There it is, tucked at the back of my wardrobe hiding under a 2004 TT T-shirt and an old neck-warmer: my other winter glove. Discarded the moment the sun showed itself, about eight-and-a-half months ago, in favour of a lightweight leather counterpart. With my half-hour search over, I’ve found the final piece in the winter riding puzzle. That’s the thing with riding in the cold, it has to feel right for it to be any fun. If you’ve been caught out in the cold wearing the wrong kit, you’ll know where I’m coming from. If you haven’t ever experienced cold so severe that you have to be lifted off your bike by a loved one or a passing stranger, count yourself lucky.
I once got frost nip across the top of my left ear following a freezing night hunting cardboard cut-outs of Germans in the Falkland Islands in 1999. Before frostbite comes frost nip. It hurts, and bits of you fall off once they’ve finished slowly dying on your body. I’ve been cold. It’s really not nice. Even though that was only 14 years ago, I would have given my right arm for some of the kit that you can buy to keep warm nowadays, including my Wolf winter gloves.
Multiple layers, wicking materials, boots that keep the feel in and the cold out, and visors that you can swap from dark to clear in the blink of an eye. Once you’ve got these tools in your winter riding inventory, there’s really no excuse for not getting out there and getting some miles in. For me, riding through the winter doesn’t make me more of a man. It’s also not really about staying sharp over the winter so you can make the most of the summer. Riding in winter is about just riding.
Let’s not get too carried away with the emotion, though; riding in the winter is good, but riding when it’s been snowing flat-out for 24 hours is asking for it. Seven years ago, I rode to the Elefant rally in Austria. It’s basically a weekend of very drunken camping in the snow for bikers – as brilliant as it is stupid. The -14°C (without windchill, sniff) wasn’t a problem, neither was having to pour fresh coffee over the fuel filler cap to defrost the lock.
The problems revolved around choosing the wrong pieces of kit. I ride all year now, but I refuse to give in to heated clothing following that chilly ride to Austria. If, after you’ve put your faith in heated kit, it fails, there’s a good chance you’ll have a mental breakdown. When that happens, while you’re planning where to stick your £200 heated earmuffs into the guy that sold you them, you’ll be getting colder and your attention will shift from black ice watch as you try to ‘think’ some body heat into your cold bits. The next thing you know you’ll be pirouetting down a street, bolt upright with your (numb) feet on the floor like a spinning top. It’s not a good look.
If I’m comfortable on a bike, I can think straight and focus on the job in hand. To me, it’s as important in the cold as it is in the middle of summer. I’d consider dropping tyre pressures a tiny amount and maybe backing those summer settings out of the suspension. I definitely make sure that everything is in working order before venturing out in the cold. It’s exciting. You don’t know what you’re going to get so you adjust your speed accordingly and take the roads as you find them. Think trackday preparation.
It’s all in the planning
Think how dumb you’d look charging out full-tilt in the first session at a circuit you don’t know, imagine the scraping sounds. This is completely possible on the road outside your house if you don’t spend a bit of time planning your ride first. Get your kit in order and build up to a pace that suits the conditions, and nothing bad will happen. I ride all year round because when I step outside my house there’s a motorbike waiting for me. It doesn’t live on the wall in my front room and I just like riding. It’s really that simple. There’s an argument that states that we should all be riding off road in the winter to stay sharp, maybe we should be taking in a foreign track day to get a fix. That’s all well and good if you can afford it. The rest of us will make do with what we have, come rain, sleet, snow and eventually shine.