Riding in the snow
(With a motorcycle, of course)
I'd like to share some tips for riding in the snow. This advice comes from six years commuting only on a BMW GS or R60 in the UK, through two winters of quite deep and enduring snow, and doing the odd spot of travelling.
- Keep warm (duh) Seriously, mistakes happen when you're cold and on this mess things happen fast.
- Multiple layers are better. The outer layer should be water resistant and you'll be taking it off before you go inside (snow and slush stick to clothing in large quantities).
- Loose is better than tight. You have to get the leg over onto the bike, footing can be treacherous, and you may have to pick the bike up or manhandle it. Tight plus extra layers means mobility is restricted.
- Take a lappie (cloth) or something and find a place near the handlebars where you can wedge it in and take it out quickly. Snow, ice and slush stick to the visor and you might not want to get the gloves wet all the time wiping it off.
- Fogging up is a big PITA! Heated visors and special coatings are available, but expensive. Spray the visor with that water repellant spray for car windscreens. Use lappie mentioned above. Make sure your visor can open easily and quickly (nothing like sikkeling to open visor when you can't see and need both hands to control bike. See next point!
- A scarf looks fashionably warm, but it unwraps easily and makes a big bundle in the front of the jacket. Get a neck warmer that looks like an elasticated cloth tube. Put under jacket and ideally over mouth (for when the visor is open. At minus 10 C you don't want to be breathing air at 60kph!
- Wear shoes/boots that grip on ice, even carry some of those slip on studded grips for boots. Picking a GS up is difficult enough when you have a good footing!
- Bike leathers are usually too tight (and don't like the wet combined with road salt). Jeans get cold very quickly. Get a pair of padded and water resistant leggings. Another good option is the Tucano Urbano Takeaway - trousers you just wrap on over your clothes and velcro fasten - good for keeping warm, without the hassle of taking off than and takes up a smaller space (i.e. very good when visiting clients)
- Wax the boots - salt and wet will get in
- Wear decent thick wool socks - your feet don't move and toes can start to freeze especially if the boots have let water in.
- Spare socks, t-shirt and underwear in the bag if you can. Boots leak, you'll fall on your butt and physical effort in waterproofs will soak you. Anything wet will freeze as soon as you move.
- Winter tyres are important - can't buy Heidinaus now because they are now fitted to thousands of GS's around the land that are sitting in garages.
- Snow chains can be used. Michelin Easy Grip's are light, easy to fit and if they rip (usually speed or acceleration), they don't rip the guts out of the bike whilst flailing around.
Spikes/studs are illegal in some places because they chew up tarmac and can create a lot of dust for the springtime (i.e. Finland). They can be a handful on tar, especially increasing braking distance and making cornering difficult. They should be kept for completely iced up conditions. When there is a mix of conditions, chains are better.
- Some okes have recommended using twisted cable ties, rope or even chains wrapped around the tyres in emergencies or if you are cheap. The moment that back wheel lights up the cable ties are worn through and are off. I don't know what chain or rope will do to spokes and rims, or your leg if it breaks and flaps around.
- I'm considering getting a set of MV Snow Claws for emergencies. These are strap on grips for the back tyre, but I'm not sure whether they will fit or work for the front (I'm more worried about losing the front wheel than the back to be honest).
- Forget the front brake. When that front wheel goes you generally can't remember what happened it's so fast
- Handguards to keep the wind chill off the gloves, and heated handgrips. In an emergency you can wrap hands in a cloth and then a plastic bag. If you are still cold, get handlebar muffs that cover all the switchgear and grips.
Mudguard extensions - front and back. Bewar though. Snow sticks though and your wheels can get really coated - if the gap between tyre and mudgard is tight things can happen! (Pix below)
- Gel batteries are better, and if it gets really cold then you might want to bring the inside and keep it on a trickle charger.
- If the snow is deep or visibility is bad you may want to get a stiff aerial and put a small red flag on top. Attach to top box etc. At least 3-4ft higher than the bike is good. If the wind is up then the snow drifts and big HGVs/ lorries/4x4s/snow ploughs won't see you with your bike 'down there'. The flag is also useful if you want to find your bike again after abandoning it in a blizzard, and for preventing the snow plough okes from bulldozing it as it lays under the snow. Seriously though, if it gets that gnarly you really are stupid to be going out.
- Last but not least, they put MILLIONS of tons of grit (rock salt and sand) on the roads here each year. The garden hose doesn't work (frozen, then cracked), so buy a high pressure hand-pump garden spray. Park the bike, throw and bucket of cold water over it and then spray all of the nooks and crannies. Every few months spray clean with SDOC100 and spray generously with ACF50. If not BMW disease will chomp a bike with a vengeance within 6 months of new.
- Warm the bike up first. This means the obvious plus... ...a jug of warm water to thaw out the switch gear (if you washed it last night - see above - or if it got wet). Switch on the heated grips too.
- You can't ride downhill on ice very well. If you have chains and some grip, coast down with no brake and both legs out. If you don't have chains and it's very steep with no safe outlet at the end, switch off, put both legs out and use the clutch to slow you. A gutter helps.
- It's not easy to ride uphill on ice or compacted snow either. In this case it is easier than downhill because you don't have to worry as much about the front wheel. A gutter or rainwater channel helps with the traction, and deep uncompacted snow is better than hard stuff. Chains help
- Steer with weight, not handle bars. You cannot corner like in sand, especially if the snow is compacted or has a hard base like tar. Slowly does it!
- Eyes up, let the bike find its natural balance and don't manhandle it
- Drop tyre pressure to 1.5 or even as low as 1.2, but don't offroad because you can't see anything under the snow.
- Low pressure helps keep the tyre warm and give more contact (more psychological than real benefit sometimes )
- A small tyre pressure guage and a mini compressor to reinflate the tyres.
- Oh, ja, stay off white lines and what looks like a bit of leftover snow inbetween lanes or wheel tracks. That's probably frozen and your elbow will look like mine last week - leaking red.
- Don't ride in car tracks unless they have completely cleared the snow from the tar and what is underneath hasn't frozen.
- Don't ride across car tracks or immediately next to them. Car tyres crush the snow crystals, produce slush and move it to the side where it freezes. Crossing those ridges is guaranteed to put you upside down.
Don't ride close to cars - drivers from countries that don't legislate winter tyres have an aversion to buying the right tyres for the season (says me riding Tourances in the snow) and the councils don't have enough money to pour salt on the roads ad infinitum. Result is chaos, mayhem, sliding and abandoned cars.
- When (not if) you drop it make sure you have your technique sorted for lifting it back up. If you dropped it on ice it (and you) will want to slide out as you are lifting, so it might be better sliding it to the side and doing it there (yes, a 300kg bike on its side can be pushed along with one hand - things can get that slippy)
- Keep the momentum up. Loose snow can be hard to move through (hard snow can be like riding into a polystyrene block so beware)
- Deep sand slows the bike quickly once the speed comes off, light snow (say up to 5 or 10cm) will do nothing (plus you can't brake effectively).
- A thermos of warm drink is a good idea
So, now you are prepared for this then go out and enjoy...
© Patrick Onions - all contents are copyright and all rights are reserved.