‘Snow way I’m riding in that!’

That would certainly be most motorcyclists’ response when they looked out the window and were faced with this scene…

I’ve had my CRF250 Rally about a month now, bought as a winter commuter and greenlaning bike I don’t mind it getting wet and dirty. However, with a recent dump of snow, I was forced to get the bike out in the white stuff. Here’s what I have learnt…

Wrap up warm
I’m no stranger to cold weather activities; I’ve kayaked through many a British winter, surfed with snow on the beach and climbed Scottish mountains in January. I’ve found out the hard way that staying warm in cold weather can be difficult if you go out underprepared. When you get cold it becomes harder to concentrate, you lose dexterity and you lose patience (I’ll come onto the importance of this later), so make sure you wrap up warm!

The best way to achieve this is with layering system, usually comprising a close fitting base layer made from wool or synthetic fibres (not cotton!), an insulating mid layer (down/feather or synthetic equivalent) and a wind and waterproof outer shell. The great news is that many motorcycle jackets already have some sort of removable thermal lining as well as a tough water and windproof outer. I personally choose to also wear a thin fleece when the temperature really drops. Hiking/skiing socks are perfect on the bike and a decent pair of winter gloves can make a huge difference.

One of the most important things to do on the bike is eliminate any gaps in clothing. If your trousers and jackets zip together then this is great, if not tuck thermal tops/fleeces into your trousers to create a nice seal at your waist. A neck tube / scarf (such as a Buff) is a great way to stop wind finding its way down the neck of your jacket and allows you to cover your face partially too. Finally, make sure your gloves and jacket cuffs are overlapped to avoid that pesky breeze blowing up your sleeves!

All in good time
We’ve all been there; alarm goes off, hit the snooze button a couple of times, then jump out of bed, chuck clothes on, jump on the bike and tear into work with barely a minute to spare. When the mercury drops give yourself a bit more leeway and set off on your journey with a good 50% more time to spare, this way, when you have to deal with adverse conditions such as snow and ice you won’t be fretting about getting to your destination. Be patient and resist the urge to rush. My commute normally takes me around 10-12 minutes, after a night of snow it took me 45. Luckily I left myself loads of time and didn’t feel any pressure to ride quicker than I felt comfortable.

Gently does it
When riding in slippery conditions, be it wet, mud, snow or ice it pays to be a little more sensitive with all the controls. The bike will be hyper sensitive; small throttle openings can cause the rear wheel to spin, ham fisted braking can cause lock ups and it’s easy to tuck the front if you charge into a corner too fast and try to tip the bike in. Planning ahead is key – look far down the road and anticipate any adjustments you may need to make to the bike well in advance. Brake early and gently, keep the bike as upright as possible through the turn and accelerate gently as you exit. If you see a patch of ice or snow in the road, slow to an appropriate speed well before you reach it (if you plan well enough, you can often rely on engine-braking alone, with no need to touch the brakes), then maintain a steady speed and upright position as you ride over it. The bike may move a little, but as long as you don’t make any sudden inputs to throttle, brakes or steering it will sort itself out. Also, try riding a gear higher than you usually would; the lower the gear you are in the more responsive the bike will be so by shifting up you take the bike further from its peak power and torque which will make it easier to control on low grip surfaces.

Enjoy the challenge
The best advice when it snows is probably to leave the bike at home – but where’s the sense of adventure in that!? Now I would never recommend deliberately putting yourself at unnecessary risk, but if you need to make a journey and two wheels are your only option, look at it as a new experience, a positive challenge and something to put your skills to the test.

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