How to Stay Safe On Snowy and Icy Roads

by Damien Heenan

Know your snow riding a motorcycle in the snow | Eagle Leather

Remember this old song?

”Oh, the weather outside is frightful
 But the fire is so delightful
And since we've no place to go
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow! “

No doubt, riding through a “Winter Wonderland” can be an amazing experience.  But when rubber meets road this time of year, an entirely different set of rules come into play when riding your motorcycle.

Snowy, icy surfaces require particular skills and specialized gear to keep your ride safe and your body warm.   But don’t worry – riding in winter can still be a lot of fun, especially since sunnier seasons remain months away (and no one expects an avid rider like you to leave their machines stashed in the garage).

Even though navigating snow and ice may seem complicated, or even a bit daunting, it’s far from impossible.  And if you know what you’re doing, take care of a few essentials, wintertime rides can be done safely and provide a whole lot of fun.

But you DO need to nail down a few key fundamentals, the first being….

Know Your Snow!

That fluffy white stuff from the sky doesn’t come in a single variant – in fact, there’s a popular belief that the aboriginal peoples of the north had over 100 different words for the stuff.  That’s pretty much been discounted these days, but it is true that all snow-covered terrain isn’t alike.  You might come across fresh or virgin snow, compacted snow, and slush. Each not only looks different, but will react with your motorcycle in different ways

Riding on Fresh Snow?  Fun!

Fresh or virgin snow is soft and smooth. When you see it, it looks like you’re the only person on the road and the very first to go through it.

Now, while you might think that riding through soft snow might be challenging, in fact, the opposite is true. Fresh snow is great for riding, especially if it’s not too deep.

When you ride through fresh snow, your tires will compress it – filling in the tire grooves. This will provide better traction, more surface grip, than you’ll experience with harder, already compacted snow or ice.

Riding on Compacted Snow? Take Care…

Compacted snow’s a bit more challenging.  When there’s a lot of traffic on a snowy road, the snow becomes compressed and compacted. It’s not a smooth surface anymore, instead the road’s crisscrossed with visible tracks.  And while you “could” follow someone else’s tracks, taking that same path might not be a wise idea.

Here’s why - compacted snow can turn slippery, especially if a number of heavier vehicles have gone that route.  When that happens, the snowy surface almost becomes polished and may become almost entirely unfit for safe passage. Another concern is that once you get into an existing tire track, getting out of it might turn into a real struggle.

That’s why, when riding on compacted snow, instead of using already compacted tracks, take the middle of the road where the snow is still relatively fresh.  And be wary of crossing any existing tire tracks – your front wheel will be on a different surface than the back wheel, which will require careful handling.

Riding on Slush?  Watch Out!

Once temperatures rise, snow starts to clear, and ice begins melting, your road becomes wet and slushy. A slushy surface has both upsides and downsides.

The main upside is that your tires will have an easier time cutting through the slush and getting to the tarmac beneath.

The downside, however, is that underneath that slush black ice may be lurking – showing up only in certain spots, where it can send you sliding as a nasty surprise.

But the biggest danger with slushy snow is that it could cause you to drop your guard and relax. “It’s melting, no problem.”  Don’t take the bait. Stay cautious when riding through slush and you should be able to pass through without any issues.

ALWAYS Gear Up Properly for the Weather Conditions!

If you’re riding through snow, it means the thermometer’s heading south and it’s chilly there.  So along with riding techniques and the condition of your motorcycle, you’ll need to make sure to gear up properly as well.

Your main focus should be on staying warm, especially when it comes to your core. It’s just basic physiology – your body’s core temperature will plummet if you ride in the cold for too long a time, causing your body to direct its energy inwards to protect vital organs. As a result, outlying areas like your toes and fingers will receive less body heat.

This can cause you to lose feeling in your hands and feet, reducing your control over the motorcycle.

That’s why you want to make sure to keep your core nice and toasty, so the blood flow that helps keep your body warm will be distributed more equally.

The key to making this happen involves layered clothing and specialized winter gear.

Firstly, you’ll need a base layer that can manage moisture well. You don’t want a cotton base, since that material holds moisture, which effectively drains your body’s heat. The right choice would be to go with a specialized piece of gear intended for riding in cold conditions.

Having heated gear can go a long way in maintaining optimal core temperature. You absolutely should consider getting a heated vest and gloves. Heated boot insoles wouldn’t be a bad idea either. Modern heated gear works on the plug-and-play principle, which means you won’t have any issues connecting the gear to your motorcycle.

Heated gloves are also available, but if they seem a bit too much, you can instead use specialized winter gloves. They should be well-insulated, which will do wonders for your fingers’ dexterity even in the coldest conditions. In addition, ALL of your winter gear should be waterproof – being wet and in cold weather is the worst combination imaginable.

And remember, your HEAD is the most important part of your body – so make sure to get a properly closed helmet. You can take head and neck protection to another level of comfort by wearing a balaclava underneath, to provide additional insulation and protect your neck from the cold. This gear piece is nothing fancy, but you’ll be glad you have it once the chill wind starts blowing.

There are two crucial factors with all motorcycle gear: First, it needs to be quality-made and second, it has to fit right. If you don’t know where to look, finding the best gear pieces might be a real struggle. That’s why you should turn to a respected, well-supplied shop, such as Eagle Leather. Visit the website and browse the selection to find exactly what you’re looking for.

The final pieces of gear you should get aren’t actually for you – they’re for your motorcycle.

We mentioned cold winds and the issues those freezing gusts can cause. Fortunately, you can avoid plenty of wind-related complications by simply equipping your machine with handguards and a windscreen. Both will block the wind and make your riding experience a whole lot more enjoyable.  

(Note: It is possible that your motorcycle might not support adding aftermarket parts. In that case, you likely won’t be able to install the windscreen. Still, you should have no problems with the handguards.)

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