Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cold Weather Riding - Traction

Autumn is upon us in the Northern Hemisphere and with falling leaves and shorter daylight hours comes the threat from Jack Frost and Old Man Winter, but that doesn't mean you have to stop riding. You can extend your riding time past the "riding season" by exploring the wonderful world of cold weather riding, unless you live in the snow belt of course. Many of us live in areas where we rarely see snow, so why not ride? I ride in the cold weather for the challenge and I guess for the same reason why climbers climb, because it was there. The "how" on the other hand is a little more difficult to explain. I'll start with traction, how I assess the risk and decide whether or not to ride or admit defeat and succumb to using the car.

There is plenty to consider when venturing out in the cold and as with any ride, risk is the most important factor you must take into account. Steve of Scooter in the Sticks just wrote about risk and getting your head around cold weather riding.

Along with risk, weighing heavy is traction. The air is cold, your tires are cold and the road is cold. This is going to affect how the bike handles and how you handle the bike. Every move you make is going to be compromised, from accelerating, to turning, leaning and especially stopping. You could simply make it a rule that you don't ride below a certain temperature, but you're going to have to decide what that temperature is. Slowly and carefully work your way down to colder temperatures.

When the temperatures drop below 36° or so and the weather is questionable I check the thermometer, take my cup of coffee and I stroll outside and down the street. I'm looking for any signs of frost, moisture on the road from either fog or the previous night's rain and glare on the road from porch lights, streetlights or car headlights. I check the lawn, the windshield on the car, the tops of mailboxes, manhole covers or anything that will give me an indication that frost is present and may be slippery. I know that my input to the controls of the bike is going to have to be slow and precise. I can't grab a fist full of throttle or a handful of brake. Crosswalk lines, painted arrows, and corners are going to be slick. I have to be that much more aware.

Changes in color of the road, wet equals slick.

Pay attention to the weather, short of becoming a meteorologist, note that yesterday's highs are going to affect the morning commute. Was is sunny and warm, was it rainy and cool or has it been below freezing for days on end? If it was sunny and warm or rainy then chances are that the ground temperature will be warmer than the air temperature. Notice how snow doesn't stick without numerous days of below freezing temperatures and it just melts to a slushy mess? However, if it has been below freezing for several days then I'm checking radar maps for it be dry without any chance of rain in the forecast before I head out.

Once I'm out I'm always watching for changes in texture of road surfaces and any changes in color. They don't call it black ice for nothing. Bridges and hidden culverts are the most dangerous, anything open to the air underneath can be frosty. Watch for corners with trees overhanging the road, with the sun so low in the sky this time of year the road stays wet and can turn to ice overnight. Wet leaves and moss are great indicators of shady corners. If it gets too slick on the secondary roads I'll stick to major highways and thoroughfares where traffic has a tendency to dry the roads and clear any debris.

Moss on the shoulder, could mean moss in the corner.

If you are careful and use common sense, riding in the cold can be quite rewarding. Next I'll post up about gear.


  1. Of course, none of the above limits a dashing swashbuckler on a Tiger, does it?

    It's the changes, like you mentioned, that are most worrisome. Clean and dry, clean and dry, and then not.

    At least if it's frosty everywhere we seem to stay on alert. Always tricky in winter, isn't it?

    Maybe we should just all give in and get sidecars like Dom.

  2. Thanks for the reminder. Wet leaves and mossy corners are especially mean when traveling by Vespa, throw in darkness... and there you have high risk.
    There are more and more days that I end up commuting by car now... sigh.

  3. Good advice here, but heck, great photos as well. Darn it, I am going to have to try harder with my pictures. The trouble with ridiing in winter in the UK is not the cold, it is the miserable grey and wet days. Cold I can cope with, but getting wet - I hate it. No matter what the quality of your wet weather gear, it is still miserable to ride in the rain.

  4. This is a great write up. Lots of good information that I, unfortunately, can't use take advantage of. Too much snow....

    BTW, Really nice header photo.

  5. I take my hat off to you riding in those temperatures, I really do!

    I suppose it's all down to what you get used to. A friend who lives in the south island high country still commutes to work down to minus 6 Celcius. The roads are fairly coarse chip and he says that he still gets good mechanical grip down to that temperature.

    Safe riding this winter, my friend!

  6. AN excellent and well written blog, your fore sight is to be commended. I also admire you for attacking the cold weather, but regardless of the weather it is great being on two wheels. Keep it, you inspire me.

  7. I have been an intrepid commuter for 10 months. I am riding to work on Lucy right now, but soon I will be using the scoot and also buying some bus passes. I ride when it rains and up until my gear failing to keep me dry I have sucked it up and dealt with it. The gear is going back o the dealership and they are working hard to make me happy. Please talk about gear! I am looking at the Tour Master 'Epic' jacket. Looks pretty good from all reviews.

    I am learning more about wintery wet riding & not taking traction for granted. I have learned to steer clear of sticks & leaves.

    Please talk about gear before Friday, please!!!!

  8. ah, traction, very key thing....I was quite lacking it on the first ride of the morning yesterday after our first real snow fall....

    good posting.


    Redleg's Rides

    Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

  9. Thank you everyone, keep riding, stay safe and warm.
    I still think you need a second bike in Corvallis Richard so we can go for a ride during your visits.
    Looking forward to those summer pics from you Geoff and Roger to get us through the rainy season.
    I'm working on it Dar, I'll get it posted today.

    Yours truly,
    Dashing Swashbuckler ?

  10. Dashing Swashbuckler - anyone who rides in cold weather has the right to call themselves that!

    My neighbors are making our street a hazard for motorcyclists, they are blowing all the dead leaves out onto the street and it makes for very poor traction. I have taken to avoided going down our road and sticking with the main drag now.

    I still can't shake the chill I got from yesterday. I don't know whether to drink my coffee or dangle my freezing toes in it. I ended up finding a can of water repellant shoe spray and doused my boots in it. To night I think I am going to put some mink oil around the sole and at all the seams.

    Yours truly,

    The Intrepid Soggy Princess Scooterpie

  11. I almost did. I came really close to giving you a call to see if you would be willing to look at a F650GS thumper in Corvallis but decided I would rather get a side car....


  12. lol - I check the windshield on the car too. See cages can be useful! All great advice, and time to put it into practice. I've become a regular visitor to weather underground and tripcheck with my morning coffee.

    I really like your last photo - nice!

  13. Dar - Aren't neighbours so considerate? I always give street sweepers a thumbs up and a wave when I ride by as a thanks.
    Mink oil? I thought being Canadian that SNO-SEAL was a major staple in our diet. I use it on my boots, gloves, soups, stews and on pancakes ;)
    Ha, it was Irondad that called me dashing in the first post, I'm not too sure about that one.

    Richard - I don't have room in my garage for your sidecar...yet. Of course someone has to keep the tires rotated and the carbs clean when you're not here.

    Bluekat - Thank you, that photo is off Peoria Road onto Tangent Drive and is my favorite part of my morning commute as I turn East into the sun through the trees and a few turns before opening up to fields. It is however the most dangerous and slickest spot too. Remember to check the thermometer at home too as temperatures can vary greatly between your house and the airport where the online sites get their information.

    Everyone ride safe.

  14. I had noticed a newish F650GS single for sale in Corvallis and I was thinking about making an offer and thought that it may be a good idea for someone to take a look and listen before I did that. But I decided that I really didn't need (emphasis on "need") another bike.

    Plus my mom has a half empty garage still.


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