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The Year-Round Rider

Tips for Winter Motorcycling in the Pacific Northwest

Let's face it, winter in the Pacific Northwest is cold, wet, and dark, and that's not an easy combination for motorcycling. Most folks park their bikes and wait for the return of warm weather, but for a small group of hardcore riders, winter is just another part of motorcycling.

Whatever the reason we ride year-round, whether out of necessity or for adventure, we must take special precautions to stay safe, warm, and dry in the winter months.

Reading the road

Riding on snow and ice are separate topics not covered here, but for most winter riders in the Pacific Northwest, the main concerns are temperature, precipitation, and road conditions.

Thankfully, the first two are easy: check the weather report before you ride, and don't forget the effects of wind chill. What might be light-jacket weather at home will be bone-chilling on a motorcycle.

The same goes for precipitation: on the highway, a light drizzle turns into a downpour. And if it's raining hard enough to have standing water on the roads, well, forget it. Call a taxi or cancel your plans.

Reading road conditions is a skill learned through experience, but the main points are:

1. Slow down and look farther ahead!
2. Go gentle on turns, braking, and acceleration.
3. Beware of debris. Gravel, sand, and mud can cause loss of control. And watch out for wet leaves—they're extremely slippery!

Seeing and being seen

Be sure your visor is clean, inside and out, before each ride. Time-tested products like Scott Anti Fog, Fog Off or Cat Crap will keep the inside of your visor from fogging up. Don't forget to wash your eyeglasses too!

Check your lights before each ride: do they all work correctly?

High-visibility clothing is critical during the dark months. Retro-reflective vests and over-gloves are extremely effective, and can be purchased inexpensively online or at industrial supply stores.

It's also worth considering supplementary lighting for your motorcycle. While not inexpensive, adding more light makes it easier for you to see, and for others to see you. Check with your local police department about legal requirements.


Staying warm and dry isn't just a matter of comfort. When you're chilled, your reaction times, dexterity, and ability to think clearly all deteriorate. Prolonged exposure can lead to hypothermia.

When the weather turns nasty, layering is the way to go:
1. Base layers go next to your skin, and help wick moisture. These can be made of synthetic or natural fibers (silk, wool).
2. Insulating layers are what keep you warm. High-tech synthetics are low-bulk and lightweight, and traditional materials (wool, down) are affordable and effective.
3. Outer layers protect you from wind and water. Modern materials are much more effective than leather, and manufacturers like Aerostitch, First Gear and Olympia make full-body suits that offer excellent protection from the elements.

Add appropriate gloves, a scarf or balaclava, and a pair of warm waterproof boots, and you're good to go!

It's not easy, but with some extra preparation and gear, winter can be another exciting part of the two-wheeled experience!

Levi Stroppel/Fall 13

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