Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cold Weather Riding - Gear

Okay, before rolling the bike out of the garage, check your gear. You aren't going to get far or be very comfortable riding in cold or wet weather if you're freezing cold and thinking about how freezing cold you are when you should be thinking about everything else involved with riding a motorcycle.

First thing you'll notice as soon as you get the bike started, your gloves and full face helmet on is that your visor is fogging up. Your visor is going to fog up, period. I haven't tried a 3/4 helmet or open face helmet but if you do please let me know as I have yet to find a way to keep my visor completely clear short of stop breathing. I have been tempted to try the Scorpion snowmobile helmet but I am tired of throwing good money after bad.

I do however know of a few products to help. Store your helmet inside where it's warm, the cold garage will just make it worse when you stuff your warm noggin into a cold helmet. If you're going to ride in the cold on a regular basis look into getting a Pinlock or Fog City visor insert. It creates a thin pocket of air between the insert and visor and will last a year, two or three if you're careful cleaning it. Never use paper towel or tissue to clean your visor, paper is made from wood products and will scratch, use a soft clean cotton cloth or those cleaning cloths you get from the eye doctor.

I buy a smoked visor for summer riding so my stock clear visor that comes with the helmet gets a Fog City insert for winter and I can still use it for night riding too. One problem you may experience is a bit of distortion at night and oncoming headlights will cast a bit of starburst or glare but I got used to it fairly quickly.

(online photo)

You can try anti-fog sprays, dish soap, baby shampoo, Cat Crap, Pledge furniture polish or a potato but I find these snake oils have to be applied everyday and for me are not worth the hassle. Pledge does make your helmet smell nice though.

Next, you're going to have to learn to hold your breath and control your breathing. Stop lights and stop and go traffic is the worst part of cold weather riding. If you're not moving you're fogging up. I recommend using a breath box or Respro Foggy mask. Scorpion makes a breath box specifically for their helmets, I've used it and they work well.

(online photo)

(online photo)

Unfortunately, these don't work well for anyone who wears glasses. So another risk I take is to ride with just my visor as protective glasses are just another surface to fog up. In my defense, I do have a good size windscreen on my bike. I wear yellow lens safety glasses when I can and as long as I am moving they don't fog too bad. I exhale slowly and direct my breath downward into my neck tube.

Get yourself a Buffwear neck tube. These things are so versatile you'll wonder how you ever rode without one. It keeps the sun off your neck in the summer, bees out of your jacket and the wind out of your helmet.

Although riding in colder temperatures doesn't require heated gear, I recommend it. Layering is a good substitute, just don't layer so much like Randy from A Christmas Story that it hampers your ability to operate the controls or turn your head.

(online photo)

Heated gear keeps you warm without the bulk and although it can be expensive I believe it is well worth the investment. Just make sure your bike's electrical system can handle the draw, replacing stators and rectifiers can be expensive. I wear the Tourmaster Synergy full liner as it comes with the control module and I've never had trouble with it. I understand Gerbing may be better but the control module is an extra purchase. There has been some major advances the past few years in heated gear and rechargeable battery operated options are now available which is great for football games or other outdoor activities.

While looking into your electrical system wire up some heated grips. This is probably the best value for the money on any bike and I would put them above heated gear on the list of things to buy. The SPI is a great bit of kit, inexpensive and relatively simple to install. If you're looking for a more rugged set up I installed the Oxford Hot Grips on the Tiger. Both are great products and each one is simply a matter of preference and cost.

Along with heated grips, hand guards are important. Grips will keep your palms warm but hand guards will keep the cold wind from robbing your hands of heat. Look into model specific guards, aftermarket or universal, just make sure you buy the best coverage you can. Anything that wraps around the outside of the bar is great and will keep your fingertips out of the wind. Off-road guards are better than nothing but I removed the Cycra guards from my Tiger and put the larger stock guards back on. We bought VStrom handguards for Trobairitz and they are fantastic. If you can't find hand guards to fit your bike try Moose Mitts.

No, not these...
(online photo)

These!!! Moose Mitts, also known as Hippo Hands.
(online photo)

These fit over your handlebars and you slip your gloved hands into them. They are relatively inexpensive and work very well but you better know your controls because you can't see them. The one and only problem I found with these is if it foggy or rainy and you have to wipe your visor it is difficult to get your wet glove back into these at speed. I imagine the more rigid version or Hippo Hands maybe better but again are much more expensive.

Gloves, gloves, gloves... glove is all you need. Gloves so many choices, so many styles, materials and textures. Ribbed for her pleasure... Wait! What? Sorry, wrong glove.
I buy textile gloves over leather gloves and gauntlet over short cuff. For a winter glove I find textile gloves are more flexible, come with reflective piping and dry quickly. Leather winter gloves tend to be stiff in the cold, bulky and take much longer to dry, not to mention a losing proposition for the cow. Gauntlet gloves keep the cold and wet weather from wicking up your sleeves. Now there are two ways to wear gauntlets gloves, go out to the garage and sit on your bike. Do your elbows sit lower than your wrists? Wear the gauntlet on the outside of your sleeve. Do your elbows sit higher that your wrists? Wear the gauntlet on the inside of your sleeve. The reason? RAIN! Water will run down your arms to the lowest point, either to your elbows or your wrists and if you're not wearing gauntlet gloves properly you are going to end up with a glove full of water or a forearm soaked down to your elbow. Short cuff gloves... well you're on your own. Either way, look for a good waterproof pair of gloves, as much as you can afford. Some come with wiper blades stitched into the finger or thumb, I don't care for these as they are usually cumbersome at best and again reduce flexibility. Also note that over time the insulated padding will break down and effectiveness will drop year after year. If you can afford it, buy two pair, not necessarily the same gloves but if you are torn between two pair, buy them both. It is nice to a have a warm, dry pair to switch to halfway through the ride, at lunch or after work and gives you the opportunity to try a different brand. You'll eventually favor one over the other so keep the other in your saddlebags or tank bag. If you love the pair you have now and they aren't waterproof I can recommend the lobster claw style glove covers, they keep your gloves dry and block the wind. I don't use them very often so I went with the Fieldsheer ZZZ Over Glove but I would trust the Fieldsheer 2.0 Over Glove to be just as good. They take a bit of getting used to but you will be surprised how quickly you do. Another option is silk glove liners, they don't work as well as over gloves but for a few bucks they do help.

These boots are not made for walking and again waterproof is a must. You can buy Frogg Leggs boot covers if need be, but a good boot is well worth it. I am currently wearing the Tourmaster Solution boot which is no longer available and have been replaced with the Solution 2.0 WP. They have served me well for 18 months and I am going into my second winter with them. Next winter I'll step up to the SIDI Way Rain boot mainly because they are made of Lorica and considered vegan.

Socks, like gloves offer many different styles, materials and fabrics. There are Ceramic Sokz, coconut socks, merino wool socks, snowboarding socks, motocross socks, electric socks, socks with toes, electric socks you name it. I am using Kirkland Signature merino wool socks from Costco. Just find something that works, it's just trial and error. Too many layers can be too tight and cold, too loose and... well remember as kids we were always pulling up your socks.

Jackets and pants. This is where the majority of your budget will go, next to the bike and helmet purchase, jacket and pants are going to set you back hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Buy what you can afford of course and stick with reputable brand names. You're shopping for function, not frosting.
My personal preference is Aerostich, I bought their AD1 pants last year and I absolutely love them. They are a great over pant with full length zippers, gusseted crotch, adjustable armor/padding and they are waterproof. They are simple, without liners or insulation, no fuss no muss. I can layer long johns, fleece pants or jeans under them depending on the temperature or length of ride and I'm not caught up in zippers, velcro or snaps. In fact, I'm saving my pennies for their Darien jacket for the same reason.
Some things to consider with gear are style, fit, comfort, warmth, rain flaps, waterproofilityness and visibility. Three quarter length jackets are great for dual sports or standards but are too bulky for cruisers and sportbikes, shorter coats are great for cruisers but are going to show off your plumber's crack or whale tail on a sportbike. Check to see if the jacket zips to the pants as this will keep the jacket from riding up and letting the cold air in. Ride your bike to the store when buying gear and ask your local shop if they'll let you test sit their gear on your bike in the parking lot (offer to leave them your driver's license or credit card). Take your time, take all day, try several shops, you want to be comfortable and get to know your local dealer. I've posted a lot of links but I always shop local when I can, we need these businesses to stay open.
You want the jacket to fit, not so loose the armor shifts but not so tight you can't wear heated liner or layer some Under Armor, a shirt and a sweater under it without cutting off circulation or hampering operation of your bike. Remember to allow enough room around the neck for a neck tube, buff or scarf and still turn your head comfortably and wear your helmet when trying jackets on. You don't want to buy a jacket only to find the collar pushes your helmet down or not allow you to turn your head, it's a motorcycle gear shop, you're trying on gear so they expect it and encourage it.
Look for waterproof outer shell, Gore-Tex, storm flap zippers and waterproof pockets and zippers. I've lost a perfectly good digital camera to a pocket full of water, now I use ziplock bags whether the pocket is waterproof or not, if it keeps water out it'll keep water in.
You want a double fold storm flap on the main zippers, the fabric doubles back over itself and lays over the zipper and secured with velcro or snaps.

Storm flaps over zipper.
(online photo)

Liners are a matter of preference, they allow you to zip in or zip out layers depending on the weather. A waterproof liner is good, but make sure it is a second line of defense and not the only waterproof protection. Many summer jackets masquerade as waterproof jackets simply by adding a liner, at the very least get a 3 season jacket.
Personally, a fleece liner does nothing but piss me off, wear a long sleeve shirt and try the jacket on, I'll guarantee your shirt will end up around your shoulders by the time you get the jacket on. If it does have a fleece liner make sure you're willing to fight with it or wear a slick under armor shirt under it.

Visibility, if it's cold and rainy then drivers aren't expecting to see motorcycles. It's winter, why would anyone be riding a motorcycle in the winter? This can work for us too because when they do see us they see us, it is in disbelief but they SEE us. Retro-reflective piping is found on most jackets and you can buy a Hi-Vis jacket or buy a vest to go over your jacket.

Pants, the most important features you want to look for in pants is a waterproof crotch and ease of removal. When riding in the rain, unless you have a barn door sized windscreen all that water is going to run down the front of your jacket and puddle on your seat, right between your legs. Oh such a wonderful feeling when it starts to wick through your jeans and into your... well let's just say that water ain't warm. Check the inner seams, make sure they are seam taped or lined or sealed tight, this is where quality counts. Be careful of too many layers. All the liners, snaps and velcro sure keep you warm and snug but they aren't so much fun when you're doing the pee pee dance trying to get out of them.

Trobairitz loves the Rev'it Siren jacket and Rev'it Sand pants and says they "were 100% waterproof riding back from Day to Ona this year. No leaks" Here are a couple of her reviews.

That about covers it from head to toe for gear. I welcome any comments on gear you use, what tips and tricks you have and what works and what doesn't.


  1. This is an excellent, comprehensive post that clearly comes from someone who's been through the school of hard knocks, someone who rides every day, year-round, no matter what the weather. It's a bit uncanny how closely your setup resembles the one I've put together for myself after 4+ years of winter commuting. I can't add a single thing -- you've covered it all.

    And, that Rukka jacket seems a bit less crazy now, no? ;)

  2. This is a great write-up for anyone doing any cold weather riding. If you are using heated gear, make sure it works before you need it. I've ridden with a couple of folks who discovered that their gear wasn't working and they got very chilled pretty quickly. (It was sunny but below freezing).


  3. Troubadour,

    Awesome post! I bought gear today. I was sad to say goodbye to diva pink jacket & would have kept it for summer, but needed the cash to buy a good quality 3 season jacket. I have to say the gear oddessy has been very stressful and frustrating at times. I thought about buying on the internet, but the drawback is not being able to feel it, see it & try it on. One of the things I hate about living in a small town is how limiting selection & style are. I seriously could give a rip about whether it makes me look fabulous, that's not it's purpose, it's the safety factor that rocks my socks! (love Fox in Socks)

    Today I went to 3 dealerships in town and tried on several pairs of pants. Some were great, others not. Sizing is so wonky and there is no rhyme or reason to it. Seriously they need to make the sizes 'real life'. I walked around the store for several minutes & sat on a cruiser style bike to test the fit. It was fun sitting on a new bike.

    So I finally decided on a TourMaster ladies Epic jacket, it's waterproof & is 3 season, the pockets are waterproof (but I am not throwing out my ziplocks just yet) It has excellent venting and lots of pockets. The liner comes out easily, I have room for extra layers and it is breathable. I settled on the TourMaster Flex pants. Waterproof, breathable, zip in/out thermal liner, they also let you zip down to mesh with full length zippers. They are really comfortable and the length is perfect, I am not folding them over to make them fit! I did have to purchase the separately at different stores, they both treated me very well and gave me a break on the price as well.

    The only drawback is they are both black, but have decent reflectivity and I have a safety vest to wear over top. I have to say it is very comfortable. I went for a ride to a meeting tonight & it was really cold out, but I was toasty warm. Only time will tell how it performs in the rain.

  4. Stacy - Thank you, I'm still learning about what works and I'm sill trying new things, fabrics and gear. I always forget about Rukka, I'm jealous of that jacket you bought but still too crazy for this cat.

    Richard - Thanks for the excellent tip, always test your gear before you need it. I usually start testing my heated gear in late September early October to ease myself into the season.

    Dar - Thank you and Congrats on the new duds, unfortunately a lot of gear is black to hide the dirt as manufacturers want to make sure their product looks good as long as possible and customers are happy. Hi-vis does get dirty fast and never stays new looking very long. I should have mentioned that I wear a vest over my gear as it is easier to throw in the washing machine than my jacket.

  5. Troubadour:
    +1 for a superb write-up and I totally concur with everything you've said. Having used both Pinlock and Fog City, I find the Pinlock a wee bit more durable in terms of scuffing. Good point about cleaning - I always use a microfibre cloth. In terms of repelling the rain from the Visor, I apply Rain-X, which if I understand correctly, was developed for Lexan helicopter bubbles.

    One final comment.. I've given up looking for gloves which are fully waterproof and they're often too bulky for my tastes too. A couple of years ago, I bought Rain-Off ( and they deliver 100% in terms of waterproofing, cold-proofing and feel. They're Kiwi-made but there's a list of distributors world-wide on the website.

  6. Nice informative post! I have some gerbings gear (vest, gloves, insoles, and dual controler) I've learned to carry a back up controler...being hundreds of miles from home and having the controller go out makes for a bad ride.

  7. Hullo from Scotland!
    Nice blog! I've been reading your wife's blog too. Good Stuff.
    Over here alot of us take our bikes off the road in winter time as "they" spray a salt based grit all over the place to try and prevent the roads from freezing up. Some folk are luck enough to have a winter hack which stops their pride and joy bikes being eaten by the salt. hopefully I'll have my wee C90 running again for some fun in the snow, but we'll see. Might have a bit of an engine problem to sort out!
    Anyways, keep up the good work, I look forward to reading more of your stuff.
    If you want to see some piccy's and a wee video of the roads over here chech out this post I did of a tour round Scotland.




Comments are more than welcome, however, thanks to an increase in anonymous spammers of late, you now must be a registered user to comment.

Thank you spammers!