Safety Bits: Foul Weather Gear
How To Make Yourself a Safer Rider, Part 4
By Mark Yager
Editor's Note: This is Part Four in a series of safety articles by
Mark Yager. A long-time motorcycle enthusiast, Mark is currently an instructor
at the Canada Safety Council.
Resources - This is an assortment of various sources for some of the gear
mentioned above. There are many more distributors of riding equipment than
this. Visit a reputable dealer in your area for more information.
Adverse Weather Riding Gear
September. Get the kids back to school, pay off the Visa from that annual
vacation, watch the Christmas marketing arise, and put the bike away until
next May. What?!
If you have been around the motorcycle world for any length of time,
you have probably found that there are two types of riders when it comes
to dealing with the weather. Those who ride during the summer and those
of us who ride year-round. Riding for twelve months of the year is not
possible in all areas of North America or the world, but I happen to live
in a place where the bike goes off the road around December 20 and back
on about January 5. Regardless of how long your riding season is, you must
be prepared for inclememt weather when you ride. Proper cold weather gear
is absolutely essential if you want to stay warm and dry (and therefore
Let's start from the inside and work out. In dressing for cold weather,
begin with long undies. Make sure you get a set that is long enough in
the torso and legs so that they don't ride up when you bend over to grab
the bars -- that leads to the dreaded cold-draft-up-the-back syndrome.
Next, a long sleeve shirt and warm pants. Of course, don't forget warm
socks. It's very easy to forget about your feet until they freeze. Now
we come to one of the best inventions in the world of motorcycling next
to front brakes. That is, of course, the electric vest. For those of you
who have never worn one, an electric vest is a lightly quilted vest that
plugs into your bike's electrical system. The better models have a rheostat
that controls the amount of heat produced by the vest as well as an on/off
switch. They usually cost around $100 and are worth every penny. The only
time I ride without my vest is on the sunny summer days. All other times,
I have it with me, just in case. Some manufacturers also have vests that
have a high collar so your neck won't get cold. Electric chaps are also
available, as are electric handlebar grips.
The next level of protection is a good jacket. A high quality, comfortable
jacket is one of the most sought-after accessories for any experienced
motorcyclist. We put a lot of demands on our jackets, and the manufacturers
have caught on to this fact by responding with a versatile product line
that does more than just cover. If you can only afford one, pick a jacket
that is, above all, tough. If you go down, something is going to have to
be sacrificed to the pavement, and it may as well be some other hide than
your own. Jackets must also be comfortable. When trying one on, make sure
you sit on your bike with it on before deciding whether it fits or not.
Be careful that the jacket is long enough in the torso and the arms. A
jacket that is too thin or bulky will flap and balloon in the wind which
will make you tired and reduce your body's ability to keep you warm. The
best jackets have a zip-out quilted lining for winter, and venting for
summer. Also look for a high collar that will keep the wind out of your
neck area, and ensure the collar snaps or zips up all the way to the top.
Little features are important, too. Things like double cuffs so wind doesn't
get up around your wrists, and a good wind-flap over the main zipper.
A very good alternative is an Aerostitch suit. These are one or
two piece suits that are made out of cordura nylon. These are probably
the best suits built for motorcyclists. The one piece will run you around
$640 and the two piece around $680 (US). They feature at least a dozen
removable T- foam armour pads, lots of sizes at at least 15 colours. Get
one if you can afford one, if not then buy a good leather jacket. If you
can't afford leather, then don't ride until you can.
Insulated pants or chaps are a very good investment if you do any sort
of cool weather riding. There are a few of the non-electric species around.
The better ones are made of cordura nylon, and are usually coated to be
rain resistant (not usually water proof). They are easy to get on and off,
are comfortable, and won't leave you with cold legs. These also function
as added abrasion protection.
These are another of the absolute essential items every rider must have.
Gloves can be split into two basic categories, summer and winter. Summer
gloves are the leather, uninsulated type to protect your hands from abrasion
should you fall. Winter gloves must provide that protection as well as
protect against cold and rain. Winter gloves must be insulated with Dupont
Thinsulate ® or some other material. Don't buy gloves that are too
bulky in the palm lest you lose the feel of the bike and its controls.
Make sure that your gloves have long gauntlet type cuffs that will fit
over your jacket sleeves to ensure no wind gets up your arms. Most winter
gloves are at least water resistant. Some have a little zip-up compartment
in the cuff area which houses a waterproof cover should you get cought
in a sudden downpour. Get gloves that have a felt strip on the index finger
on the left hand. This allows you to wipe water from your visor without
scratching it. As with all gloves, summer or winter, make sure that there
are no rough seams in the palm area. If you ride for a couple hours with
a seam between your hand and the grip, you'll feel it.
Tricks and Tips
One article I am never without is something to protect my neck from the
cold. Whether it's a commercial or home-made model, a lot of riders consider
it an essential piece of cold weather riding equipment. The simplest kinds
are a felt type material cut into a bandanna shape where the ends connect
together at the back of your neck. This keeps wind from coming in and going
up your helmet or down your jacket. Some of the more elaborate models actually
fasten onto the bottom of your helmet and form a seal from your helmet
to your chest. Very effective. Balaclavas can be also very nice. You can
buy them in silk or numerous synthetic materials. They are like hoods that
pull over your head and extend to your chest. When buying a neck insulator,
ensure that it has enough material to reach to your chest, or else it'll
come untucked from your collar when you shoulder check or look up.
The best way to handle any kind of emergency is not to let it happen in
the first place. Of course, that's not always possible, especially if you
live in a place with mountains where the weather can change every mile
or so. It is extremely important to keep warm. When your body decides that
it's cold, the blood starts getting divereted away from the surface of
your body and towards the vital organs. As the cold worsens, the body will
start to shut down some of the functions that it deems non-essential. One
of the first things to get axed is the judgement functions. Eventually,
you can't move your fingers and toes and your mind is operating on autopilot.
Obviously a very dangerous situation for any motorcyclist. If you find
yourself getting cold, stop at the next available pull-out. If this happens
to be a restaurant, great. Take some time and warm up. Don't just inhale
a cup of coffee and think that's good enough. Have something to eat to
give your body some energy so it can keep itself warm. If it's getting
on the cold side but really isn't that bad yet, take some preventative
medicine. Buy a newspaper and spread it out in layers between your jacket
and sweater. It'll make a very effective wind block, though it has very
little insulation value. If you can keep your torso warm, it will help
keep the rest of you warm as your blood can warm up in your chest every
time it circulates before going back to the colder extremities.
Above all, think about what you are doing. Is it worth the risk
to your life to get to your destination on time? Plan ahead. Consider the
conditions you will may be riding in. Use the worst case scenario (what's
the worst weather I might encounter) and dress for that. You can always
remove some layers later, or add some if you brought them. Take it from
us, buy the best. The best equipment will be safer, last longer, look better,
and will be more comfortable than a similar article of dubious manufacture.
Aerostich Riderwear, 8 South 18th Ave. West, Duluth, MN 55806.
Jackets and gloves - Roadgear: call 24hrs 1-800-854-4327 for free catalogue.
Also Vent-Tech at 1-800-331-8408 for free catalogue.
Insulated pants/chaps- Maveric Mt., Inc at 1-800-822-4212 for information.
Widder 'Lectric Heat (vests, etc.)- For info call 1-800-WYBCOLD in the
US, (805)640-1295 outside US.
Aerostich Riderwear - Free catalogue call 1-800-222-1994 or write to