Monday, October 13, 2008

Riding in Cold Weather: Dress for Success

These two Vespa scooters flanking my GTS belong to first time riders -- a young man and woman, maybe in college, perhaps high school. They are excited about riding and I've seen them around town. They ride with helmets on top of short pants and t-shirts, no gloves and no boots. A riding costume I see not just with scooters but on sport bikes and cruisers as well. This post isn't about safety concerns though. It's about how these kinds of dress habits may short circuit the discovery of the thrill of riding in cold weather. I've spoken to many, many riders who dismiss riding in the cold. To a rider when asked what kind of cold weather gear they used they admitted they didn't have any. Under dress when the temperature dips below 70 and things can feel chilly. Below 60 and you figure you should just park the machine.

I love riding in the fall, especially at sunrise. There's a warm glow in the autumn light, a fragrance of decaying leaves, and a crispness to the air that is unmatched any other time of the year. I left early in the morning for a short ride before work, a sort of extended commute. Coming down the mountain I say my temperature gauge reading 45 degrees, cold by most rider's standards. I hate being cold and shiver at 68 degrees. I look forward to riding in cold weather but only with the right gear.

To be able to enjoy the road when the temperature goes down means you absolutely have to have the right gear. Otherwise things will be miserable. It means a commitment of money and time --- money to buy the stuff and time to put it on. And for some it may mean a divorce from any preconceived style ideas especially where helmets are concerned.

If you are used to just jumping on a motorcycle or scooter with whatever you happen to be wearing you may have a hard time in cold weather rationalizing the amount of gear you have to don. It may be best to bundle the machine up in the garage and do something else. Just remember, you'll be missing some great riding.

My hands were already getting cold after numerous stops to make pictures where I had to take off my gloves. The camera feels like an ice cube in cold weather. As the first beam of sunlight cut through the forest it was 45 degrees it was 40 degrees warmer than my lowest riding temperature limit of 5 degrees. At the lowest temperature here is what I wear from the skin out:

Poly long underwear
Long sleeved shirt
Windproof jacket
Blue jeans
Heavy socks
Tourmaster Overpants
Leather boots
First Gear Kilimanjaro IV Armored jacket
Ski mask
Full helmet
Gerbing electric gloves

For someone used to riding with no gear that's a lot of stuff to put on.

With the sun sweeping across the open fields it was time to ride to work. On this particular morning I had on everything on the above list EXCEPT the ski mask, long underwear, and electric gloves. Still takes time to put it on.

So before you decide that cold weather is not for you beg or borrow some gear and try riding when you are not cold. You may find the effort brings you many more weeks or months of riding.


D. Brent Miller said...

Steve, I have found that riding with the right gear, I can enjoy riding in the upper 30s for not-too-long of a ride. I usually wear long underwear under a pair of Tourmaster Caliber cold-weather riding pants. But I made a recent discovery that may improve the situation.

A lot of riders have written that they wear padded bicycle shorts for comfort. These fabrics wick away the moisture reducing the agent that actually causes butt burn. Since I bicycle, I tried it and it works. So I decided to apply this to cold weather riding. I bought a pair of insulated long-pant, padded bicycle tights. I put these on to try the fit, and sat in front of the TV for a couple of minutes. I was so warm, I had to take them off.

So it seems I have found a new pair of "long underwear" for comfortable riding in the winter! I just don't know how people will react when I pull off my Caliber pants at the restaurant to reveal bicycle tights! Or, maybe not. :)


Doug C said...

Excellent advice, Steve. I too, have always love this time of year and riding in the fall is the best.

I've been toying with the idea of either heated grips or Gerbing gloves. The grips are appealing since there's no wires to wear.

Never tried anything like Brent suggested. At least not yet.

Loughton Smith said...

For cold weather, I have one word of wisdom... Carhartt. Their insulated coveralls are quite effective at blocking cold wind and slip right over business attire.

Anonymous said...

Steve - I can't quite read the sign on your first photo above the 3 bikes. This isn't a political ad?

Phil from NC

Steve Williams said...

Brent: The right gear is essential. I can ride all day in the 30's with what I have.

I used to have a pair of those insulate bike pants you are talking about. That was years and years ago. They sure are tight! But like you I am not sure I would want to take off the overpants to reveal those in some of the places I stop. the Vespa is enough of a shock.

doug c: I've not really looked at the heated grips but have heard many good things about them. Someday...

loughton smith: I've looked at Carharrt stuff but opted for riding gear because I wanted armor in the knees and the cotton construction of a lot of the Carharrt clothes wouldn't offer enough moisture protection. I seem to always be covered in spray or water of some sort in the winter.

Phil from NC: I thought about the Obama sign in the picture and consider taking it out. But design wise that blue sign looked cool.

If you are a regular reader you know that politics doesn't enter my discussion unless you count my whining about mindless drivers.

I do photograph politician though. Made pictures of President Bush when he was in town and of Senator Obama as well when he visited our dairy barns. Sarah Palin was in town over the weekend buying a pumpkin with her daughter at a local farm but she snuck in under the radar. Lots of presidents come here. The first President Bush was here three times, President Clinton twice, President Carter fishes just down the road, and President Eisenhower's brother was President of the University.

No, not a political ad. More of a political coincidence of a campaign office right behind the free motorcycle parking spots...

Heinz N Frenchie said...

Winter is our best time to ride, as we are not sweating under our helmets. Your photos are wonderful and make us wish we had Fall here. The colors are amazing. Thanks so much for the beautiful shots of Autumn in PA. We live it thru your photography.

Orin said...

I've lost count of how many times I've been asked, "do you ride your scooter in the rain?" Most recently, in class last Thursday. While it doesn't rain nearly as much in Seattle as some people believe (we don't have hurricanes here like Florida and the Gulf Coast do), there are many rainy days.

My response has always been, "remember, we live in the land of REI." The flagship store is at Yale and Stewart in downtown Seattle. They've got all kinds of Gore-Tex/fleece/waterproof stuff, and other things that are useful in wet weather.

And don't forget your local bicycle store. There's all kinds of clothing, tools and other things the scooterist will find useful...

Scootin' Old Skool

modchen said...

Great post. Thanks Steve! I ride through the winter every year here in Colorado and am always astonished this time of year to suddenly be nearly the only scoot on the road.

Leather and long underwear are my friends. This year I'm thinking about making a riding skirt, similar to these:

no sense buying something like that when you have a sewing machine, imo.

irondad said...

Who's the Guru, now, oh wise one?

Not all rides start in the cold or rain. Conditions often change between the start and the end of a ride. Proper gear makes a rider comfortable. In turn, this improves the ability to concentrate on skillful riding and managing risk.

I always wonder how many crashes are caused by riders who are distracted by adverse conditions they're not dressed for.

Steve Williams said...

heinz & frenchie: Thanks for your kind words. I continue to enjoy photographing the Vespa. And riding to get to places I want to photograph. The perfect mix.

orin: There are indeed many places to get suitable gear for riding besides motorcycle stores. I got my Mountain Hardware windproof jacket at a local outdoor store. Same with the ski mask and some other things. Lots of options when you start thinking about it.

Armored gear is the only stuff I really need to turn to the motorcycle world for.

modchen: Riding in a Colorado winter must be a huge leap in difficulty from what I face here in the East. Be careful out there.

I just talked to a guy over the weekend who uses one of those skirts on his GTV and says it is fantastic. They have always looked so complicated to me but he said they're simple.

irondad: You are and remain the riding guru. At least it appears that way from where I sit. I'm merely the enthusiastic amateur.

Getting caught on the road in a serious weather change without the right gear is no fun. I'm really careful now to make sure that doesn't happen. I'm sure as you say that more than one accident was caused because a shivering rider couldn't pay enough attention.

Conchscooter said...

If I were forced back to frosty zones I would research and buy electric gear, and I've been reading long enough to appreciate your refusal to buy a windshield which helps enormously.
My biggest peeve in rainy weather is the multiple stop syndrome. If its a straight ride to work I very much enjoy being bundled up in the rain. If I plan a stop at a movie, or some shopping it's a monster pain to stand around hopping in and out of rain gear, stashing it in a saddle bag and then putting it back on all wet and cold. And I never noticed your Obama bias. You devil you!!

amazonsun said...

Great pictures! Those are all so beautiful.

I'm another year-round scooter from Colorado and it's not as crazy as some seem to think. I'm in the city, not the mountains - huge difference. We don't really get much snow or ice, so riding through the winter is not difficult, providing you gear up appropriately. Last year, the longest I went without riding, due to bad weather conditions, was 1.5 weeks! And let me tell was pretty tough going that long without scooting!

I gear up similar to you, but this year I'm looking forward to my new Corazzo Lap Apron (scooter skirt) that I just received as a gift! What a HUGE difference that makes! :)

Pvino said...


Thank you for sharing your wonderful pictures - Fall is a great time of the year for scooting. This one of the many reasons scooters are great for year round rides - its leg shield.


Steve Williams said...

conchscooter: You're right about multiple stops with lots of gear. If you want to shed it all it is a pain. I have pretty much gotten in the habit of wearing it unless I am stopping for a long time. In the grocery store, in coffee shops, and most other errands I have it on.

amazonsun: Thanks for the kinds words. I understand how it feels to not be able to ride because the roads are bad. Last winter was pretty mild here so I never had to go more than a week. But we have had winters (not since I've had the Vespa) that would keep me off the road for weeks.

pvino: I appreciate the front of the scooter more and more over time. It offers a lot of protection. If I keep saying that I will start thinking about windshields...

Demonio Pellegrino said...

I ride all year round, and i agree with what you say: I always thought that riding in Autumn/winter is actually better and more enjoyable in terms of landscape than any other times of the year. But you need the right gear.

I have friends who refuse to "waste" their time to properly dress to ride in winter. The result is tha tthey take the car or public transportation, and it actually take them more time to get wherever it is they have to go...

Sojourner rides said...

I loved these photos! Each one felt like fall...

There is nothing more distracting than being uncomfortable on a motorcycle because one is too hot or too cold. Proper riding gear is simply a must to stay focused, comfortable and riding as long as weather--and courage--permits.

Steve Williams said...

demonio: I certainly appreciate the feeling of taking too much time to dress properly. But it's just a feeling. The riding makes it all worth the trouble for me.

sojourner: Thanks for your kind words about the pictures. Fall is a great backdrop for photography.

Comfort is essential to riding in the cold. Without it I don't see any reason why I would venture out. We all have choices and I choose to dress up and ride as the temperature goes down.