How Cold Is Too Cold to Ride A Motorcycle?
When winter hits, it’s important to know when it’s safe to ride your motorcycle – and how to do it effectively.
The call of the open road is irresistible regardless of the season. Riding in colder temperatures, however, requires careful consideration to ensure both safety and comfort.
Most riders find temperatures below 44ºF/7°C to be too challenging, but this threshold isn’t a strict rule; individual preferences, cold-mitigating gear and special precautions can influence one's decision to ride in temperatures slightly below this.
Here’s everything you should know about riding in cold weather, including our best insights to help you stay safe on the road.
Why it’s harder to ride a motorcycle in the cold
Plummeting temperatures can slow down your body's response times, making it harder to anticipate and react to changes on the road well in advance. Your coordination, a key element of safe riding, may be impacted as the cold constricts muscles and hampers fine motor skills. The biting cold can also lead to discomfort or distraction, making it even more difficult.
Beware of wind chill
Even if the thermometer reads a certain temperature, the wind can make it feel much colder. Always check the forecast for both the actual temperature and the wind chill factor to get a more accurate picture of the riding conditions.
Choose the right cold-weather riding gear
Riding fast in the open cold air means your gear plays a pivotal role in determining if it’s safe to ride. Invest in high-quality cold-weather riding gear such as insulated jackets and pants, thermal layers, and windproof gloves, and ensure your helmet provides sufficient coverage and warmth without compromising visibility. You might also consider wearing a balaclava or neck gaiter to retain heat in your head and neck. Dressing in layers allows you to adjust if the temperature goes back up, keeping you comfortable during the ride.
Heated gear can be a game-changer, too. Heated cold weather motorcycle gloves like these, or heated jackets and pants, provide an extra layer of warmth and make it safer to ride in colder temperatures.
Check your tires
Cold temperatures can reduce tire pressure. And cold tires that are not up to their working temperature means reduced grip. So, regularly check that the pressure is at an acceptable range to maintain optimal safety on a chilly ride. Fortunately, today’s sport-touring tires are exceptional at providing grip in a variety of conditions, including the cold. But don’t push your luck.
Is your engine ready for the cold?
Cold weather can affect your motorcycle's engine performance too. As long as you’ve kept your motorcycle topped up with factory-spec liquids, you should be alright in anything but extremely cold temperatures, and in that case, what are you trying to prove anyway? Keeping your battery on a trickle charger will also help negate the cold’s impact on its charge.
Navigating icy conditions
While cold temperatures alone might not deter a passionate rider, the presence of ice on the road can significantly impact safety. Keep an eye on weather reports for any signs of freezing conditions. If there's a chance of ice, and you must still ride, take extra precautions such as fitting your bike with studded tires for improved traction (double check your local laws about studded tires first — they can damage the roads).
Know your limits in the cold
Riders must know their personal limits and be honest about their capabilities in colder weather. If you find that your reaction times are slowing, or you're feeling uncomfortable due to the cold, it may be a sign to cut the ride short and reconsider venturing out in such conditions in the future. Or invest in better, more appropriate, gear.
Additional safety tips for riding a motorcycle in the cold:
Increase your following distance
Road surfaces may be more slippery in the cold, especially if there's precipitation or frost. Increase your following distance to give yourself ample time to react to unexpected situations. You should be doing this anyway, but it’s even more critical in colder conditions when it’s harder to stop.
Take regular breaks
It can be physically demanding to ride in colder temperatures, so rest as often as you need. Be sure to stretch your legs and get your blood flowing to maintain alertness. Cold weather can also contribute to fatigue, so it's essential to stay mentally sharp while you’re on the road.
Watch out for black ice
Black ice is nearly invisible ice on the road, so it can be particularly dangerous. Take extra care while you ride if temperatures are near freezing, especially in shaded areas or on bridges where black ice forms more often.
So, how cold is too cold to ride a motorcycle? The answer depends on various factors, including your gear, the condition of your bike, and your personal comfort levels. By taking appropriate precautions, you can extend your riding season into colder months while staying safe and comfortable.
More by Michael Pilon