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Friday, December 27, 2013

Cold Weather Challenges - Part two

I have to be honest, I was not sure if I wanted to return to this topic.  After all, I live in Florida and our "cold" is completely different from the "cold" of my home state of Pennsylvania or even the "cold" of Virginia.  But I was looking through the stats of the site and searches for "cold weather" and "cold weather riding" seem to be one of the driving forces for generating traffic to this blog right now.  That means many of you are reading this old post, which sadly does not contain much, if any, useful information.

So frankly, gentle reader if your looking for information about riding your motorcycle in the snow, or what tires are best suited for winter traction, your in the wrong place.  There are way better blogs and forums to get that information from.

All that I can do is pass on my little tidbits of knowledge that I've learned.  So read on, you might learn something.

What I will talk about is wind chill and preparation for those cold days.  We do have cold snaps here in Tampa that can be in the low 30 to high 20's (0 to - 6 C).  First thing that we as motorcyclists need to remember is this.  It's not the cold that will get you.  But the wind chill! 

All that graph shows is a loss of heat.  So if your traveling along at a nice clip of 50 mph (80.5 KPH) and the air temperature is 40 F (4.4C) your body is thinking that it is actually 26 F (-3.3 C).  The faster you go, the colder it's going to seem.  The cold can affect your reaction times, your judgement and finally your body.  This is called Hypothermia and is the rapid, progressive mental and physical collapse accompanying the chilling of the inner core of the body.  It's caused by the exposure to cold and is aggravated by being wet, the wind and exhaustion.  In fact, the state with the most reported cases of Hypothermia is Florida.  We are simply not used to the cold or understand how it can affect us.

BUT understanding some things and doing things right can extend your riding season into the cooler months and into into the winter.  PLEASE remember, for information about riding in snow or ice you need to go elsewhere.  I can not be held responsible for your decision to ride in that type of conditions.

What I can do is this.

STEP ONE - LAYERS (pay attention to the base layer!) -  For me the base layer is often just a pair of long johns (sometimes called thermal underwear) or a pair of fleece underwear.  It should be tight against the body but comfortable at the same time.  The snugger the fit means that less air will flow between your body and the clothing.  This retains your body heat for a longer period of time.

If your commuting like I do I would recommend the fleece underwear.  It breaths a bit more than the thermal underwear and that will make you a bit more comfortable at work.

An excellent example of layers
After that layers can be added or subtracted as needed.  I might wear a long sleeve shirt over my base, then a sweater over that.  If its colder still, I will throw on a hooded sweatshirt under my jacket (the hold fits under my helmet and keeps my head and back of the neck warm) and to protect my legs - a pair of sweat pants.  No, I don't look sexy but I am warm.  Yes, I've pulled over to put on a pair of sweat pants over my jeans.  I've even heard of riders slipping on their rain gear to help them stay warm.

My jacket is waterproof and I zip up the vents to keep the cold air out as much as possible.  Remember that air can act as a barrier, so when you layer your actually trapping warmer air close to your body and that helps protect you.

STEP TWO - AVOID THE WIND - Or in other words, make sure there are no gaps where the wind can get in and start to cool you down.  Gauntlet style gloves fit over the sleeves of your jacket and protect you that way.  "Hippo Hands" do the same thing.

An example of "Hippo hands"
Things like wearing a full face helmet and heaving a good windshield help as well.   You want to direct the wind around you if at all possible.

A Scarf or Balaclava (or even a ski mask) will help protect the face and neck; the neck actually has two large veins that bring blood back to the heart.  Keeping these veins warm will help keep you warm.

STEP THREE - KEEP YOUR HANDS AND FEET WARM - You should already be wearing waterproof and slip resistant sole boots.  If not, buy some.  I'll wait.

Back so soon?  Good!  The reason why is simple.  Your body will want to keep the core warm and your brain functioning.  Keeping your hands and feet warm is low on your body's list, plus there are lots of small blood vessels that can transfer your body's heat to the outside air if exposed.  Wearing wool socks in your boots or two or three pair of socks will help.

Find a good pair of windproof riding gloves.  If possible the gloves should have some sort of clasp or elastic to tighten it against your riding jacket.  The gloves should also be insulated.  Heated grips and electric gloves may be a solution as well.

A simple and rather elegant solution believe it or not is to wear a simple pair of latex gloves under your gloves.  The latex does not breath so the air trapped between the glove and your skin serves as another insulating barrier from the outside cold.

STEP FOUR - EAT! - You want to eat to keep your energy up.  You want to eat to healthy of course, for your body is producing a lot of heat.  Heat which you now have trapped in layers of waterproof and warm clothing.  There is a reason why we humans generally gain weight during the winter months and no it's not because fat is a insulation.  Your body produces more heat on a full stomach than it does an empty one.

So there you have it.  Remember these are just tips that I picked up.  Your mileage may vary and the smartest thing you can do is know your limits.  If your feeling cold, then stop.  Have a cup of coffee and a few donuts in a nice warm place.  Know the symptoms of Hypothermia and never ever be afraid to ask for help or go get help.

I want to see you out on that road.

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