photo by: Lord Vader 1964's Bucket / Elefantrefen 2010

It's December, and as the days grow shorter, darker, and colder we look forward to all of the many Celebrations of the Winter Solstice. This is the day that marks the first day of Winter, when days start getting longer but, we still have three or four months of freezing temperatures, snow, and cold rain to look forward to.

Many hardy motorcyclists would look at you in disdain with the thought of parking their machines for winter! Some continue to ride any time the sun pokes through. Some continue commuting to work and school all winter, to save money on fuel and parking. My friends and I are looking forward to the Annual Polar Bear Ride to start the New Year.

Staying warm on your motorcycle is more difficult than compared to other winter sports, like skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. Street-riding is not as physically exerting so, we're not generating as much body heat. Then there's the wind-chill factor; on a street-bike, you're creating a 60 or 100 mph wind! In temperatures of 30 degrees Fahrenheit, riding at 30 mph, the wind hitting exposed skin is 15 degrees, and at 60 mph it's 10 degrees. At those temperatures, frostbite can take effect in only half an hour. Whereas long-johns, fleece and a Gore-Tex parka might be adequate for a day of skiing, those layers aren't going to cut it for a day in the cold at highway speeds.

Working from the outside in, you'll need a protective windproof outer shell, such as a leather or textile jacket and pants. If you'll be in the rain or snow, it has to be waterproof, too! The outer shell needs to fit loose enough that it doesn't compress the layers and the dead air space inside your jacket. You've probably seen fat, poofy goose-down jackets and vests. Those hold dead-air space; That's insulation! But down jackets won't work too well under your armored motorcycle jacket. In order for those poofy garments to function as insulation, they need to be lofty. Your heavy motorcycle jacket will compress a down garment and push all the air out. A wool sweater or a Polarfleece jacket won't compress so much and still hold dead air under the weight of your motorcycle jacket. More layers trap still air between the layers so, long-johns and Polarfleece are good layers. Avoid cotton because it absorbs too much moisture, has no insulation when wet, and takes a long time to dry. Wool and modern high-tech synthetics are better insulators when damp, and dry out faster.

The bummer is that, no matter how many layers we wear, given time, those layers will eventually get cold. Remember, on a street-bike, we're not generating much body heat. What we think of as warm clothes are actually not warm at all. Clothing does not generate or create heat. Insulation helps to retain body-heat that's already in our bodies. When we're out there riding, creating that 60 mph wind, we are pushing that cold air through the outer layer of our clothes. Once the outer layer gets cold, the second layer gets cold, and then the third layer, and so on. As we're riding, our bodies are working trying to keep those layers warm, and fighting a loosing battle against the wind.

Your house has an outer-shell; the roof and the siding. Your house has insulation sandwiched inside the walls. But, the the outer shell and the insulation are not what make your house warm. There's also the furnace. Motorcyclists can use a furnace, too! We can take advantage of that miracle of the 18th century; Electricity! Electric-heated garments create heat to make up for when our bodies are not creating heat. Believe it or not, an electric vest or jacket-liner will actually keep your hands and feet warmer than without. By keeping your torso warm, you keep warm blood circulating through your entire body. If our torso gets too warm, our bodies push excess heat out to our heads, our hands and our feet.

When I first got my heated vest, I thought that I might use it only if it got super-cold, like below 40 degrees but, I found out that even in temperatures in the 50s, it just feels cozy to have that heat on my back. With my electric gear, I can ride in freezing weather all day long and not have to go in for a cup of coffee every half-hour, only to watch the coffee spill out of the shaking cup in my shivering hands.

For very cold conditions, most heated jackets have additional plugs for other electric accessories, like heated pants and electric gloves. You can also layer a sweater over your heated clothing to retain that heat even better, and hug the warmth close to your body. When it comes time to shop for your electric clothing, fit them close, over just one light layer like a t-shirt.

Remember that heat rises and that our bodies push excess heat out through our heads. A full-face helmet will keep your entire body warmer than an open-face or half-shell helmet.

To set up your bike for winter riding, a fairing or windshield is a tremendous improvement and the bigger the better. You can also add on hand-guards to keep the wind off your hands. The police motor-officers swear by handlebar mitts, hand-warmers, or gauntlets, to slide your hands into a cozy insulated shell. You might even consider adding heated-grips to your motorcycle. They're not terribly expensive or difficult to install and you'll use them more often than you ever thought you might.

Some people may say that all of these heated doodads and electric gadgets are just for weenies. Well, from what I've seen, those people have their bikes parked all winter-long. So, who's the weenie?

Written By: Paul Andor Nagy