Winter is a great time to ride motorcycles in Australia. In many parts of the country it’s actually the dry season, so clear blue skies and empty roads, thanks to the lack of grey nomads and tourists, means great riding. There’s nothing worse than riding when you’re cold and wet, however, so you still need to prepare for the inevitable winter rain. And unless you’re in the tropical north, it’ll be cold, something that’s easily taken care of with the right preparation. Being warm and comfortable while riding will go a long way in enjoying your trip.
It’s important to understand how your base, mid and outer layers work together and what each one is trying to achieve. After that, it’s about keeping your head, hands and feet warm as you can lose an awful lot of your body heat through those areas. In this article I will outline the key elements of staying warm and comfortable while riding in winter. If this inspires you to go riding irregardless of the weather then find here our article on the top five roads throughout Australia.
You need to start with a base layer that traps body heat but allows moisture to wick away, so as the day warms up you don’t sweat into your gear and make it moist and uncomfortable.
Cotton, which is what T-shirts and singlets are made of, isn’t a good place to start in winter. Cotton doesn’t trap enough of your body heat and doesn’t wick away sweat, so it becomes damp under your other layers, which is uncomfortable and isn’t actually keeping you warm.
Merino wool thermal wear is an excellent base layer, as are many synthetic garments. Some of the major motorcycle riding apparel brands produce base layer clothing that is effective and affordable, often cheaper than what you’ll pay in hiking stores for something designed for a completely different activity.
Whatever you choose, make sure it’s long enough in the sleeves and back length to cover all the skin it’s supposed to. We’ve had great experience with gear from BMW, Alpinestars, Dainese, Oxford and Red Dog. These brands will offer products which go a long way to staying warm and comfortable while riding.
Motorcycle clothing companies have really ramped up their offerings in the mid-layer areas, with thin windproof and wickable options available. Far better than the old thick woollen jumper, these thin (usually synthetic) garments are often windproof and trap body heat.
Fleece layers come into play here too, often used in conjunction with a thinner mid-layer top and designed to keep your jacket snug fitting to keep out drafts while trapping yet more body heat. Your fleece layer may be a zip-out lining in your jacket or a separate item.
Recommended brands: Oxford, Dainese and Alpinestars.
A good winter motorcycle jacket needs to protect you from wind, rain, cold and crashing. It needs to be strong, comfortable and armoured, which is why they are often heavy and expensive, although they don’t have to be.
Generally forget leather; synthetic Cordura or similar materials are simply better for winter road riding. Look for 600D Heavy Duty construction with a waterproof lining; the expensive jackets often use Gore-Tex, while cheaper models use a different waterproof membrane.
Three-quarter length, which means it extends up to 15cm below your waistline, reduces drafts. A good seal around the neck (although with enough room for your choice of neck warmer) is essential.
Back, shoulder and elbow armour is pretty much standard across the board these days.
Recommended brands: Almost too many to mention. Macna, Spidi, Dainese, Held, Alpinestars, Klim, Ixon, MotoDry, Dririder and many of the motorcycle manufacturers, especially BMW and Triumph.
Read Road Rider’s review of the new Macna Imbuz jacket here!
Probably the smartest way to choose pants is to simply match your jacket to the matching pants. However, while there are hundreds of different jacket styles on the market, there is just a fraction of the choice in pants.
If you’re serious about riding in the cold, you’ll need a set of proper riding pants (standard Kevlar jeans are not suitable for winter riding, although if you put riding pants over the top you’ll have a warm and protective combination) as they are crucial in staying warm and comfortable while riding.
Look for the same features as mentioned above in the jacket section (construction, armour, removable linings) and add stretch panels above the knees.
Check out Road Rider’s review of the Rukka Energator Suit.
Keeping your head, feet and hands warm is essential. A thin silk or synthetic balaclava makes a huge difference to keeping your head warm, while a neck warmer bridges the gap between your jacket and balaclava.
Silk inner gloves will make your winter gloves even warmer without adding too much thickness. Heated handgrips are fantastic, but more on that under “electrical assistance” below.
Good-quality waterproof motorcycle boots and warm socks will usually suffice for your feet, although if it’s wet, a set of overboots is a godsend. By keeping the water away from the boot, your feet stay much warmer. Waterproof boots may keep out the water, but a soaked boot is very cold, even if it’s not leaking.
It’s a similar story with gloves. Few gloves wick-off the water droplets; the waterproofing is internal, so the outer becomes soaked and cold. Using overgloves keeps your gloves dry. Overboots, overgloves and the old one-piece oversuit are lightweight, cheap and remarkably effective at keeping you warm and dry.
Recommended brands: Oxford, Klim, Rev’It!, Ixon, Spidi.
Read Road Rider’s review of Macna’s sports-tourer gloves here!
Many long-distance touring riders know adding heating to the mix is an incredible way to make all-weather riding not just achievable, but comfortable.
Many manufacturers are offering heated handgrips, either standard or as an option, and it’s one I would happily stump up a few hundred dollars for. If you’ve never needed them, you’re either the best ride planner alive or don’t ride far enough for long enough.
A heated jacket liner, pants liner, boot inner soles and gloves can mean you’re riding with a lot less layers with a more comfortable fit than using unheated gear. Seat heaters are also available and are another great way to be warm and comfortable while riding in the thick of winter.
Before you buy, consider how you’re going to power the gear. You might need a bike mechanic or electrician to wire up the required plugs, and with all things electrical, make sure your bike can afford the drain on the alternator — heated clothing plus a GPS and driving lights might overload the system, especially with a pillion. Some new gear from Macna uses batteries rather than drawing from your bike.
Recommended brands: Macna, Oxford, Gerbing.
This is taken from Road Rider #151 - if you enjoyed this and would like similar content don't forget to subscribe to Road Rider Magazine here!