Road Safety - Winter Riding

A couple of years ago "Care On The Road" published an interesting article directed at helping car drivers who get snowed in. It was primarily aimed at preventing heart failure due to digging snow on an empty stomach , or trudging through the snow in car shoes and light clothing. Most of our members are young enough to be free of the worry of heart failure and usually wise enough to dress properly.

The thing that makes motorcycling such a cool occupation, even during the summer, is the chill effect of moving air, a self generated wind in the case of motorcycling. Assuming a road speed of 30mph in freezing temperatures, travel becomes uncomfortable even on a clear and sunny day. At minus 10 degrees centigrade freezing human flesh begins and at temperatures below minus 15 degrees centigrade special survival efforts are required. In still air these conditions are not reached until about 20 degrees lower temperature. Things are even worse if you become wet.

Cold always attacks the extremities first and wet feet can soon lead to chilblains or even frostbite. Hands are a similar problem. A stiff throttle or slippery gloves can require too tight a grip on the handlebars preventing good circulation. Try not to overdress and cause additional restriction to circulation. This happens anyway as the body cools. Blood is drawn from the limbs and skin to supply more vital organs including the brain. Riding positions are also often bad for circulation. A favourite trick on Elephants (rallies) is to push the motorcycle for a few minutes. This should be done just sufficiently to restore circulation, not in order to get warm. Take special care to avoid sweating as this will only cause even greater cooling when you restart.

The winter often brings colds and blocked noses but if possible always breath through the nose. Besides the cunning design which (in most cases) directs breath away from visors, the nose also acts as a heat exchange warming incoming air and rewarming from the exhaust. It also makes a better dust filter than the back of your throat.

Riding on snow and ice is more likely to cause injury through accident than through exposure so a couple of extra tips may help.

Main roads will often thaw before minor roads but parts in shadow will remain icy long after the winter sun has warmed the road elsewhere. Similarly a position exposed to the wind may ice up quicker or allow snow to blow across from an adjacent field. The condition of the road surface may alter merely because of the change in road orientation with regard to wind or sun. This means the change to dangerous conditions often happens on a bend. Slow down early and slowly and put your feet on the floor. This will not hold you up once you begin to slide; it just lets you get off quicker. There are easy ways to control a skid, steer into it. But on a corner this may just lead you in a straight line into a hedge, ditch, oncoming traffic or worse. If this is so you are better served by getting off.

When your bike is in the middle of the road with its wheels in the air, do not try to stop the traffic by standing in their path. Chances are they won't be able to stop either!


Road Safety Officer