Thinking about packing your bike away for the winter? Think again…
Riding in winter conditions is a sure-fire way sharpen up your riding – buildup that confidence in the cold and wet and just imagine how much faster you’ll be when the roads dry out again. Plus, there’s the simple fact you won’t be anywhere near as rusty when the season starts again in spring.
Although the prospect of riding on anything other than balmy summer Sundays will fill some of you with dread, the truth is – with the exception of a few extreme days – our winters here in the UK aren’t anywhere near as bad as we think they are, and are getting warmer.
Add to that the improvements in riding kit, tyre and brake technology and a few forward-thinking local councils who’re improving road surfaces, changing what they use for de-icing, and taking diesel spills a bit more seriously, and the reality of winter riding really isn’t that bad.
Break down the mental barrier that your wheels are going to slip out from under you on every corner, prepare your bike properly, wear the right kit and follow a few basic riding rules, and you can safely extend your riding season ‘till spring. Here’s how:
Dealing with rain:
The key to staying upright on wet roads is to do everything smoothly: no hard or harsh accelerating or braking, and go nice and easy on the clutch and brakes.
Take it steady on the downshifts as the reduced traction makes lockups much more likely, and leave plenty of room between you and vehicle in front to increase your reaction time and reduce the need for heavy braking.
The same goes for cornering too: drop that speed, turn in gently and don’t be trying to get your knee down; slow and steady wins the race…
Stuff to watch out for:
Rain does a great job of spreading oil and diesel spills around, so be aware
Wet roads reflect headlights so can dazzle and distract, especially at night
Steamed up windows in other vehicles means they’re even less likely to see you
Pedestrians tend to keep their head down in wet weather, so keep an eye out
Dealing with wind:
Wind is a tricky thing to deal with. Face-on it can reduce your concentration and tire you out quickly, from behind it can easily push you into riding too fast, and from the side can push you across lanes – or you might even get a combination of all three.
There’s no easy fix, just try to figure out which direction it’s coming from, drop your speed and alter your road position so you’ve space and time to react to being pushed off course.
If it’s really bad, stick to a lower gear so you have more drive and control over the bike and counter steer to help correct your road position.
Try to stay loose and relaxed on the bike – especially your grip on the bars – so if you get blown about it doesn’t affect the bike too much.
Watch out for:
Baggy riding kit will catch the wind and act like a sail, so go for close-fitting kit
Watch for flying debris, dust etc. and keep those eyes behind a visor/goggles
Be careful of gusts coming through gaps in hedges and between buildings
Take care when overtaking large / high-sided vehicles
Not something many riders aim to tackle, but if it dumps a load while you’re at work and you’re forced to ride home, you need to know how to deal with it.
If it’s a thin layer use the same rules as riding in the wet, but be ever more smooth and steady with your acceleration and gear changes, and keep that speed in check.
Stay in as higher gear as possible and keep you revs down to help stop the rear braking traction.Look well ahead and avoid using the brakes altogether if you can. If you can’t, be very gentle and use the rear not the front.
If there are any, aim to ride in the tracks other vehicles have made rather than the fresh, untouched snow.
Deeper snow is passable, but it normally involves paddling the bike through.
Watch out for:
Manhole covers, white lines and other slippery surfaces hiding under the snow
Losing sight of the edge of the road, lanes etc.
Off-camber sections of road and things like sleeping policemen that could unbalance you
Other road users losing control of their vehicles
Ice is a big problem. Avoid riding in it at all if you can.
If you’re lucky enough to spot it whilst riding, and think it only stretches for a short distance, get off the bike and walk with it.
If you find yourself on a patch of ice, don’t touch your brakes or try to swerve off it; gently ease off the throttle and shave off speed gradually, keeping your bike as upright as possible.
If you really have to brake, don’t touch the front, use the back brake only and keep the clutch / drive engaged to try and avoid locking up.
Watch out for:
Areas where water is likely to gather: like dips in the road or near manhole covers and drains
Sections of road in shaded areas, such as underneath trees, where it could be damp and the road temperature could be lower