As fall skids into winter, your motorcycle or scooter loses its appeal. Baby, it's cold outside, and soon it will be snowing.
Here are a few tips based on riding a BSA Bantam year-round in London in the 1960s, and advice from Lance Raber a retired emergency medical technician from Arizona. Raber crossed the Andes from Chile to Argentina on a Kawasaki KLR650, then rode to Bolivia and Peru. He knows a thing or two about adverse weather.
• See what the weather's doing. If there's freezing rain or a heavy frost, you might reconsider. If you can't stand, you can't ride.
• Have a hearty breakfast, oatmeal or bacon and eggs and such. Mom was right. Drink hot coffee or tea.
• Dress in layers, starting with silk long johns; silk is thin and efficient. Follow that with a wool shirt and sweater, down jacket and ski gloves. Heavy work boots or insulated Sorels are warm, but it's hard to shift with really big feet.
"Most motorcycle boots are thin, but if you wear rubber waterproof booties over them it helps keep in the warmth," says Raber.
Same goes for your upper body, brightly colored raingear not only makes you more visible, it also stops the chilly wind, he says.
A silk scarf takes up less space than a woolen neck roll. The final touch is a Balaclava helmet under your full-face crash helmet.
An electric vest keeps your abdomen warm, and heated gloves and grips will keep your fingers doing what you want.
Some big bikes even have heated seats and footpegs.
Which brings us to the bike.
• Dirt bikes often have handguards that cut wind chill to your fingers, but they don't usually have big enough alternators to power to electric vests and rips.
Second, they are tall, and that's a big problem. If you're going to ride in slippery conditions, you must be able to place your feet flat on the ground, so as not to drop the bike.
If you get caught in a snowstorm, you can "tripod" your way home slowly, with your feet sliding along the ground—provided the bike isn't too tall or heavy. Many dirt bikes can be lowered by a good mechanic. And you can let the air out of the knobby tires for better grip.
• Motorcycle ice racers use metal spikes in their tires, and studded tires would help street riders. Scandinavian manufacturer Nokian makes studded tires for autos and bicycles, but not for motorcycles.
Motorcycle chains exist – ask a hillclimb racer — but Raber counsels against them on the street.
"There's nothing worse than when half the bike works," he says. "You can go, but you can't steer."
And remember everything bigger than you – cars, buses and trucks — has more momentum.
If you fall off, you might slide 20 feet, but a bus will skid 60 feet and you'd better not be in the way.
Raber recalls a rider who crossed the Andes and fell off nine times in one day because his bike was too tall.
"The last time was right before this icy tunnel, right on top. This huge truck behind him had to swerve off the road and crashed. We had to get him out of there before the truckers killed him."