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Archive for January, 2012

Last time we looked at what you should be wearing if you wanted to ride your motorcycle in cold weather. No matter what tips below, dressing properly is the most important one. If you do not dress properly, all other winter riding tips are of no use.

Your motorcycle will also need to dress up warmly for a ride in cold weather. You will not need to worry about putting on warm blankets over your bike, but you will need to be careful that your poor ride does not get frostbite.

Radiator

If you have a water-cooled motorcycle, just like with a car, you will need to put in antifreeze in the radiator. If not, you will have severe problems when you have stopped and the radiator cools down.

Read your motorcycle’s maintenance manual how much, and which kind of antifreeze.

Tires

If you are riding on slicks or race tires, forget it. Just do not bother, you might just as well put on ice skates and go to a skating rink, since that is what you will be doing on your motorcycle. Make sure you have at the very least street tires fitted. Knobbies are much better, since they will bite into snow, but obviously studded tires are the best when you have got snow or ice. At the very least, normal street tires will offer better grip and reach operating temperatures much quicker than slicks.

Oil

The best oil to use during winter months is a thinner oil. They will improve performance, especially right after starting your bike. Get an oil that is made for winter, but do check your motorcycle manual which ones are recommended by the manufacturer, since not all companies allow a different oil type to be used.

When shopping for oil, make sure the viscosity grade has the letter “W” next to it (e.g. 20W or 30W). The “W” denotes Winter use (source).

Protecting Your Bike

When you say winter and snow, I say salt on the roads. In most parts of the world, when it starts snowing or freezing, salt is sprayed on the roads. It’s great to ride, since the roads are far less slippery, but it does mean that you will get salt on your motorcycle, and that means corrosion. If you want to prevent this, spray some WD-40 oil on all the parts that are exposed to salt & slush, typically below your fairing, forks, engine and mudguards.

When you have finished your ride, wash off the salt from your bike. If you leave it on for the rest of the winter, chances are by spring you will find some rust spots.

Lights

It gets dark quickly, and even during daytime, it can get dark, so it’s a very good idea to make sure that your lights are in good working order. Test them out before setting off.

Mirrors (and visor)

Because of big temperature differences, it is wise to spray an anti-fogging spray on your mirrors and helmet visor.

Battery

Check the water level of your battery. If it is lower than normal, you might have a leak, and during the winter, that is not a good thing. Top it up, but make sure you close the tops firmly.

If you will be riding with heated gear, make sure your alternator can handle it. Read your motorcycle manual to see how much wattage gets generated. If the sum of what is used by riding (lights and other components) plus your heated gear exceeds the wattage supplied, your battery will run out. On its own, this will not prevent you from riding, but you will not go a long distance, and you will need to recharge your battery when you are home again.

Brakes

You will need to apply brake grease to your brakes, since sludge and salt will form around the brake pins.

Next, we will look at riding tips.

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Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you can not ride your motorcycle, unless you’re living in an area that sees permanent deep frost and deep snow. And even then, depending on your motorcycle, you can still ride, but in this case you’ll need to change the rear tire for a snow track system (like those on tanks), and the front wheel will get some skis.

But if you live in an area where it is cold, rainy and sometimes some snow, you can still ride, but you’ll need to take some precautions.

Trap Heat

The most important factor for riding in the cold, is that you need to trap your body heat. Heat tends to dissipate into the cold, and it is difficult to stoke the fire inside your body to replace the lost heat. So the best way is to insulate your body from heat loss.

In the old days, people would wrap old newspapers against their body to trap the heat. Nowadays you will not need to worry about newspaper ink rubbing against your skin, giving you who-knows-what-kind-of-sickness. A microfiber layer against your skin is the first defense layer against the cold. A microfiber T-shirt is great, better yet a long-john made out of microfiber. If you don’t have microfiber, get a good cotton one. A one-piece is better than two, but having one is better than none.

TIP: You need to put on the first layer, the microfiber, when you are warm, not outside in the cold. In that case, all you will be doing is trapping the cold temperature, so defeating the idea of keeping warm. Put on the microfiber when you are warm!

Next you can put on layers of woolen sweaters or cotton or silk shirts. Don’t put on too much, if not you’ll not be able to operate your motorcycle properly. Alternatively, you can get a heated vest. Plug it into your 12V system, and you’ll be as snug as a bug in a rug.

The final layer, your jacket, needs to be totally windproof; leather or nylon will do the trick, and ideally it should be a one-piece suit. If you don’t have a one-piece suit, get one that can be zipped between the pants and jacket. This way, less heat will escape.

Extremities

Your body extremities will see the fastest heat loss. Feet, hands and very important, your head, will loose heat very fast. It’s important to keep them warm.

Hands: Make sure your gloves are the gauntlet type, i.e., fit over your jacket sleeve. This way, no cold air can come in or out via the top. You might also want to get some silk gloves to wear inside your normal gloves, since they keep the fingers warm & dry. Remember that your hands & fingers are exposed to a very cold air when riding. It’s the reason many all-year riders have heated handlebars, or heated gloves.

TIP: If heated handlebars or gloves are too expensive, consider chemical heat packs.

Feet: Your feet will not be moving much on the motorcycle so they will tend to get cold quickly, but they have a source of natural heating; your motorcycle’s engine (unless you are riding a sports motorcycle).

But you will still need to wear warm socks, preferably with silk under-socks. Make sure your boots are rainproof and do not let wind in (and therefore hot air out). In the worst case scenario, get rain boot covers.

Head: Your head, believe or not, is very important. A head, and therefore brain that is exposed for long periods of time to cold temperatures will not function properly. You will start to loose concentration, and make judgment mistakes; your reaction time will diminish dramatically. At the very least, wear a balaclava, preferably with a silk hood underneath it. An advantage of a balaclava, one that goes up to your nose, is that it will prevent your visor from fogging up, something, no matter how good your visor, will happen in the winter.

Since you will find that cold air will enter your back, get a proper neck warmer that covers your neck, chest and shoulder.

Next we’ll look at what you need to do for your motorcycle in order to ride it in the winter.

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It’s the time of the year every motorcycle rider hates; the time you can not ride anymore. Unless you live in an area where there’s no snow or ice during the winter, you’ve got no other choice but hibernate your bike.

The easiest thing is to leave it in the garage, but you’ll need to do some preventive steps if you want to be able to ride the motorcycle after the winter has melted away.

First of all, if you don’t have a garage, you’ll not want to leave your motorcycle on the road, especially if you live in an area where there is snow and frost. Your bike will not like it. If you do not have a garage, rent some space in a storage area, preferably one that is specialized in winter storage for motorcycles. These places are usually well adapted, and the good ones will assist you in preparing your motorcycle for the winter.

If you have your own garage, there are a couple of things you can do to make your bike hibernate properly:

  1. Service your motorcycle, either yourself or at the dealer. Make sure the oil is changed (leaving old oil in a bike’s engine is not a good idea).
  2. Fill up your fuel tank before storing.
  3. If you have a carburetor, block the fuel flow and start the engine until all the remainder fuel is drained from the fuel line. This way, there will be no fuel in the lines.
  4. Put fuel stabilizer in the fuel tank (if your dealer doesn’t have any, head over to the local marine supply store). No matter how full the tank is, after a while, condensation will form, and that can put a stop to you riding the following season.
  5. Clean your motorcycle throughout. Remove all dirt and grease.
  6. Degrease your chain (if you have one). Put oil (WD-40) on moving parts; joints and spray some inside the exhaust. The WD-40 will repel moisture from forming.
  7. If your garage is not weather-proof, ie, it can get cold and humid, your best bet is to put some Vaseline or other wax based products over your chrome and other noticeable metal bits, including the fuel tank. You can also use a good chrome polish. The last thing you want is to have rust forming on your bike.
  8. Preferably remove your battery, and place it on a dry surface (not the ground). But whether you remove the battery or not, connect a trickle charger to the battery. This will ensure that the battery is fully loaded and in good working condition for the day you fire up the bike again.
  9. If your motorcycle has a center stand, use it. If you really want to, place your bike on blocks. This will relieve pressure from your suspension and tires.
  10. Inflate your tires to the maximum pressure. It is going to get cold in your garage, so there’s no worry that the tire will inflate any further.
  11. If you live in an area where it really gets cold, make sure you have put anti-freeze in the radiator (that is, if you have one).
  12. Put a cover over your motorcycle. Do not put some plastic wrap, or anything but a special motorcycle cover, since proper covers allow the bike to “breath”, making sure humidity evaporates.

It sound like a lot of work, but it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes maximum, and this way when the riding season starts again, you can go straight for the ride instead of having to bring it to the dealer.

Your motorcycle will thank you.

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