Updated November 2019
Winter can be a tough time of year for motorcyclists – particularly those who live in northern states. While nothing outside of screwing studs into your bike’s tires and going ice racing can help you scratch the two-wheeled itch once the white stuff hits the ground, there are still plenty of opportunities for riding if you are prepared.
Winter riding newbies typically ask us some pretty similar questions: Does leather keep you warm on a motorcycle? Does wearing rain gear over my regular gear help keep me warmer? Do I have to wear expensive motorcycle-specific winter gear? All of these questions can be summed up into “What should I wear for a motorcycle in winter?”
First, everyone’s definition of winter riding is different. In sunny SoCal, the thermometer dipping below 50° F is a sign of the coming apocalypse. In New England, temperatures in the single digits might not even register with some seasoned riders. It all comes down to what level of discomfort you’re willing to endure and how much insulation you’re able to pack a
In winter, just like any other time you’re on your motorcycle, you want to wear gear that protects you in case of a crash. That means CE-certified armor on your back, elbows, knees, and shoulders. Naturally, quality motorcycle-specific riding apparel will include this kind of protection. Leather riding gear can help keep winter’s cold wind from directly reaching your body, but it isn’t great for insulating against the cold. You can augment your leather with thermal base layers or electric underclothing. Insulated over suits are another option to augment your leather. Still, nothing beats gear that was designed for winter from the get-go.
We’ve compiled a list of what we think are the five best pieces of gear to help you extend your personal riding season. Of course, there are tons of other items the winter rider could consider, but we thought that with these items, you would be well on your way towards keeping yourself riding when the temperature and the leaves have dropped.
Spidi believes that a multi-functional suit is built with layers, and it is the three-layered construction that gives the Spidi 4Season Out jacket and pants their name. The all-important abrasion protection comes from the exterior of the suit, which is constructed of what Spidi calls tenax Nylon 6.6. For warm weather riding, a variety of wind/waterproof zippered vents allow for cooling airflow. Then there’s the waterproofness of the second layer, which is completely removable for dry days.
Finally, one of the nicest features of the 4Season is the fiber-filled quilted liner. This lightweight insulated jacket is worn under the other two layers, keeping the rider’s core and arms warm when the temperature drops. The quilted liner also looks good enough to wear when warmth is desired off of the bike. While the 4Season pants lack the insulating layer, they provided enough weather protection with their two layers to keep me warm on a Gold Wind Tour in the low 20° F range. A good base layer helps with the legs, though. All this versatility comes at a price, though, and the Spidi 4Season Jacket and Pants aren’t cheap, but they’re worth it. You can find the $550 jacket here and the $400 pants here.
Want to keep your core warm when the temperature really drops? Then provide it with an external source of heat. The Kanetsu Airvantage Electric Vest is constructed with a windproof outer layer to fend off cold drafts. The inner layer of the vest consists of the nylon liner that holds a wired heating element. Sandwiched in between those layers is a clever air bladder to provide insulation.
However, the secret sauce of this setup is that the air pressure within the bladder allows the rider to press the heating elements right up against their torso to more efficiently transfer the heat. A side benefit of the bladder is that it helps to apply an even pressure across the heated wires, eliminating hot spots. For those with jackets that don’t seal as well as they should, the Kanetsu Airvantage has optional sleeves ($97) to help block the breeze. Order your $247 Aerostich Kanetsu Airvantage Electric Vest direct from Aerostich. Those who live in truly bitter climates may want to go for the full-monty Aerostich Kanetsu AIRVANTAGE Electric Liner ($377).
Those of us of a certain age will remember the waffle-shaped cotton fabric of the thermal underwear of our youth. Under ideal situations, they worked just fine, but with a little perspiration or other moisture, things could get cold quickly. Modern base layers understand their dual purposes of providing insulation while simultaneously wicking moisture away from the skin. Rev It’s Sky base layer clothing addresses this issue through its use of “push-pull” fabric that immediately moves moisture away from the skin to the fabric surface where it can either evaporate or be wicked away by the next layer of clothing. Rev It Sky shirts ($65) and pants ($50) are available in both men’s and women’s sizes.
While the Pinlock EVO visor has nothing to do with warmth, being able to see is essential to safe riding. When it’s cold outside, your warm, moist breath is most prone to fogging up your visor. Pinlock EVO visors are so effective at preventing fog that many premium helmet manufacturers are shipping them with new helmets. (Other manufacturers also make Pinlock-ready shields that you can buy.) A combination of an air-tight double shield insulating the visor interior surface from the cold outside and the plastic’s water absorption properties keep the shield fog-free – even during a commute in winter rain. These easy-to-install and clean visor liners pass the ECE-standards mist-retardant test by a factor 6. They are available in colors ranging from clear to yellow to dark tint and range in price from $30-$60.
Here’s another item that you don’t wear but is essential for cold-weather riding. Unless you’re wearing heated gloves, it’s almost impossible to keep your mitts toasty – even with heavily insulated winter gloves. This is where heated grips shine. Oxford Heaterz line of grips is built for different classes of motorcycles, from cruiser to touring to adventure to whatever you ride. The grips are constructed of rubber with all-silicone wiring to prevent cracking in the cold. The key to the system is, however, the variable settings (five of them!) to tune the heat that your environment needs. Additionally, the switch will power down if the battery’s voltage drops below 10.5 volts (though we recommend wiring it to switched power to prevent the possibility of killing your battery by failing to turn off the grips). Oxford Heaterz Grips range in price from $70-$100, depending on the application.
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