We know many of you have the advantage of being in warm states like California, Texas, and Georgia, where the weather continues to be ideal for spending time on the road. But if you’re like us in the Northeast and you’re stuck in a colder state, you know that when we turn the corner into November the bitter cold becomes the best set of brakes. And soon enough those nippy temperatures will lead to roads coated in heavy snow… not the optimal conditions for traveling with two wheels.
It’s never a good feeling to call it quits for the year, especially if you’ve spent time customizing your bike to be the perfect vehicle for your riding style and comfort. But just because you can see your own breath in the morning and leaves are beginning to fall doesn’t mean you have put your bike in the garage quite yet. We might not be able to control the weather, but we do have a few tips for how riders can extend the motorcycle season and delay those winter blues.
Follow the Heat
Okay hear us out, we’re not telling you that the only way to enjoy fall and even winter riding is by taking a trip to Florida—although there are great routes to ride there if you’re interested. Not everyone has the vacation days or the means to transport their bike down south for an extended riding trip. But even a little bit of travel can make a huge difference. Did you know that northeastern cities like Boston, Hartford, and Providence have an average of 50 more frost-free days and 25 fewer inches of snowfall than Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. A weekend trip to your neighboring southern state can mean more comfortable riding temperatures that last later into the season.
You can easily compare current and historical weather data in different nearby states to help you plan where you’ll find the best pockets of warmth. Pro tip: if possible, stick to coastal areas where the moderating effect of the ocean can help keep cities and towns along the water warmer than landlocked areas.
Timing is Everything
Of course, you should always check your local weather app and decide that today’s unusually crisp temperatures mean you should stay inside and wear a pair of warm slippers instead of your leather riding boots. But nailing your timing to make the most of fall riding goes beyond taking things day by day. Mornings and evenings when there’s often little light can easily produce dangerous layers of frost on the roads. Aim for midday or afternoon when the sun has had the most time to heat things up and melt any frost that could pose a hazard to riders. Most weather apps will offer hourly temps and can help you predict the optimal riding time each day.
Change Fluids & Check Tires
Bike maintenance is important year-round but making sure your ride is in tip top shape during the fall and winter is especially important for your safety on the road. As the weather takes a turn, make sure your fluids are fresh. You can also consider switching to lighter weight oil during the shoulder season. Lighter weight oil will flow more easily than a heavy weight oil in cold temperatures and can help you and your bike get “warmed up” faster.
Whether facing some fall rain or a dusting of snow in early winter, traction is your best friend for cold weather riding. Check your tires for significant wear and swap them for new ones, or switch to adventure-touring tires to maximize traction. You should be aware of how changing temperatures can impact your tire pressure too. Check your tire pressure before heading out on a ride and consider that your tires will warm up as you go.
Beware the Wind
Even when high 50’s and low 60’s feels balmy upon stepping out of your house, once you’re on your bike and zipping down a road, the wind can be a nasty companion. Adding a windshield or fairing can do a lot to reduce the bone chilling and nose numbing effects of autumn wind. The bigger the better, so if you already have a short windshield on your bike, consider swapping it out for a taller one. Most windshields have a quick release so swapping back to your summer riding aesthetics will be easy once spring arrives again.
For extra wind protection, handguards are another great addition. Your fingers are front and center when out riding in the fall and sometimes even the best pair of gloves just won’t cut it. They also happen to be a relatively inexpensive accessory that you can use year after year to extend the motorcycle season.
Last but certainly not least, you can’t forget about protecting your face. Your nose, ears, and cheeks are more susceptible to wind burn in frosty temperatures. Full face helmets are best for this time of year. Make sure they’re fitted properly to keep wind out and look for ones with anti-fog shields as your warm breath can easily obscure your visibility in lower temperatures. But if you’re firmly against full face helmets, make sure to add a neck gaiter, facemask or balaclava to provide extra warmth. Winter rides share a lot in common with downhill skiing, and turtlefur makes some awesome cold weather face protection.
You probably guessed it—gearing up properly can allow you to ride comfortably for weeks and maybe even a few months longer into fall. And yes, your jacket is important, but it isn’t the thing that will make the biggest difference in staying warm. When choosing how to dress for cold season rides, your layers are the most essential component. Most cold weather outfits should have three layers: a base, middle and shell.
For base layers, you have the choice between synthetic fibers, (like polyester) which are moisture wicking and durable, or natural fibers, (like merino wool) which can help regulate temperature and resist odor build up. Base layers also come in different “weights” that determine their warmth. If you tend to “run hot” a lighter weight base layer can help you avoid becoming a sweaty mess. But if you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum, heavy weight base layers will provide the most warmth. Whichever fabric or weight you choose for your long underwear, make sure they fit close to your skin for maximum wicking, warmth, and circulation.
Your middle layer is where you will add the most insulation and warmth. Colder days call for thicker middle layers. Fleece, synthetic puffy jackets, or down jackets all range in their level of warmth. Consider your exertion level and the current weather when choosing middle layers.
The outer layer, or shell, exists almost entirely to protect you from the elements like rain, wind, and snow. Waterproof denier jackets or leather jackets with a waterproof liner will be your best friend.
Never forget the little things! Wool socks are also best for a combination of warmth and dryness, and you should always ensure that your pants are tucked into your boots so that you don’t end up with chilly ankles!
Stay Sharp & Cautious
Many of the reasons that make fall a beautiful time to be cruising back roads on two wheels, are also things that make it a dangerous season for motorcyclists. Fallen leaves can obscure road obstacles like potholes and curbs or become dangerously slippery when wet. Avoid forested areas with low car traffic where leaves are likely to accumulate. And when you do come upon leaf littered roads, slow down and stay alert.
Autumn also happens to be mating and migration season for deer and has the highest volume of collisions out of the entire year. This is yet another reason to avoid riding in the mornings and evenings when deer are most active. And if you’re out on rural roads and highways, keep your eyes peeled to avoid getting tangled with one of these animals.
Last but not least, pay attention to your own body. You cannot be a safe motorcyclist if you are too cold to function. Numb fingers and toes inhibit proper operation of the clutch, throttle, gears, and brakes. And a cold head and face will make it increasingly difficult to see and focus on the road. Practice warming up and checking in with your body along the way and make sure to call it quits before conditions get dangerous.
Are you a cold-state resident like us with some experience hitting the roads post-Columbus Day? We’d love to hear any tips and tricks you have for staying warm and most importantly, actually enjoying your time riding during fall and winter. Shoot us a message with your best advice for extending the riding season.