Motorcycles are shorthand for cool: the solitary rider, going wherever he or she wants, unencumbered and zipping through traffic, leaving the rest of us car-bound bums behind. Late spring through early fall may be the best time to hit the road on a motorcycle: The days are long and warm, perfect for a ride. But the weather turning cold doesn't mean you need to store your motorcycle away. You just need to plan a little more and invest in some cold-weather gear.
Because you need to have a range of motion to operate a motorcycle, invest in gear designed specifically for motorcycling. Coats that keep you warm and toasty in day-to-day life may not hold up to the assault of wind and elements from the back of your bike and may not offer you enough movement. Layers are important -- more so than bulk.
Wind is the enemy when trying to stay warm on your motorcycle. Even the most temperate day can be chilly at sixty miles per hour. So how can you prevent freezing when the weather is already cold? First, make sure you are covered. Racing along, the wind will find any cracks or exposed skin and hound it relentlessly. So cover up completely; that means gauntlet-style gloves and a coat that covers the forearms and neck, and wearing a balaclava to keep your neck and face warm. A full-racing helmet will give you the most coverage against the wind.
Wearing waterproof clothing can also help you beat the wind. You don't need expensive, technical types of garments (such as Gore-Tex), just regular PVC-style pants and coats. Pay attention to base layers as well. Cotton will trap moisture and keep it close to the skin, which can chill you fast. Wool is the best choice when it comes to natural fibers, but synthetic fibers can be even better. Check outdoor stores for a wide selection of base layers.
Pay special attention to your hands, as they will feel the cold first. Numb fingers make for dangerous handling and poor reaction times. There are gloves that are better at blocking the wind, such as the gauntlet style. This type of glove has an extended cuff to help cover your forearms. You can also consider buying heated grips and handlebar muffs to combat cold hands.
Where is the technology in all of this? Glad you asked! You can buy battery-powered, heated garments. That's right; your clothes no longer merely shelter you from the cold. They actively warm you up.
Everyone's favorite mall store, Brookstone, has a line that includes vests, jackets and gloves. The batteries are lithium-ion and rechargeable (just like a computer), and the garments have 10 hours of warmth off of the fully charged batteries, according to the company website.
WarmX is another company that offers battery-heated garments, including undershirts and tights, for both men and women. According to the company's website, the battery lasts for three to six hours, depending on what heat setting you have it on.
There are other companies jumping on the battery-heated bandwagon, too. Zanier, glove-makers for more than 35 years, specialize in ski gloves and have recently started making heated gloves. Because they are designed for sport instead of motorcycle riding, the gloves may be too bulky for some. But the 10-hour heat guarantee makes them worth checking out.
None of this comes cheaply, of course. The Brookstone gear ranges from about $120 to about $170 online. WarmX is more expensive, ranging from $200 to well over $300 depending on the item. And the Zanier gloves tip the scale at $350. Is it possible to gear up without breaking the bank?
Yes. As with almost everything, planning ahead will save you money. Take advantage of end-of-season sales, and check out surplus stores. You can also check secondhand sites such as eBay to get gently used, but still functional pieces. Make sure to read the fine print associated with any big purchase and see what the company offers in the way of fixing items and returns in case something should go wrong.
Overwhelmed by the amount of gear available? Don't despair; ask for help. Any motorcycle dealership or repair and maintenance shop will be full of enthusiasts who will have opinions and recommendations regarding all of this. Even better, they might be able to introduce you to a motorcycle club or group rides. Then you'll have even more people from whom to crowd source opinions. Happy riding!