt absorbs moisture from the air.

If you do get caught in a blizzard and find yourself riding on snow or ice, it doesn't have to mean imminent disaster. Stay off the brakes, slow down using the gears only, and try to avoid snapping the throttle shut in a panic - the forward weight transfer can load up the front and have it wash out, even in a straight line.

Avoid the temptation to ride with one or both feet on the ground for security. If the bike does start to go down on ice you're not going to hold it up with your feet, and there's a good chance of breaking an ankle if you try. You're better off keeping feet on the pegs, and less likely to break a limb if you go down. The real danger if you crash is sliding for longer than you normally would and hitting an oncoming car or something very solid. Best not to think about it.

Top gear for winter warmth

Here's our pick of the kit for keeping the worst of the weather at bay

*Play misty

Fog City and Pinlock (pictured, above) are the two most effective anti-fog visor inserts on the market. Both need careful fitting if they are to work properly.

*Feeling the heat

The best heated grips are made by Honda, and come ready-to-fit to many of their bikes, but there are many others available. Price is an indication of how robust they are and how long they'll last. Oxford Products have been making and refining heated grips for years. Spada make them too (£34.99), but others are available.

*Suits you

A one-piece oversuit is the finishing touch. There are loads on the market, but Tim swears by his expansive Spada 406 oversuit.

Contacts

Feridax (for Spada and Pinlock (01384) 413841, www.feridax.com

Oxford Products (01865) 852000, www.oxprod.com

Phoenix Distribution (for Fog City)(01782) 569810 www.phoenixnw.co.uk

Keeping snug

The idea of hanging up my riding togs for winter and mothballing the bike until spring has never really occurred to me. I've just kind of got on with it, suffered, then learned to cope with and, as near as dammit, beaten the weather. For years I had no choice (or didn't realise I had one), as I despatched through seven winters in the more reckless days of my youth. These days I don't put so many miles in but I'm still a year-round rider.

Nowadays my commute is a mere 35 miles and a few less minutes, which isn't really long enough for serious chills to set in. An hour or more on the bike definitely is, and is worth preparing for.
Layers are the key to keeping warm. Thermal long-johns and the like are a good place to start, and decent textile trousers and jacket a must, but my top tip for all-over snugness in freezing conditions is a one-piece unlined oversuit. They keep out draughts and rain better than anything else. Get one a size bigger than the rest of your kit so it fits over the top without restricting movement, make sure there's enough adjustment in the collar to seal it up without stopping blood flow to your brain, and wear gloves under the cuffs, not over, for extra water and draught proofing.

Feet and hands always suffer the most. While it's possible to wear loads of jumpers and jackets or half-a-dozen pairs of increasingly over-sized trousers to keep warm, the same doesn't work with boots or gloves. Imagine how big your hands would be... And be careful squeezing your feet into extra pairs of socks - if they make your boots too tight it can restrict circulation so your feet will get cold and numb even sooner. Ditto with thermal inner gloves.

Heated clothing has many fans but I've never bothered with it. Not to say you shouldn't, but your electrics must be up to the job (mine never were) and you've got to remember to unplug it before walking away from the bike (I never could). Having said that, heated grips are now my preferred way of
keeping hands warm. When it gets extra arctic, off-road style handguards keep the cold air off, although they might look a bit odd on your R1 and foul the fairing on full lock. Full-on style avoiders may opt for handlebar muffs at this point.

It's important to remember that keeping your core temperature up will delay heat loss in the extremities. The warmer your body is the warmer your limbs will be, and the warmer your hands and feet will be. Or rather the longer it will take for them to freeze.

Don't start the journey already cold. If you have to remove icy-cold locks from the bike or open a cold garage door before riding off, do it with gloves on. If you start the journey with cold fingers they'll struggle to warm up.

If you don't wear earplugs then winter's the time to start. Much of the body's heat is lost through the head, and ears act like tiny chimneys, drawing warmth from your brain. Don't believe us? Stand outside on a cold day and try a 'with' and 'without' earplug test.

For associated reasons you want to keep your visor shut at all times, which means you don't want it misting up. Splash out on an anti-fog device and fit it properly for mist-free, visor shut riding.

Will she make it?

You might be ready for a winter's riding, but is your bike? First up, are the tyres up to the job? Sticky rubber with minimal tread that needs working hard to get up to temperature - and stay there - is fine in the summer and on track days, but may not be up to the job of slogging through the winter. Get something appropriate.

Are the electrics in shape? If your bike lives outside, is the battery up to early morning cold starting? Check its connections are tight and smear them with Vaseline to protect them from corrosion. While you're at it, a squirt of WD-40 or Duck Oil in the bike's switchgear and electrical connectors will keep corrosion at bay.

If it's chain drive, keep it lubed. Riding in the rain jet-washes lube off the chain so it needs re-applying more often. Try and lube the chain before its rollers look shiny and oil-free. And always lubricate just after riding, not before. It might be a pain to remember when all you want to do is get indoors, but it's a far more effective way of lubricating: the viscous lube is thinned by the warm chain and is better able to coat its nooks and crannies before cooling and thickening. Not as effective as a Scottoiler, though.

Winter road salt will destroy a bike's finish. The only way to combat its corrosive onslaught is to hose the bike down after each ride - which is often easier said than done as not all of us have a hose to hand where we park. Even if we do, regular thorough cleaning is still a must. It may seem a thankless task washing the bike on Sunday when you know it's going to be hanging come Monday, but it's essential if you want to keep it in good condition. And be aware that regular cleaning means regular lubrication. Anything that moves will need attention with a spot of oil or grease. Pay attention to footrest, stand and lever pivots and, most importantly, suspension linkages. And brakes too. Regular stripping and cleaning of calipers is a must on some bikes if seized calipers and subsequent warped discs are to be avoided.

Ride to survive

Using a motorcycle through winter may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it don't half focus the mind on your riding. It'll teach you at least as much about grip, traction and throttle control than a summer of dry, warm track days will.

The key to staying upright is being smooth and relaxed, which is pretty much the key to good riding full stop. A smooth, fast rider in the summer will, likely as not, be a smooth, ever so slightly less fast rider in the winter, too.

Riding in the wet is something we all have to do and shouldn't purposely be avoided - it's a key part of basic machine control. It becomes more unpleasant in the winter though; being wet is one thing, cold and wet is altogether less desirable. But the more comfortable you are physically, the more comfortable you will be mentally and the better able to deal with the conditions.

And those conditions can range from concentration-sapping cold, to cold and wet, cold and dark, cold and icy, cold and slimy, cold and snowy to a combination of all of the above. Salt might stop ice from forming (unless it gets really, really cold), but it does make the road very slippery. Even on apparently dry winter days, the road will be damp and greasy where the council gritters have been out because salt absorbs moisture from the air.

If you do get caught in a blizzard and find yourself riding on snow or ice, it doesn't have to mean imminent disaster. Stay off the brakes, slow down using the gears only, and try to avoid snapping the throttle shut in a panic - the forward weight transfer can load up the front and have it wash out, even in a straight line.

Avoid the temptation to ride with one or both feet on the ground for security. If the bike does start to go down on ice you're not going to hold it up with your feet, and there's a good chance of breaking an ankle if you try. You're better off keeping feet on the pegs, and less likely to break a limb if you go down. The real danger if you crash is sliding for longer than you normally would and hitting an oncoming car or something very solid. Best not to think about it.

Top gear for winter warmth

Here's our pick of the kit for keeping the worst of the weather at bay

  • Play misty

Fog City and Pinlockare the two most effective anti-fog visor inserts on the market. Both need careful fitting if they are to work properly.

  • Feeling the heat

The best heated grips  are made by Honda, and come ready-to-fit to many of their bikes, but there are many others available. Price is an indication of how robust they are and how long they'll last. Oxford Products have been making and refining heated grips for years. Spada make them too, but others are available.

  • Suits you

A one-piece oversuit is the finishing touch. There are loads on the market.