How cold is too cold to ride a motorcycle? A Comprehensive Guide

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This question has much to do with While each person’s preference is important and what they feel most comfortable with, there are safety guidelines and rules that govern what limits can be set.  I have a lot experience with riding motorcycles in Utah and Idaho, even through the harshest winters.

How cold can it get to ride a motorcycle in the winter? It is not recommended to ride a motorcycle when the temperature is below freezing (32°F or 0°C). At these temperatures, ice will form and motorcycles are more vulnerable to it because they are smaller. Make sure you have the correct gear if you must ride in cold temperatures.

Unless it is absolutely necessary, I wouldn’t recommend anyone riding a motorbike during extremely cold or harsh conditions.  If you ride in such conditions, you are more likely to get in an accident, slip, or hit ice. However, riding in the winter isn’t impossible if it’s above freezing which will be explained throughout the rest of this article.

Ground Temperature vs. Ground Temperature

If you intend to ride your motorcycle in winter, it is crucial that you monitor both the ground and air temperatures.  Both can be dangerous for different reasons and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Without proper gear, riding a motorcycle below freezing can be dangerous. Hypothermia can quickly set in. Our bodies have a natural internal temperature of 98.6 °F or 37°C, and if this temperature drops to  95 °F or 35°C then hypothermia sets in.

As you’re riding down the road in cold air, that air is constantly taking away heat from your body at a faster rate than your body can produce it. As a result, your internal temperature drops.

I don’t ride when it is below freezing.  First and foremost because it’s not enjoyable to me anymore.  I’d rather be in a warm car in a t shirt and jeans than trying to constantly keep the motorcycle away from icy patches on the road.

It’s also important to monitor the ground temperature before you go out on a ride.  If there is standing ice or snow anywhere on the road then it’s not recommended to ride your motorbike on the streets.  There are many stories about motorcycle riders who lose control on icy roads or get hit by other vehicles.

If the ground temperature is below freezing then I do not go out to ride, because if any rain or snow happens while I’m out, it will almost instantly freeze when it settles on the road and will create extremely dangerous riding conditions.

A phenomenon known as “The Death of Winter Driving” is the most dangerous aspect of driving in winter. “black ice.”  This happens when the temperature stays below freezing for days at a time and ice on the road gets compressed more and more. It’s almost impossible to see and can immediately turn a car or motorcycle sideways.

Know Your Limitations

One of the biggest factors in trying to know when it’s too cold to ride your motorcycle is listening to that voice inside your head that tells you or what your gut feeling is. If you have to debate within yourself whether it’s too cold to go out riding your motorcycle then stay on the safe side and wait for another day.

If you’ve never ridden your motorbike in extremely cold conditions and you really want to get some practice doing it then stick to small back roads and go slow. It takes practice and experience to learn how to ride in cold weather, just like how you learn how to ride your first motorcycle.

You should not ride outside in the cold without good winter riding gear.  As stated before, frostbite and hypothermia can start quickly while you’re riding because of all the cold air rushing by you.

Be aware of the limitations of your bike. Many carbureted bikes will not be able to run in the cold and will make a spit-and-sputter sound. Take this into consideration when you are deciding whether or not to go out on the open roads.

If your motorcycle has slick tires then I wouldn’t attempt to ride in below freezing temperatures.  Slick tires don’t ride well on ice or snow, and the rubber becomes even more hard and grips less in the cold. If you plan to ride in the winter, make sure your tires have a wider tread.

Proper Gear Is A Must

A leather riding jacket provides the most road rash protection during an accident but it’s not the best choice when riding in the winter to protect against the cold. If you’re going to wear your leather jacket through the winter, then make sure you wear a long sleeve shirt underneath it for better insulation.

Winter riding jackets are a better choice.  There are many jackets that provide both insulation and protection against road rash for motorcycle riders.

Never ride a motorbike without gloves in cold weather. Your response time will slow down and your fingers will freeze in minutes.  I was once riding in the winter and was only going a few miles so I figured I didn’t need gloves.  When I got to my destination my left hand was so frozen that I couldn’t pull in the clutch handle and I had to stall my motorcycle to get it to stop.

When riding in temperatures below about 50 °F I would recommend wearing some thermal underwear under your jeans to keep your legs warm. It is difficult to ride with cold legs. Cold air can make your legs stiffen and cramp. Here is my guide on how to keep your legs warm while riding a motorcycle.

Proper riding boots are essential for motorcycle riding. I recommend that you wear the same pair of boots all year, as long as they’re waterproof. Click here to see my recommendation for waterproof boots). You socks choice is more important than your boots. There are many good options for socks that are affordable and still great.

I once rode in winter without my helmet. The cold air made my nose sting and my eyes ache after only a few minutes.  Riding a motorbike without a helmet is dangerous, and even more dangerous when it’s cold. Always wear a helmet and ensure that the visor is protected from fog.

Anti-fog spray is cheap and will make sure that your hot breath doesn’t fog up the visor from the inside.  Fogging visors are incredibly annoying and dangerous when riding, and once it starts it’s almost impossible to clean it off and keep going.  It will only fog up again.

Don’t Trust All The Cold Weather Advice You Read Online

There are many forums online where people say the coldest temperatures they’ve ridden a motorcycle in and say things like, “I ride my motorcycle through the winter every year and I’ve never had a problem.” It takes just one second to make a difference in your life. Don’t listen to extreme riders.

I was once told by someone that they often ride through -18 °F weather, and honestly I’m not sure if I believe them.  They should have enough common sense to know that it is not true.  That’s not recommended to ever ride in conditions like that.

Asking people in your area for advice on riding in cold conditions is the best way to get it. They have a better understanding of your local road conditions and are more likely to give you an honest answer as to what is or isn’t too cold of conditions to ride your motorbike.

Additional Tips to Stay Warm

You have a lot of cool gadgets and tools that can be used to stay warm on cold rides.  These are some examples:

  • Warming hand packets
  • Jackets and handwarming gloves that can be used with an electric heater
  • Heated electric seats
  • Heated helmets
  • Heated motorcycle grips
  • Waterproof insulated riding trousers

Another cheap trick that I learned as a college student was to wear warm socks and then cover my feet with a grocery bag. Then, I would put on my boots.  My boots weren’t waterproof so the plastic bag helped my feet stay dry.

Once you get wet it’s a lot harder to keep your body warm and then things can get dangerously cold very quickly.  Be smart when riding in cold conditions.

Maintain a greater distance from other vehicles

When riding in cold conditions, it’s important to stay even further away from other vehicles since it will take longer for both you and them to come to a full stop. The rubber compound of your tires get really hard in cold weather and they don’t have as good of traction, and that makes your braking distance increase.

That’s why racing motorcycles have tire warmers wrapped around their tires before races, they’re trying to increase the rubber temperature so it has more bite on the track.

Many drivers in cold weather will have ice and snow buildup on their windshields and have very poor visibility, that’s why it’s important to keep your distance and be extra careful about riding around cars in the winter.

Avoid riding in blind spots. To avoid merging into another lane, always keep in the left or right-most lanes.

Similar Question

Which jacket is best for winter riding? As a winter riding jacket, any waterproof jacket with good insulation properties will do.  Winter riding jackets are made to protect you from the elements and keep you warm. To provide better insulation and keep your body dry, you should always wear a long-sleeved shirt underneath.

Where do the majority of motorcycle accidents occur? Major holidays are the most common time that motorcycle accidents occur. Memorial day, the 4th of July, and Labor day hold the highest records of motorcycle accidents throughout the year with New Year’s and Thanksgiving coming in second.

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