Cold weather can be deadly, especially when riding a motorcycle. As your hands get cold they tend to get numb, making movement more difficult. This compromises your ability to brake, clutch and steer. But cold weather doesn't have to signal the end of your riding season. There are a number of things you can do to keep your hands warm while riding, even in the coldest weather.
The Effects of Cold Weather
Your hands get cold before the rest of your body as part of your natural defence system. As cold weather siphons off more heat than your body can generate on its own, the body reduces blood flow to extremities like your fingers to keep cooled blood from your hands from cooling your core even further. According to the National Weather Service Windchill Chart, cruising at 60mph at a temperature of 4.44 degrees C makes it feel like it's -3.89 degrees C. Given those conditions, exposed skin will start to show signs of frostbite within 30 minutes. The key to keeping your hands, and the rest of your body, warm while riding in cold weather is to maintain or generate more heat than you lose. You have a number of options to accomplish this.
Equipping Your Motorcycle
The American Motorcyclist Association says, "A windshield or fairing is a good front-line defence." You can also add dirt-bike style hand guards or shields that will deflect the wind away from your hands. Art Friedman of "Motorcycle Cruiser" magazine suggests that you "cut large plastic bottles, such as those used for liquid bleach, in half and clamp them in front of the grips and levers." Several companies make covers or sleeves that enclose the grips and levers of the handlebar. You insert your hands into the covers for wind protection.
It may seem like overstating the obvious, but a pair of gloves will go a long way to keep your hands warm. As temperatures get colder, opt for a pair of lined gloves. Gauntlets that cover the lower section of your sleeve will keep cold air from sneaking into your jacket. A thin glove liner will afford you a little extra protection from wind and cold and help maintain a warmer layer of air between your hands and the outdoors. There are also two-fingered gloves available especially for riders. These gloves are a cross between mittens and traditional five-fingered gloves. They offer a compartment for the thumb and one for the index and middle finger and another for the ring finger and pink. By putting two fingers into each compartment you maintain more dexterity than with mittens but also gain the advantage of your fingers sharing heat.
One of the challenges of riding a motorcycle in the cold is that you are basically sitting still. Your body doesn't generate enough heat when you're sitting still to compensate for the heat you lose to the cold weather. No matter how many layers you wear or how thick your gloves are, if you ride long enough in the cold you're going to get cold, unless you add and external heat source. Chemical heat packs favoured by hunters are one option. Slip one into each glove for instant heat, but be sure to position it inside your glove so it doesn't interfere with your ability to operate the hand controls. There are a number of electrically heated gloves available. The power cable attaches directly to your motorcycle's battery and the connector hangs out just below the seat. The lead from the gloves is fed through your jacket's sleeves and that connector sticks out of the bottom of the jacket. Another electric solution is to install heated hand grips.
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- Cool Antarctica; How humans deal with and survive extreme cold: Science of the Cold
- National Weather Service; NWS Windchill Chart
- American Motorcyclist Association; Extend Your Riding Season: Cold Weather Strategies
- "Motorcycle Cruiser" magazine; Riding a Motorcycle in Cold and Snow; Art Friedman; December 1998