Gearing Up For The Cold
By Sam Perry
On the few motorcycle forums I keep up with, I've noticed a lot of people talking about the cold, and more specifically, how to ride in it without turning into a popsicle. Today here in Oklahoma, the thermostat was reading in the teens. It's rare for it to get quite that cold, but it happens, and having a motorcycle as my only means of transportation has given me some insight into dealing with it. What follows is what I wear when the weather's at it's coldest.
The first layer consists of thermal underwear or tights. On the really cold days (or the ones when I'm feeling particularly wussy) I've actually worn a pair of tights over a pair of thermals. I also wear a thermal top or longsleeve cotton t-shirt and a pair of normal cotton/polyester socks.
Over the thermals, I'd normally wear a long or short sleeve cotton t-shirt, a pair of jeans or cargo pants, and a pair of wool socks. There are few things that make me more uncomfortable than cold feet. Most of what goes on after this layer will probably get removed whenever I'm not on the bike.
The third layer has, in my opinion, two of the most important elements in staying warm. The first is a pair of windproof vinyl pants. These came from wal-mart. They were only about $9.00 if I remember correctly. They have an elastic waist and zippers on the ankles so I can pull them on and off over my boots. I like to keep a pair of these rolled up in my trunk in case of rain as well. The top part of this layer is key to my entire cold weather survival. It's an electrically heated vest that plugs into the bike. Companies like Gerbing make heated vests, as well as jacket liners, gloves, pants, and other items for roughly $100-$200. Mine is homemade, and cost me about $20 (granted, I already had the fleece vest). The vest is not only useful in keeping my abdomen warm. When your body gets cold, it's natural instincts are to restrict circulation to the extremities (like the hands and feet) in order to keep the essential organs warm. Unfortunately, this causes the hands and feet to get colder. The heated vest serves to keep my chest and essential organs warm enough, so the body can focus on warming the hands and feet.
The boots are the only other part of my gear that I don't remove when I reach my destination. I put them in this layer because I like to tuck the bottoms of the vinyl pants inside them to keep wind from rushing up my legs. I also wear some type of insulated jacket, like a hoodie. On my hands, I wear a pair of 100% synthetic glove liners that wick moisture away from my hands and serve as an extra layer of insulation under my gloves. On my head, I wear a balaclava made of neoprene with a fleece lining. I bought it at a ski shop for about $40 but you could probably find something similar at a sporting goods store for a better price. It's windproof and covers my neck and nose, which is nice because nobody likes a runny nose under a helmet.
Layer 5 is as much for crash protection as it is for cold protection. I never go anywhere without my leather jacket (yeah I know, no armor. I'm poor and it's high on the list of things I want to buy) or my helmet. Full face helmets are much better in the cold than 3/4's or anything else, for obvious reasons. I also wear a pair of ski gloves over the glove liners. I know there are motorcycle intended gloves that would probably work better, but like I said above, I'm poor, and I have to work with what I've got. I've tried a lot of different glove combinations to keep my hands warm, and my current solution still isn't quite as warm as I'd like it to be. The gloves I wear are windproof, and have much thicker insulation on the back of the hand and tops of the fingers than they do on the palms and pads of the fingers so they don't feel too bulky while riding. They're also naturally slightly curved to grip the handlebars, but my hands do tend to go a little numb in temperatures below freezing. One of these days I'm going to invest in some heated grips.
The final layer is just a windproof, waterproof parka. I only wear this if it's raining or if it's really unusually cold, but it's always in my trunk in case I need it. It doesn't actually have much insulating value, if any, but it's windproof qualities help keep the leather jacket from getting too cold.
Now I know what you're thinking, and yes, under all those layers I do feel a bit like a spaceman. It does keep me warm though, and everything I'm wearing is easy to find, and reasonably inexpensive. The key, I think, is to keep the wind off of you, and wear layers. The layers, obviously can be added and removed depending how cold it actually is.
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