Cold Weather Motorcycle Riding Apparel Essentials
Cold weather and motorcycle riding may not sound appealing to the casual observer. After all, there’s no enclosed cabin to protect a rider from cold wind and snow, so why do it?
The non-rider may not understand that most bikers are willing to brave freezing cold weather for the thrill of the ride, and frigid weather doesn’t deter them from getting that rush. With the right apparel and gear, a motorcycle rider can comfortably and safely face just about any weather conditions, including blistering cold.
What it means to ride in cold weather depends of course on where you live. Obviously it’s not that big of a deal to somebody who lives in a southern state like Florida. But the further north a rider lives, the colder and harsher the conditions, and therefore the greater need for protection. With that in mind, here’s our list of what to wear for cold weather motorcycle riding.
Layered vs Heated Apparel
Before getting into it, it’s worth noting the difference between heated and layered apparel. Advances in technology have brought on electronically heated riding gear, including gloves, pants and jackets to keep riders warm. Heated riding gear has wiring powered by the motorcycle's battery to transfer heat to the body. Unfortunately if the battery dies, the heating stops working. That’s why it’s important to have layered riding apparel available to protect your body in case heated gear fails. Heated apparel is also more expensive than layered apparel, so keep that in mind.
A solid base layer is crucial for motorcyclists riding in colder weather, as it helps retain body heat. Breathable, moisture-wicking apparel works best as a base layer, which is basically the last line of defense against cold, harsh conditions, particularly wind. This layer can be anything from basic cotton to fleece undergarments to not only keep the body warm, but also provide comfort to your skin. It should be snug enough to limit airflow and retain body heat, while allowing you to switch positions on the bike and walk around comfortably when you’re off the bike.
Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet
When it comes to a helmet for cold weather, a full-face helmet works best, as it’ll protect your face from freezing and improves your visibility. Full-face helmets keep heat from your head trapped inside, while the face shield provides visibility and protection from harsh winds. Seek out helmets that come with vents that can be closed to prevent as much wind as possible from entering the helmet. Also, fogging face shields create a major visibility problem during cold weather riding, so it’s not a bad idea to get a snow helmet with a heated visor to double as your motorcycle helmet. Keep in mind too that not all helmets come standard with enhanced insulation, so add helmet liners to the mix for extra protection if needed.
A full-face helmet protects your face from the cold, but doesn’t keep your neck warm. This is where a neck gaiter or a balaclava come in. Either kind of neck protection comes down to personal choice, but a balaclava may be a little more cumbersome to fit comfortably with the helmet. Some riders find neck gaiters to be a more comfortable and slightly cheaper neck warmer than a balaclava face mask. Either way, when riding in cold weather, don’t forget to protect the exposed area between your head and chest with one or the other.
Motorcycle Leather Gear
You can never go wrong with leather riding apparel for both style and weather protection, but leather on its own might not be enough. Leather jackets and pants do protect your body, but the material isn’t the best for insulation. Add thermal base layers or heated underclothing to your leather riding ensemble. Or consider wearing a vest or a heated jacket liner as a mid-layer. Whatever leather riding gear you choose, avoid perforated or ventilated leather, and make sure the gear allows freedom of movement for your limbs, especially your arms.
Motorcycle Riding Pants
Moving on from top to bottom, we'll start with motorcycle pants. Not much to say here that hasn’t been covered already for the upper body, as the same applies to choosing riding pants. In other words, seek out heated or insulated pants that would function like a jacket for everything below the waist down to your ankles. Go with pants that come with fleece or flannel lining to keep cold winds from creeping up your legs.
Motorcycle Riding Suits
Instead of figuring out what to wear from top to bottom, why not get a riding suit that covers your entire body? A quality one-piece riding suit doesn’t come cheap, but the full-body coverage from ankles to just below the neck may ultimately cost the same or less as having to buy individual pieces. Riding suits are designed to just step right into them, and provide unparalleled comfort and warmth for the rider. Just make sure before you commit to a riding suit that it provides freedom of movement both on and off the bike. And while the suit should fit comfortably snug, make sure there’s room for extra layers underneath just in case.
Motorcycle Riding Gloves
Perhaps no extremities are more important to motorcycle riding than the hands, which can easily get cold. Keeping you hands warm is vital to maintain control of your motorcycle, as cold hands could negatively impact your range of movement.
Heated gloves and/or cold weather gloves are invaluable pieces of apparel to safely ride in cold weather. Insulated windproof and waterproof gloves are best if you decide to forego the heated apparel route. Seek out cold weather gloves made of a breathable, reinforced material. Or go with gauntlet style gloves, which also protect your wrists and sleeves. Consider getting hand warmers or heated grips as accessories for additional hand warmth.
Motorcycle Riding Boots and Socks
Your feet are no less important than your hands, which is where a strong pair of riding boots come in. Insulated riding boots are essential to protecting your feet from injury as well as from freezing temperatures, especially where circulation is concerned. Good boots for frigid temperatures should be both windproof and waterproof to protect your feet from cold air and water. It’s important to have warm, comfortable socks to go with a solid pair of tall riding boots. Wool socks or insulator socks work best to increase warmth and circulation in cold riding conditions.
Motorcycle Riding Body Armor
Finally, when it comes to essential cold weather (or any weather) motorcycle riding apparel, we’d be remiss not to include body armor. For warmth as well as injury protection, body armor is crucial during any and all any riding conditions.