Christmas is coming – so what will Santa be bringing you to turn those winter miles into winter smiles?
Dressing for cold weather biking is no different to everything else in life – there’s a right way and a wrong way. Avoid the wrong way with this basic guide to gearing up for winter:
Leaving aside the helmet (make sure it’s full face unless you want to rock the rigor mortis look) your jacket is one of the most important garments you’ll buy. Spend some time doing your research before you buy and you won’t go far wrong. Here’s what to look for:
Material: Waxed cotton aside, leather’s always been the standby favourite of the motorcyclist. It looks good, lasts for years and has excellent abrasion resistance. But in the rain, wind and cold textiles win hands down.
At the cost of some abrasion resistance, technical textile jackets (‘textile’ is just a generic term for man-made fabrics) are lighter, thinner, thermally efficient, dry quickly, are more water resistant and out-perform a traditional leather jacket in terms of keeping out wind. My advice? Go textile. It’s a no-brainer for winter riding.
Style: Style? Don’t misunderstand, you’ll end up looking like a womble at the end of this no matter. What I really mean is ‘bomber or tunic?’ All-year Euro bikers tend to opt for longer tunic length jackets with an elasticated or belted waist. The advantage of the belt in slightly longer jackets is that they cut heat loss from the body’s central core section compared to the shorter bomber style. They shed water better over your waist and hips and have deeper pockets too.
Features: Look for a removable zip-in foil-backed liner. When the temperature rises, you can just zip it out. Snugly fitting cuffs (zipped and Velcro’d), an adjustable Velcro collar and zips protected by button down flaps are also useful in keeping out the cold. Body armour and back protectors should be CE marked. Zips should be decently chunky and locatable with the clumsily gloved hand of the frozen biker.
Look for as many useable pockets as possible, especially breast pockets if you use toll booths frequently, and make sure you can use them. Some waist pockets are set just too far back to be reachable – very annoying! Oh and don’t forget reflective piping or panels – a bonus if you ride at night.
Recommends? I’ve long left leather for Weise and Richa, but there are loads of other good brands like Rukka, Dainese, Buffalo and Alpinestars who make good quality gear too. Get searching.
Top Tip: Don’t buy a jacket that’s too tight – leave enough room for a few layers of thin clothing underneath. Merino wool sweatshirts or synthetic base layers used by outdoorsy types like walkers work well under bike clothes – don’t just put on one thick jumper but layer up. If you’re a courier and find yourself hauling ass up office stairways all day, ditch anything cotton (it retains sweat) and look for a technical wicking underlayer which allows sweat to travel away from the skin. It’ll keep you warmer longer.
Bikers sometimes overlook overtrousers when they’re just starting out, but finding a good set will improve your on-bike comfort no end. Being old school, I still use leather and would’ve recommended my old favourites Belstaff but as they now seem to be selling sweaters at £500 a pop, I’d hate to think what their trousers cost. Once again then, it’s textiles to the rescue.
One important point is how you keep those weighty overtrousers up. You could channel your inner German and go salopette style with braces…
…or there’s elasticated and belted types, where the only disadvantage is when they fall down, clown-style, in public areas:
Whatever you decide, cold weather riders can do worse than to choose ‘three season’ textile trousers which have all the advantages of the jackets (dry membranes and thermal insulation) but aren’t too bulky. The fit is typically looser than traditional stretch-panelled leather so you can pull them on over normal trousers. They fit over your boots and typically zip in to your jacket too.
Here’s an example of I’m talking about, again from Alpinestars.
Top Tip: make sure over trousers are not too tight and not too short. Assume the sitting position when you try on a pair in the shop to check a) they don’t ride up over your boot tops and b) they don’t pinch the back of the knee and cut off your circulation, especially if they’re fitted with armoured knee protection.
Now for the biggest debate in motorcycling. Which are the best winter gloves? I only wish I knew. First you’ve got to decide the style – lobster claw or full finger. I use both and find there’s little practical difference between the two styles, except perhaps the lobster claw type scares children a little better:
Features: Winter gloves are typically made in the gauntlet style and nearly always include at least a few abrasive leather elements and armour even if the main body is textile. They should fit over the zipped end of your jacket so wind can’t travel up your arms at speed. Check there’s a wrist restraint too – vital to stop the glove being dragged off in the event of an accident.
All should include some type of branded thermal lining along with a breathable waterproof element like Goretex or Hipora. These are supposed to let sweat out, but I find no matter what I buy they never work. Some gloves feature a built in soft chamois over the index finger to wipe the visor in the rain – a useful feature.
Top Tip: Always buy two pairs of gloves – that way one pair can dry out while you wear the other. Oh and never smell the inside of your gloves. Ever.
Now for the feet and you’ll definitely be needing proper motorcycle boots. Click here to learn why.
Your extremities are always the first to feel the cold so it’s vital that your boots are both waterproof and of the correct size. Too tight and you’ll constrain your ability to wear (thicker) winter socks and you’ll be leaving little space for that layer of vital insulating air. Too loose and you won’t be able to feel the brake and gear levers properly. Worse, they could come off in a crash.
When you buy, check you have the ability to flex the boots at the ankle. Even if you think you look daft (you definitely will) try and replicate your riding position and gear selecting ability in the shop, especially if you have a sportsbike which typically has constricted room between the seat and peg. For this reason, even though they’re stronger, only consider motorcross boots if you ride upright type bikes – adventure style or trad roadster for example. ‘Crosser boots are really designed to support standing riders and won’t give much ankle flexibility.
Confused by all the choice? Of course you are so narrow it down here.
Top Tip: high-calf boots will rub the paint off your frame or sidepanels while you ride. Put some clear vinyl adhesive sheet over exposed frame and paintwork parts for the winter, or just use a bit of duct tape.
Even if your gear says ‘waterproof’, you’ll be needing a set of these. I prefer cheap one piece waterproofs and have done so for years. Are they more waterproof than two-piece designs? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s not really the point as all waterproofs leak at the seams eventually (especially, for unexplained reasons, in the crotch).
One-piece waterproofs are simply the best investment you can make in keeping out the wind. Wind chill is a serious problem for motorcyclists and any heat loss from your body core is significant. Although two-piece waterproofs are more convenient, serious distance riders prefer one piece suits as the biggest heat loss occurs around the join between jacket and trousers, a problem solved in one piece designs.
You basically get what you pay for in waterproofs, but as they get pulled and wrenched so much at the seams while putting them on in a hurry, I always break them after two years no matter what I buy. I’m currently using Weise one piecers (pictured) with diagonal entry zip and ‘slimming’ side panels. Good enough.
Top Tip: One-piece waterproofs are toilet-cubicle hell. Go before you leave.
OK, that’s the basics done with, but what about those little extras that can make life even more bearable for the two-wheeled winter warrior? How about these for a start:
Along with the toilet brush, cheese in a tube and Jedward, one of life’s great unsung inventions. Yes, you look like an idiot, but you feel like a king. A king wearing oven gloves.
Check out my review of the Visorcat glove mounted visor wiper. Simple, intuitive, indispensable for all-weather riding and not made of real cat.
Aimed at riders whose bikes have alternators designed with this in mind (ie not a CBF 125). Not remembering to disconnect any power leads from the bike can make for an embarrassing dismount.
The daddy of one-piece riding gear. Pricey, epic reliability and anti-cool cool. The Captain America of motorcycle clothing.
Got any of your own winter gear recommends? You can help new riders by chipping in using the comments section. A Safe winter riding season to all!
This post was kindly sponsored by bikebandit.com