WhyBike Motorcycle Blog

Mailbag: Riding Cross Country in the Cold on a Motorcycle

By James - 7/23/2005

My 17-year old son wants to take his 20 year old 550cc Kawasaki from Chicago to San Francisco in February. Is this something that can be done? Should I panic now? Any help you can give me would be very much appreciated.

- Kit S.

There are a lot of situations that could determine whether you should panic now. Rapture, being chased by lions, a comet on a collision course with Earth; but your son riding across America on a motorcycle is probably not one of them. Your description of his trip causes me some concern especially with someone so young, but is definitely not panic worthy. Instead help him have as safe of a trip as he can. Here are some tips to get him and his motorcycle to the Golden State.

I have never been to Chicago in February and I think I know the reason, it is really cold! Ice is really dangerous for motorcycles and it is one of the reasons people don’t ride during the winter in the Mid-West. As bad as that can be eventually he will have to go over the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges where it will be even colder and icy-er. The Donner party tried to cross the Sierras in open vehicles in the winter and we know how that turned out! I have ridden around Lake Tahoe in March and started shivering and I didn’t have that far to go. He will need really warm motorcycling gear. He will probably need an electric vest and maybe some electric gloves. Forget about it if he doesn’t have a full face helmet with a balaclava to go under it.

He might be able to avoid most of the really cold weather and mountains by heading south but it will add significant mileage to the trip.

A 20 year old motorcycle may or may not be a concern depending on the condition of the motorcycle. Make sure the tires have plenty of tread, the battery is strong and the oil is clean. I have heard of chains freezing so make sure it is properly adjusted and lubed. 550ccs is also not much of a concern. I rode to Cabo San Lucas and back to San Francisco on a Vulcan 500 motorcycle with no problems even though bigger bikes are the rage these days.

There is plenty of time to take the Advanced Motorcycle Safety Course so sign him up.

Is this something that can be done? Yes. Will it be an uncomfortable trip? Yes. Make sure he is prepared.

Here are a couple articles he might find helpful:
How to Stay Warm in the Cold
Cross Country Motorcycle Riding


1 Comment

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  1. Electric vest or no, crossing the northern states in February is going to be COLD. By crossing the Rockies and Sierra at that time of year on a motorcycle, you’re setting yourself up for hypothermia or even frostbite. When a freezing wind is whipping by you at sixty or seventy miles per hour, it will draw heat from your body VERY quickly.

    If it were my trip, I would make a beeline for Texas, cross to San Diego or Los Angeles, and THEN proceed to San Francisco.

    I’ve never ridden my motorcycle in icy conditions and never will, if I have the choice. When I lived in Fairbanks, I took my bicycle out on a nice, sunny, warm spring morning, hit a small patch of unmelted ice and went down HARD and FAST.

    There’s also the matter of the rider being 17. I wouldn’t let a 17-year-old drive alone cross-country at any time of the year in even a Volvo. The parent should consider renting a motorcycle trailer from U-Haul and driving WITH his son to SF.

    Sorry to be so opinionated in my first post to your blog, but 17+ice+motorcycle+crosscountry sounds like a disaster licking its chops.

    Comment by Dave — 8/2/2005 @ 7:55 am

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