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Cold Weather Riding Gear
It just keeps getting better
Several significant advances in base layer insulation make now as good a time as any to bring our cold weather riding gear tips up to date. When the story first ran as All Weather Riding Gear back in 2000, there wasnít much available in the way of keeping you warm beyond heated clothing. Now itís possible to travel for an hour or two at 50 degrees or below without having to plug in.
For longer rides youíre still going to want to plug in when temps drop below 50, but what you wear underneath is critical to minimizing the usage of electric clothing which can zap an old battery in a short distance if youíre not careful.
What you wear next to your skin will play a critical factor in keeping you warm when itís cold out. A good base layer is the key to staying warmer longer. Youíll want a layer that will wick any moisture your body produces away from your skin. Cotton underwear and t-shirts wonít, so nix them from your list. Wool and other natural fabrics do an okay job but the best performance weíve seen comes from synthetics like polyester, rayon, lycra and otherwise. Blends tend to be the best. Itís important not to get into a blend designed for active sports like football and soccer. These blends are designed to literally suck moisture from your skin so if youíre sitting on a motorcycle all day you can expect a lot of itching with a product like Under Armor. Look for First Gear to release a line of base layer clothing in late 2007.
Before we can put our socks on itís a good idea to apply some foot powder first. We want to minimize the moisture your feet produce so sprinkle some good foot powder into your socks before slipping them on over your feet. The best foot powder weíve come across isnít touted as foot powder at all. Considered a novelty by its name, Anti Monkey Butt Powder actually does an exceptional job of keeping your keep dry.
Again the idea here is to wick moisture away from the skin. That wonít happen with a cotton sock. Leave them at home if you have them. Ditto for blends that include cotton. Like base layers, youíll get so-so results with natural blends like wool, hemp and otherwise. The best results in our testing point to a new type of blend that uses ceramic and wood fiber woven into a polyester synthetic. Known as Ceramic Winter Sokz, these socks insulate and wick the moisture better than any other product weíve tested. They are not bulky, allowing an airspace to form in your boot providing extra insulation and, as weíll see in a moment, they become a base layer if you suit up in full electric gear.
LONG SLEEVE T
Keeping your core warm will do more good than any other tip you read in this article. This is where we make the base layer t shine. A good synthetic t like Source Substrates Vapor Basic Long Sleeve T made with intera yarn combined with the Andiamo! long sleeve base layer t creates the first ingredient in a recipe for heat! The Vapor t takes the body heat emanating from the base layer and stores it. If you get too hot simply remove the Vapor t.
The next part of the recipe for heat is to wear a warm jacket liner. Most of the jacket liners weíve seen that come with shelf brands like Teknic, First Gear and others are fine when temps are in the 60s or higher, but below 60 takes a more serious garment to trap and retain heat. Outdoor Researchís Neoplume Jacket is a thin lightweight mid-layer made with Primaloft. It does an excellent job on the road, even into the high 30s, of storing heat at the core.
Textile outer gear is the preferred shell for riding in the cold. It gives a little more space-wise, allowing you the room you need for a good mid-layer inside. Look for textile gear with zip-out liners so you can adjust it to whatever weather condition youíre in. Lots of people have learned the hard way that even though a manufacturer claims their gear is waterproof Ė itís not. Donít buy low cost gear if you want to stay water tight. Spend a little more, ask around and then purchase a reliable brand and model of jacket and pants. Fans of the Kilimanjaro line from First Gear should check out the companies latest TPG (Technical Performance Gear) line.
In really cold conditions, donning your rain gear will add an additional layer and help retain your body heat better and longer. Again, donít buy this on the cheap. You get what you pay for. Nelson-Rigg's Volante two piece is a favorite around the SR! offices.
A balaclava can help keep the cold out and warm your head and neck a bit as you ride, especially if you insist on riding with an open face half shell helmet. And if the latter is the case, youíll want to spend the money to find one with Goreís Wind Stopper in the fabric. If you wear a full face helmet, you may not need the balaclava stretched up over your head in which case you can below your ears and morph it into a neck gator. Balaclavas and neck gators utilizing Wind Pro are made by Outdoor Research.
If youíre hungry, the items listed above will have a lesser effect at keeping you warm. When itís cold out, you must eat. A good breakfast and lunch combined with light snack stops will keep your insides stoked and working, allowing your body to produce more heat of its own. Proteins like meats and nuts break down the slowest and require the most work from the system, so be sure to incorporate them into your diet. Complex carbohydrates like oats and potatoes do an okay job. Processed carbohydrates like noodles, white bread and Oreo cookies are already broken down somewhat when they hit the system and offer the least amount of benefit.
When temps drop and youíre riding into cold air, it pays to add a set of quality glove liners to your wardrobe. Look for liners made with Capilene, Polartec or Lurex. Some gloves liners have a pocket above the hand to slip heat packs into. Tour Master makes a nice glove liner that incorporates Polortec.
There are a lot of winter gloves on the market. The better made they are, the longer your hands will stay warm. Over 50 degrees most peoples' hands will stay warm for the duration of the ride, but once the temps start dipping into the 40s, there are no gloves on the market that will allow you to retain heat beyond an hour or so. Why is this? Your fingers have the least amount of warming abilities of anything on your body when it comes to motorcycling. Unlike your toes, which are next to your larger mass foot, fingers need to be separated so thereís not a lot of heat exchange going on. They have almost no muscular activity, theyíre thin and those little bones canít store much heat. Temps go below 50 and it wonít be long before you feel them get cold. You have two choices. Plan to stop every hour or so to have some coffee, eat a snack, check your tires, get some fuel or take a ľ mile walk and pick up your phone messages. Any activity that gets you moving around is going to pump some warm blood through your system and get those digits warm again.
Your other option is to get someÖ
If you plan to ride in the cold for any duration beyond a few hours, heated clothing is a great way to do it. You can get heated gloves, a jacket, vest, pants and even socks. They can all be connected together utilizing connectors and be run from a central thermostat. Some systems, like those made by Gerbing's Heated Clothing of Tumwater, Washington, have a dual thermostat option allowing you to heat your gloves separately from all the other garments.
When selecting heated clothing, be sure to check the weave gap. Thatís the space between the heating wire. Some manufacturers space their heating wire up to two inches apart, while others have weave it as close together as a half inch. The closer together, the more wire in the garment and, therefore, more heat available without cold spaces in between.
As stated before, heated clothing can zap an older battery quickly. Even a new battery can be drained on a smaller bike with a lesser output coming from the alternator. You can monitor your batteryís condition utilizing a good amperage meter like the chargeGuard monitor developed by Kisan. This waterproof gauge will allow you to read voltage, amperage and outdoor temperatures as you ride. If the amp level of the battery goes low, thatís your signal to kill the heated gear for awhile to let your battery build up a charge again.
Heated grips are another option, but are best used to compliment heated gloves. Theyíll keep your palms warm and thatís about it. Since heated gloves arenít typically lined on the inside of the palm, the grips are a nice addition. When selecting heated grips, be sure the thermostat supplied is waterproof since some are not.
Can you ride in the cold? Yes!
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