It’s cold out there tonight, and if the weather map on the TV news is right, the rest of January could be pretty cold, too.
Riding a motorbike, scooter or moped at this time of year can be challenging, which is why some bikers keep their machines safely tucked away when the thermometer hits zero.
But we know that most bikers are hardy souls, and they’ll keep riding whatever the weather. But if you’re planning to use your bike this winter, here is one big tip: watch out for windchill.
Effectively, windchill is not what the air temperature is, it’s what it feels like on your body. Any cold day feels far colder if there is a strong breeze involved, too.
As bikers ride they effectively create their own breeze as they rush through the air. So if the temperature is 0 deg C, the effect of the cold air passing your body as you ride makes it feel way, way colder than that. And it gets colder the faster you ride.
As a rule of thumb, a 0 degrees Centigrade (deg C) air temperature will feel like it’s about -5 or -6 deg C if you are riding at 20mph, but push your ride on to faster roads and that will get to feeling like -9 or -10 fairly quickly if you are doing 40-50mph.
That’s cold. At those temperatures riders who aren’t well wrapped up will find it hard to operate the controls, their hands will go numb and they will find their concentration slipping.
So what’s the best way of keeping warm?
If you’ve got the cash, you can buy a heated biker’s suit. They’re the type of things worn by bikers in Scandinavia and Alpine regions - where -10 deg C is a warm day in the winter! – and they are very good. But they are also very pricey, and possibly not the best option for bikers on a budget, where our weather means you may only get use out of them for one month a year.
For most bikers, traditional thicker, better insulated motorcycle jackets, trousers and gloves will do the job, though again, some riders complain that these bulkier garments are too restrictive and make riding uncomfortable – and they’re not great for waddling round in when you finish the ride.
A better option for many is to take a leaf out of a hill walkers’ guidebook and layer up: wear lots of thin layers, which you can then strip off when you stop. Start off with a thin thermal vest which will trap warm air next to your skin and then top it with two-three slightly thicker layers, before topping it with your usual biking jacket.
Stopping heat loss through your head is always important in cold weather, but many bikers think they can’t wear anything underneath their snug-fitting helmet. However, thin balaclavas are an ideal fit, will stop heat loss from the top of your head and will keep your face warmer, too. Look for a neck warmer/liner to finish off .
Don’t forget your hands and feet. One tip I’d always stress is buy the best winter gloves you can afford – you’ll get the benefit from your investment. Wear them under the cuffs of your jacket to stop cold draughts getting up your arms.
Don’t forget your feet. Sturdy boots with strong ankle and sole support are always a must when riding at any time, but in winter it’s even more important. Team them with a thinner sock, then hiking socks on top.
But watch it…
Finally, never overestimate your ability to cope with adverse weather. If the mercury plunges deep into the red, consider whether you can give the bike a miss that day. If it’s cold the roads will be icy, with potential for near invisible black ice that will challenge even the most experienced of riders.
Riding through the snow dials up the drama even further, and snowflakes coming at you, particularly at night, can be a disorientating experience.
If you have to ride, remember that main bus routes and roads should be gritted, so stick to those if you can.