9 Ways to Enjoy Cold Weather Travel

by Liz Jansen

In my neck of the woods, late season travel invariably means cold weather travel, and it can be just as enjoyable as riding at any other time.  A new annual tradition started in 2009. Friends, more like family really, moved from San Francisco to Atlanta and invited me to visit them in mid-October. Seeing an opportunity to visit family I see far too little, and get some late season riding in, of course I accepted. Getting together has become an annual Thanksgiving tradition, one I look forward to all year. Unfortunately it won’t work out this year, so these tips go out to those of you lucky enough to still be riding during this unseasonably cold autumn.

In spite of all my years of riding, I was still relatively green about prolonged cold weather riding on that first trip. My  only heated gear was an electric vest. I figured I could manage the temperatures with snowmobile gloves and layers. Wrong. I got off luckier than my bike, and learned valuable lessons.

cold weather travelIn addition to celebrating in Atlanta, we’ve spent the holiday on Jekyll Island, SC, and Edisto Island, SC, at lovely beach hangouts. Traveling there while staying warm, dry and cozy, and feeling the cool air when you lift your visor is exhilarating. With the leaves off the trees, you see things now that you don’t see at any other time of the year.

Since that first trip I’ve collected better, more appropriate gear and am wiser about late season riding. For those of you who also love to extend your season safely, here’s what I’ve learned.

  1. Wear the right gear. The secret to staying comfortable and alert with cold weather riding is having the right gear. I’m now outfitted from ankles to neck with electric gear and can ride all day in -5 deg. C temps, staying toasty warm. My helmet is quiet, draft-free and the best I’ve ever worn.
  1. Manage layering effectively. I now wear an Icebreaker merino wool base layer top, leggings and socks. They add insulation without adding bulk and are perfect for under heated gear.
  1. Carry spare fuses. When turned up on high, heated gear can draw a lot of energy. The year I added my electric pant liners, I blew a fuse because I hadn’t (read the instructions) swapped in a higher amp fuse. In any case, it’s good to have spares. The heat is essential.
  1. Adjust travel time. Daylight is scarce at this time of year and I don’t like riding through the mountains in the dark. It’s also harder to read the road surface and detect unsafe surface conditions. That means getting an early start and calling it a day sooner than I normally would. It’s actually a good thing because your body needs more rest.
  1. Be flexible. The weather is unpredictable at this time of year. I’ll leave a day or two early and have contingency plans built into my schedule to allow for unfavourable weather.
  1. Stay hydrated. Even bundled up so you’d think no moisture could escape, you lose water. Carry water that’s easily accessible, like in your tank bag, so you can sip safely while riding. The downside with multiple layers is that stopping for a bio break is a big inconvenience.
  1. Take frequent breaks. Riding can lull you into a false sense of wellbeing. It’s important to get off the bike, even if just to stretch your legs for five minutes every hour. I usually try and time bio breaks and fuel stops accordingly, to economize time.
  1. Know where you’re going. You don’t want to burn daylight looking for directions or a place to stop enroute. Until this year, my only GPS was the one on my iPhone, so I planned more precisely at this time of year, given the importance of time.
  1. Have a back up plan. The weather is unpredictable and safety is the top priority. Cold is manageable but I draw the line on ice and snow.

If you’d like to extend your season and try cold weather riding,  you don’t need to ride across the country. Start small and test it out. You may find, as I did, that it can be very enjoyable. Typically, once I get back, it’s time for the bike to go into hibernation. And getting it ready for a smooth spring start-up.


photo credit: “Caveman Chuck” Coker via photopin cc


Healer, author, and motorcycle aficionado Liz Jansen combines her artistic mediums to create stories that inspire readers to embark on their own journey of self-discovery. No helmet or jacket required.

6 Comments on “9 Ways to Enjoy Cold Weather Travel

  1. Great article. I’ve done a little cold weather riding. I would love to get some long distance cold weather riding under my belt.

    • This is the season to do it Sandra! Except for the snow.:) Snow and ice are the biggest constraints, and I have no desire to tackle either one.

  2. Excellent points Liz.

    I ride comfortably to about -8c, and I don’t have any heated motorcycle gear, save for the heated grips that are standard on my bike. I add handle bar “mittens” for the winter months, and with the grips on, it becomes a nice little sauna inside the mittens with my year around riding gloves.

    To keep my feet warm, I wear Columbia heated snow boots. They recharge with a lithium ion battery and have three settings (low, med. high) with the heat coming from the insoles, offering enough heat to keep toes toasty.

    The rest of me is comfortable with good layers – wool or heavy weight silk underwear, fleece lined soft shell pants, then my riding pants over top. Under my jacket I wear an Arcteryx soft shell (ridiculously priced, but it’ll last a lifetime) an 850 fill down “sweater” – really a light weight jacket that packs big time insulation, then my Thinsulate lined winter riding jacket. Under my helmet I slip on a Klim balaclava which offers extra warmth and is wind proof on the neck.

    Because I wear glasses, I coat them with a layer of “Cat Crap” anti fog paste once the temperature starts dropping, so they stay crystal clear inside my fog proof visor.

    This is virtually the same gear I wear to ski in all winter under my ski suit, and I can do that down to -25c, but since I don’t have the benefit of the heated grips, I do have to stop every few runs to warm up my fingers!

    Remember – there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing choices. Dress appropriately and get outside!

    • Thanks for your excellent advice Bridget. You make a good point that you don’t NEED to have heated gear. Love your last sentence!!
      Happy trails – on the road or the slope!!

  3. Nice article and to the point. I grew up with the concept of layering and until a couple of years ago was darn good at it. Then I discovered electrics and what a new world it is. No bulking up with layers, no adding or taking off layers, just adjust the heat control. -5C is no problem even on medium heat. What a great way to go.

    I haven’t extended my riding season, just made it easier and more comfortable.

    • Electrics is my preference too Walt. Worn over a thin Merino wool base layer I’m good all day at -5C. And it’s nice even at “cool” temps just to take the edge off. My extended riding season is probably still shorter than yours. 🙂

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