Winter Riding Tips

Nick LappageVSOC ArticlesLeave a Comment

(A little advice from the Lancashire Police Motorcycle safety team)

With winter fast approaching, there are a few things that may make the motorcyclist’s lot a little more bearable. Many of course, choose to only ride their machines during the months of April to October, thereby possibly saving 6 months expenditure on Road Fund Licence, but incurring the burden of SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification) to DVLA Swansea.

As an experienced rider, you will understand the need for daily checks to ensure that the machine is in a roadworthy condition for the journey intended. These checks include “brakes, lights, tyres, steering”, plus the all important “oil and fuel”. To assist you to remember these items, all sorts of methods may be employed, for example “bacon, lettuce tomato sandwich” – all you have to really remember then is the fuel and oil.

Brakes. The front should be checked before riding, e.g. when walking the machine out of the garage, and immediately after moving off, having first checked that there is no following traffic, this enables the rear brake also to be applied and tested.

All lights, including headlight (main and dip filaments) parking light, rear light and brake light, plus indicators (left & right, both front and rear). If any are unserviceable, the bulbs should be checked and replaced as necessary before riding off. The lenses of all lights should be regularly wiped clean, especially during long journeys in poor weather conditions. Remember, all lenses should be intact.

Tyres, both front and rear, should be checked, using gloved hands, for signs of wear and tear; stones that have become trapped within the tread pattern should be carefully removed and any deep cuts should be fully investigated. Tyres with cuts that go down to the canvas reinforcement layer will render that tyre unserviceable. Pressures should be taken whilst tyres are still cold. Remember, it is an offence to use a machine with incorrect tyre pressures as well as being potentially hazardous to you the rider.

Steering should be turned from left to right and back again, lock-to-lock, to determine free movement. Any restrictions, e.g. trapped cabling, tank bags, that will hinder the movement should be remedied before moving off.

Fuel should be checked to ensure that you have sufficient for the journey. Oil should be checked before the engine is started and whilst the machine is on level ground. Check the sump contents by use of the dip stick or through the sight glass on the engine case.

It is advisable to check the items in a specific order to avoid missing any. Reference to the manufacturers handbook for correct settings/ pressures is highly recommended.

With the checks completed it is advisable to warm the machine up sufficiently before riding so that the manual choke can be turned off. Modern machines fitted with fuel injection systems have sensors that control the automatic choke – the engine needs to reach its optimum operating temperature before being driven away, otherwise the rider not only has to contend with adverse weather conditions but a machine with initially poor throttle response.

Having carried out your daily checks, you will already be in the correct frame of mind for the task ahead. It goes without saying that immediately you get on the machine you should be in a state of heightened awareness. To assist this attitude, think of the word “COAST” – This mnemonic is best explained as follows:

Concentration – being alert
Observation – looking and seeing
Anticipation – expecting the unexpected
maintaining S pace around ourselves
providing Time to react which results in our being in CONTROL

On the move, treat your machine and the roads with respect, especially when confronted by adverse weather conditions.

On the subject of clothing, the motorcyclist is generally perceived as wearing traditional leather jacket and trousers. Whilst affording the best protection from abrasion, it is a popular misconception that leathers are both warm and dry. Experience however, has proven that this is not the case. Even when the ambient temperature is, for example, plus 10 degrees Celsius (°C), the chill factor caused by riding at say 40mph will reduce that experienced temperature to around minus 10 °C. For the year round ‘biker “Goretex” clothing (including gloves) affords the rider both warmth and weather protection, without the need to carry bulky waterproof outer wear. “Goretex” clothing although warmer in winter, is cooler in summer and, if touring abroad with temperatures often nudging plus 40 °C, is far better than the leather alternative. Equally, with “Goretex” being weatherproof, the space saved by not needing to take waterproofs can be utilised to carry extra articles of clothing (a plus if you are taking a passenger).

Helmets & visor care. These items cost a lot of money and it is not unknown for riders to spend up to £500 for a top-notch helmet. Why then spoil it by changing the standard visor with a darkened (smoked) one? Yes we suffer the low sun when heading westwards after a cool but sunny day out, only to find that the light is fading, or the weather changes to inclement on the way. That immediately negates the darkened visor in terms of the law. You may have come across the roadside checks, carried out by the Department for Transport in company with the police. Having checked the legality of the tyres and exhaust systems they then try the visor to determine just how much light is able to penetrate to the Mk1 human eyeball. However, should the result of this test not conform to the required 50% figure, you stand a chance, at the very least, of a severe warning or being fined for an offence under the Construction & Use Regulations. You would certainly be required to remove the visor before being allowed to continue your journey and, riding your motorcycle without a visor does present its own dangers, especially in poor conditions.

The general care of helmet and visor is to wash it in warm soapy water, rinse dry.

Motorcycle boots vary considerably in price and quality. All boots are best looked after by ensuring that a liberal coating of “Leder Gris®” – glorified “Dubbin” to you and me – is applied to the outer surface of the boots, and particularly to the joins/stitching. Once the Leder Gris has been allowed a few minutes to penetrate into the pores of the leather, then it is a simple matter of brushing with a stiff bristle brush. It is wise to repeat this exercise each time you clean your boots and at least weekly during the winter months.

Having carried out all your pre-ride checks, dressed yourself in winter-weight motorcycling clothing etc, as described above, it is time to:

  • consider the weather
  • plan your route (which may well be weather dependent)
  • incorporate regular stops, particularly if undertaking lengthy journeys
  • know your limitations of endurance (remember, fatigue is accelerated by cold and/or inclement conditions)

The winter period brings its own particular cocktail of weather patterns to this country. The United Kingdom, being essentially, an island, suffers more than mainland Europe with regard to changeable weather. Therefore, what appears early on, to be an acceptable motorcycling day may well see considerable change as the day wears on. It is necessary for you to guard against the rigours of the weather as much as possible. Yes you may well be wearing the latest Goretex this, thermals everywhere that, and so on, but there is no excuse for not obtaining an up-to-date weather forecast. (Even if it’s not what we want to hear, these forecasts are becoming more and more accurate). “Steam” radio has a slot before each newscast; with TV comes teletext and of course, with the Internet so readily available, there is little excuse for not getting the very latest regional update to cover the route of your intended journey. Even one’s own experience or intuition can be drawn upon. For example, remember the saying “Red sky at night – Shepherds’ delight etc.

So, you’ve checked the forecasts, now is the time to dress accordingly, and, being a “year-round” motorcyclist you will appreciate the need for higher levels of Concentration, Observation and Anticipation that are required of you in coping with changeable conditions. The key to the situation is to ensure that you are both warm and dry. You will notice that the beginnings of our watchword “COAST” have already appeared and that applying these three elements will result in achieving the all important Space and particularly Time in which to react to ever-changing road and traffic situations.

As a general rule, waking moments are taken up by a quick look at the prevailing conditions, coupled with the day’s weather forecast. That sets
the tone for the day! What should be worn, allow more time, if necessary, for the intended journey, etc. Be aware of frosty conditions and that, in some shady places, these conditions may remain for some considerable time if not all day. Be prepared for bad weather, anything less is a bonus!

November is generally a changeable month, with variable amounts of rainfall coupled with substantial winds, which together with the sudden change in temperature, causing the leaves to fall from the trees. This leaf-fall can cause problems for the motorcyclist. It rains, the wet leaves having fallen from the trees, stick to the road, along comes the unsuspecting motorcyclist who, just like British Rail, fails to get traction, and falls by the wayside (quite literally). Tree-lined avenues in urban areas and country roads are areas to look out for.

December comes along and so does the frost and snow: alright for postcards at Christmas, however, in the real world, along comes the Local Authority with its road salt and gritting trucks. They look in their crystal balls and listen to the forecasts, much like you or I do. Nobody denies that they do a good job, often under trying circumstances, but beware that the salt that is spread forms a loose surface and your riding should reflect the conditions.

Have you noticed once the ice and snow period has receded just how black and grimy the grass verges are having been subjected to a couple of months of the gritting process, which is in turn pushed aside by the passing vehicles, then washed away by the “cleansing” rainfall? Alongside the task of cleaning all the residual salt and grit from the motorcycle, you get up the following and quite different day, only to find the road wet with salt – and if you haven’t realised it, the salt gets into the pores of the road surface until you, the unwary, ride along and upon negotiating a bend, roundabout or other hazard, you discover that the salt acts as a lubricant between surface and tyre. The sad thing is that until someday in the future when it rains substantially enough to wash all the salt away, the roads do not dry out. Which means that the cycle of misery continues – until that rainfall.


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