The clocks are back, trees bare, and Jack Frost’s fingers are wrapping themselves around Britain’s chillier extremities. Winter has reached our islands and, with December just days away, the time has come for bracing walks, frosty mornings, and the sound of snow on snow. But indoors, here on the motoring desk, another seasonal phenomenon is taking hold.
Every year, at around this time, every insurance company in the world sends us a press release about “winter driving tips”. These “tips” range from facile to bleedin’ obvious, and clog up our email inboxes like damp leaves in a gutter. So in an effort to stem the frosty flow of festive spam and cold calls, we’ve put together our own advice. Actual advice, which might do someone, somewhere, some good.
These are our winter riding tips, for those bikers who don’t put their machine away once the ice has set in. They’re tried and mostly tested – please feel free to add your own on the bottom
A is for Advice. Take it, especially from bikers who ride throughout the winter and have all their limbs. You don’t have to adopt it all, but the more you know…
B is for Battery trickle charger. They’re all much of a muchness so don’t break the bank, though it’s worth paying a bit extra for decent cables as they get a bit gnarly after a couple of years. Attach it securely to your battery, switch it on and it will maintain your cells at optimum charge. You should be able to start your machine when you want.
C is for Covers. Get one and use it even if the machine is in a garage. I use R&G (www.rg-racing.com), which are tough, waterproof and good value, but there are many, many other covers available.
D is for Don’t lean (as much). Slippery conditions; salty, icy or just wet means you want to keep the machine upright through the turns and let the suspension and tyres do their work. Plan corners, where you want to turn in, where you want to apex and if possible, exit. Then relax, sit on the machine like a sack of potatoes, don’t grip the bars like grim death and be smooth and very gentle on the brakes…
E is for Electrically-heated clothing. Some swear by the stuff, but I’ve never had great results. True you need to be warm when you put it on, but it’s bulky, I don’t like being tethered to the machine even if the wires have snap open connections and heated gloves just don’t seem to work as well as heated grips.
F is for Fleece, a motorcyclist’s friend in the winter. EDZ (www.edzlayering.com) make some of the lightest, warmest and coolest, and they’re designed to go under protective clothing, but there are myriad alternatives. Oh and try to avoid leaning across the exhaust headers when you’ve got your best fleece on; they melt well.
G is for Gloves. One of the most over-worked bits of kit you’ll own. Oh boy where to start; we still mourn the demise of Hein Gericke’s Pathan two-finger gloves, but whichever you chose the things to look out for are fit, decent stitching, a lack of bulk, a good visor wipe, good wrist closures and linings that are well stitched in so they don’t pull out with your fingers (they’re never the same afterwards). A good place to start is the product tests in Motor Cycle News (www.motorcyclenews.com).
H is for Heated grips. If you need to ask why, you haven’t done much cold-weather riding. Once you’ve got them you’ll never go back. I use R&G (www.rg-racing.com/browseType/grips),which are simple and good value, but OnTour, Keis, Oxford, Gear Gremlin and others are available.
I is for Inhibitor and fuel stabilizer – this is the stuff they use in aeronautical fuel and it prevents corrosion and keeps the fuel fresh. Sta-bil, Liquimoly, STP even Mountfield make their own. If you’re leaving your machine for more than a couple of months, fill the tank, dose accordingly and run the engine for a while to get it through the pump and injectors. It works.
J is for Just get home. Not everyone is out to kill you, but it’s best to assume they are. Keep as much distance between you and them, make sure they’ve seen you and save the heroic cornering and late braking for the warmer, lighter times.
K is for Keep moving the machine. If you’ve stored it then move it at least once a month to prevent the tyres flat spotting. Pumping them up a bit more also helps prevent flat spotting.
L is for Lines on the road: white painted lines, over banding, poor resurfacing work, drain covers and the like, are horribly slippery in the wet, stay away from them.
M is for Mice. So don’t underestimate what a lovely winter rodents’ nest a motorcycle air filter makes. If your machine is in a garage or shed try to catch the varmints before they go house hunting and chewing your wiring. Poison is quite good, but best is traps baited with white chocolate or peanut butter.
N is for Not taking the bike. Watch the weather and seriously consider leaving it at home if ambient temperatures are below freezing and there’s the possibility of frost, ice or snow. Get stuck on an icy road and even if you don’t have an accident, merely trying to park the machine is frightening enough.
O is for the Old Bill, aka the police. We’re a huge fan of road safety courses but if you are talking about road riding, the police stand alone. They don’t lecture, they’re funny, they teach you to ride in an unfamiliar assertive and confidence-inspiring style and they know where the best brew and bacon sandwich is in any part of the country. Try www.bikesafe.co.uk, though other courses are available.
P is for Pressure; tyre pressures. Check them once a week, even more when you’ve ridden through road debris and while you are at it put the bike on the centre stand and inspect the tyres for cuts and nails.
Q is for Quit as in knowing when to. Cold comes over you gently on a motorcycle, the brain slows, reactions get fuggly and your limbs cease to react as instantly as they should. It’s easy to press on and have a spill or worse. Learn to recognise the signs, get off and in somewhere warm with a hot drink.