How to Stay Warm on Your Motorcycle When It's Cold

John Burns
by John Burns

Ride in a warm place. The end. But if you insist on living where it gets cold in the winter, there are plenty of strategies to continue riding way down below freezing. We don’t recommend doing that, only because single-track vehicles don’t handle well on ice, but the fact is, it’s not that hard to rig yourself and your motorcycle for cold-weather riding.

Speaking of rigging your motorcycle, the most important thing to do is bear in mind that tire grip goes down with temperature. Riding with your tires inflated to the low end of their recommended pressure range is the way to go when it’s cold. Right, off we go.

1. Get out of the wind

Show of hands, who hasn’t heard of the Wind Chill Index? We love our naked bikes, but the number one rule one of riding in the cold is try to get yourself on a faired bike behind as big a windshield as possible.

how to stay warm on your motorcycle when it s cold, See there Riding 60 mph in 40 degree weather feels like 25 degrees Get thee behind a fairing and windshield and you re starting off way ahead of the game
See there? Riding 60 mph in 40-degree weather feels like 25 degrees. Get thee behind a fairing and windshield, and you’re starting off way ahead of the game.

If you must get there on your unfaired Monster, you need to get yourself a windproof outer layer. Textile gear does a better job of blocking the wind than leather, and since we don’t buy textile stuff skin-tight like we do leather, there’s usually room to layer more clothing underneath it; that heat-trapping boundary layer between your windproof outer layer and your birthday suit is what it’s all about.

Aerostich Roadcrafter – $1350

how to stay warm on your motorcycle when it s cold

Something like an Aerostich Roadcrafter is ideal, especially the one-piece version: With nothing to restrict at the waistline, there’s plenty of room inside for layers as well as internal air and blood circulation, and the Roadcrafter, especially the newer R-3, is waterproof as well. (Pro tip: You’ll get fat before this thing wears out. If you ride in the cold a lot, consider getting a size larger to leave room for layers of clothing and adipose tissue.)

Shop for the Roadcrafter here

Frogg Toggs Road Toad jacket – $27- $54

how to stay warm on your motorcycle when it s cold

If an Aerostich is out of your price range, lots of people swear by their Frogg Toggs, especially the Road Toad jacket and pants, over their normal cold-weather gear.

Obviously this polypropylene outer layer isn’t supposed to be protective, but it is windproof, and claimed to be 100% waterproof and breathable. Like the emergency Hefty bag, this stuff rolls up small and takes up very little room, so it’s easy to throw on over your regular gear as needed. Unlike the Hefty bag, the Togg’s reinforced seams and expandability are durable and designed to fit a human body – and Frogg Eyzz reflective technology enhances visibility at night and in inclement weather.

Shop for the Road Toad here

Discovery Motorcycle Jacket – $379

how to stay warm on your motorcycle when it s cold

Another great, less-expensive alternative to the Aerostich, if you prefer separate jacket and pants, comes from our across-the-pond friends who spend half their lives in freezing rain. The Discovery jacket gets rave reviews, is fully armored, waterproof and warm, and even looks snazzy because that’s how the British roll.

Shop for the Discovery jacket here

2. Now then, what to do with your head?

That juncture between head and torso can let in a lot of chill breeze; it’s up to you to bar the way with a balaclava.

Freeze-Out Warm’R Balaclava – $13

how to stay warm on your motorcycle when it s cold

Thin enough to go inside your helmet, usually, yet thick enough to insulate, tucking a thing like this inside your jacket can go a long way toward keeping out nasty drafts. A 3D honeycomb fleece inner structure traps air and insulates, while the Freeze-Out windproof membrane is, ah, windproof. And the price is definitely right on this one.

Shop for the Freeze-Out balaclava here

For even more neck warmth and also freedom of movement, we’d wrap a nice silk scarf around the balaclava base. Or, just the silk scarf when it’s cold but not that cold. Dashing either way.

3. It’s important to see

Attempting to ride in real cold is ridiculous in anything but a full-face helmet, and the colder and damper it gets, the more you need a way to keep your faceshield from fogging. When it’s really cold, cracking your shield open is not the answer. Frozen eyeballs are extremely painful. Lots of dedicated snowmobile helmets actually come with electric faceshields, but they’re not so great for motorcycles. The next best thing we’ve found is the Pinlock lens insert.

Pinlock lens insert – $27 – $45

how to stay warm on your motorcycle when it s cold

What it is, is simply a second lens, made of moisture-absorbing plastic, that mounts inside your existing faceshield via a silicone seal, forms an airspace inside, and won’t fog up. If your faceshield doesn’t have the two mounting pins already, you can get a new shield for most popular helmets (it’s probably time for a new one anyway) along with a Pinlock insert. Seeing is surviving.

Shop for the Pinlock lens insert here

4. Let’s not forget our hands

Even if the rest of your body is toasty, it’s no good if your digits are cold, because they’re what you control your bike with. The stiffer your little fingers get, the less control you have over your destiny. Not only are heated grips one of motorcycling’s greatest inventions, they’re also a huge boost to your psyche when you’re caught out in the cold. Not to worry if your bike didn’t come with them, there are plenty of aftermarket ones including these:

Oxford Heaterz Premium Adventure Heated Grips – $90

how to stay warm on your motorcycle when it s cold

Don’t fear the wiring; these come with an Intelligent Heat Controller which detects whether your bike is running or not, thus deleting the need to tap into a switched circuit. Also available in sportbike and sport-touring sizes.

Shop for the Oxford Heaterz here

And if your hands aren’t behind a fairing or handguards, get yourself some. Remember what we said about wind chill? Heated grips combined with handguards are the bomb, even if they’re not $150 ones like these:

Acerbis X-Tarmac Handguards – $153

how to stay warm on your motorcycle when it s cold

Designed for on-road and dual sport motorcycles, these babies feature an electroluminescent flat light that’s easy to connect to a (12v) lighting system. It is trimmed with a semi transparent, removable spoiler that is designed to deflect cold air and rain.

Shop for the AcerbisX-Tarmacs here

Beyond that, I could write a treatise about great cold weather gloves, but why would I when I just did last October? A few of these are even meant to work with heated grips, ie., gloves with thinner palms.

Don’t forget your feet. The same people who make great cold-weather gloves make great cold-weather boots. For warm and dry, you can’t beat ones lined with Gore-Tex, which keep moisture out while letting your dogs breathe free. Find a sampler of great winter boots here.

5. Establish the base layer

Once you’ve established a windproof barrier between your body, your head, hands, and the elements, it’s time to address what goes underneath, where the blubber meets the road. Against your skin, you want something soft that wicks moisture away. Who among us has not felt the sting of icy sweat down the spine on a cold day? Okay, well I have, usually after picking up an adventure bike. There’s plenty of high-tech bike-specific gear around designed to do just that, such as the:

Alpinestars Ride Tech Winter Top – $100

how to stay warm on your motorcycle when it s cold

This superhero-looking shirt uses a honeycomb open mesh structure that yields maximum heat and moisture exchange for optimal cold-weather comfort, says A’Stars, while the compression fit reduces muscle fatigue and allows you to ride harder and longer.

Shop for the Ride Tech Winter Top here

Also recommended: Under Armour cold weather base layers, and many other similar brands available at outdoor stores like REI, Bass Pro Shops, etc.

BMW Thermo Socks – $29

how to stay warm on your motorcycle when it s cold

You don’t have to spend $29 for nice socks, but these babies are 50% wool anti-odor material with anatomically adjusted padded zones on ankles, heels and shins, integrated ventilation channels on the bottoms of your feet – and a padded gear lever zone. Hello.

Shop for the BMW Thermo Socks here

6. Let’s get layered

Now that we’ve got a good moisture-wicking, comfortable base layer and a windproof waterproof outer perimeter established, the idea is to trap as much air inside as possible to maintain body heat, just like in a wetsuit but dry. Fleece is excellent.

Aerostich TLTec Wind Blocker Fleece Sweater – $127

how to stay warm on your motorcycle when it s cold

Aerostich’s fleece is sublime, on and off the bike. This stuff packs way small and provides maximum layering versatility.

Shop for the TLtec Fleece Sweater here

Fleece is great, but so are your old sweatpants and a flannel shirt or favorite sweater. The colder it is, the more layers of whatever you’ve got that’s soft and warm you put on. Simple, no?

7. Go electric!

The simplest, most effective way to stay warm when it’s cold is to wrap the heated grips concept around your whole body, with an electric vest or jacket. It’s such a brilliant idea, there are many electric options, including these. Also this jacket liner:

Gerbing 12V Heated Jacket Liner – $250

how to stay warm on your motorcycle when it s cold

Was Gerbing the first? Not sure, but they’ve been around for a long time. I’ve always been able to get by with just a vest, but heated sleeves can’t hurt. The deal is, keeping your core warm lets your body (which is easily fooled) know all is well, which encourages it to keep pumping warm blood to your extremities. With a good vest plugged into your bike’s electrical system, the need for a lot of other layers and cold countermeasures is greatly reduced – though Gerbing and many others also make electric pants, socks and gloves. Behind a decent fairing and/or handguards, with an electric vest and heated grips, it’s possible to be toasty right down to freezing and beyond.

Shop for the Gerbing Liner here

8. Emergency Cold Weather Countermeasures

My Hot Body Warmer Large – Hand & Foot Warmers 1 Box (10 Packs) – $17

how to stay warm on your motorcycle when it s cold

Shove a couple of these down your front: Single use air-activated heat packs used in the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics and by the South Korean military, these extra large long-lasting disposable body warmers will provide warmth for for up to 15 hours. Environmentally safe and biodegradable. Also said to be excellent for menstrual cramps.

Shop for the Hot Body Warmers here

Alternatively, here are some quick hacks using items you can easily acquire if you’re in a pinch and caught out in the cold.

  • Stuffing newspaper inside your outer layer is way better than nothing.
  • The cheapest non-breathable plastic rain gear from Walmart, worn under a not windproof outer layer, will cut wind and help preserve body heat.
  • Facebook friend tip: Latex gloves like your doctor wears (cheap and available everywhere) worn inside your gloves, will help your hands retain a lot more heat. Keep a pair under your seat.
  • Facebook friend tip #2: When it’s unexpectedly cold, sticking your feet in grocery bags, then into your boots, helps a lot.
  • Weird uncle Facebook tip: Pantyhose (do they still make them?) with eye and nostril holes can make a great emergency balaclava.

Related reading
Cold Weather Riding Accessories Buyers Guide

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Join the conversation
2 of 31 comments
  • Mahatma Mahatma on Feb 13, 2020

    A down jacket really helps.A light one,you can put ontop of leather jacket.

  • Craig Hoffman Craig Hoffman on Feb 16, 2020

    Big fan of the Oxford heated grips here. The high setting is so powerfully hot as to be unusable. They are perfect in that regard. Removable Moose foam hand guards or Hippo Hands, grips on medium, don't even need heavy gloves with that setup.

    Still rocking my made in 'Merica Widder "Lectric Vest" from the 90s. The Widder, when cranked and if you don't have enough between you and it, will burn you. Like the Oxford grips, it is a heat beast. The Widder plugs right into to the bike's Battery Tender pigtail too. Sadly, Widder went out of business quite awhile ago. Everything heated gear wise is made in China now, and most of it is sh%t...