Many motorcycle enthusiasts love riding so much that they’re willing to ride in even the coldest temperatures. However, riding a motorcycle in the cold can be uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst. It’s important to know what your personal limits are and what is considered a safety risk before you decide to head out.
How cold is too cold for riding a motorcycle?
There are no strict laws about how cold is too cold for riding a motorcycle, so all motorcyclists can make the decision for themselves based on their comfort level.
However, most people consider anything below freezing, which is 32 degrees Fahrenheit, to be too cold for riding a motorcycle. There are a few reasons that this temperature is regarded as the limit, including the risk of ice, increased cold, and loss of traction.
One of the biggest reasons that 32 degrees is used as a limit for motorcycle riding in cold weather is because this is the point where water can freeze on the road. Driving over ice is incredibly dangerous in a vehicle with four wheels, and it can become deadly if you ride over it on a motorcycle. Ice can also be very hard to see, so it’s often difficult to avoid.
At temperatures around freezing, snow can also pile up on the road, and this can make for slippery or bumpy conditions. Snow and ice can lead to slips and crashes, so it’s best to stay off the road if the temperature is below freezing or if the roads haven’t been plowed recently.
In cold temperatures, the rubber of the tires on a vehicle, including a motorcycle, contracts and stiffens. This stiff rubber offers less traction. The tires won’t sink into the grooves of the pavement, so they won’t grip the road as well. This makes slips or falls much more likely. Rubber gets particularly stiff when the temperature is near freezing.
Hypothermia and Frostbite
When you ride a motorcycle, you’re exposed to the elements, including wind, rain, snow, and cold. This makes riding in the cold uncomfortable to begin with, but when you pick up speed, even if you’re not going very fast, the windchill factor can greatly increase the cold.
Hypothermia is always a risk when you ride in cold weather. Wearing warm clothing and covering your face and hands can help, but the wind at higher speeds can cut through even riding leathers. It’s also difficult to wear too many layers when riding because the layers can inhibit your movements and balance, which you’ll need to steer safely.
If you do choose to ride in cold weather, try to wear thin, flexible clothing with a dense weave. The clothing should be made of warm materials, such as fleece. Leather can also help to protect you from the wind. You’ll also need to make sure that your boots, gloves, and helmet are water-resistant. If snow or cold water gets into your clothing, it can make you much colder.
Frostbite can also be an issue. As wind, cold air, and snow move over you, it’s possible to get frostbite on your fingers, toes, or cheeks. It may seem extreme, but many motorcycle riders experience the effects of frostbite or hypothermia when riding in very cold temperatures. These conditions can also set in quickly, and by the time you notice the symptoms, it may be too late.
Even if you don’t experience either condition, riding in the cold can make it difficult to focus. When you’re too cold, your body directs all your focus into getting warm. This basic survival instinct can make it hard to keep your focus on the road. Combined with cold tired and possible icy patches, this can make for incredibly risky situations.
Even if you’re comfortable riding in icy or snowy weather, it might not be a good idea to take your bike out. Snow and slush can cling to your bike, causing rust patches. When the weather is bad, salt is often sprinkled on the road to reduce the risk of ice.
Although this is a great safety measure, the salt can cause corrosion. If you ride frequently during the colder months, you may find that you have to make more repairs, replace parts, or repaint or re-chrome parts of your bike due to the damage caused by the elements and salt.
During the winter, visibility is generally reduced. If it’s snowing, it can be very hard to make out the road or cars around you. Days are also shorter during the winter months, so there’s a greater chance that you’ll be driving in the dark.
The reduced visibility makes it harder to see ice or snow patches on the road. It also gives you less time to react to traffic, pedestrians, or any obstacles on the road. Reduced visibility can also make it much harder for other drivers to spot motorcycles, which are already less noticeable than bigger vehicles. All of these factors make driving in cold or snowy weather much more dangerous.