Peak fall colors season is quickly approaching
Fall riding is great.
You get great scenery with colorful leaves on the trees, clear and sometimes crisp air, plus some great times before the cold, harsh winter sets in.
A fall ride can be just about perfect. But this time of year brings a few challenges you need to take into account when you head out on your bike.
Unlike summer, when you can just throw on the same jacket, gloves and helmet any morning, autumn’s temperature swings mean you need to think before you ride.
In many parts of the country, it’s not uncommon to see temperature swings of 20 degrees or more from morning to afternoon. That may not matter much when the high and low are 80 and 60, but it can make an enormous difference in your comfort level when the numbers involved are, say, 60 and 40. With the chilling effect of air flowing past at 65 mph, the perceived difference to exposed skin can be 30 degrees or more.
Luckily, a little planning is all you need to continue enjoying the season. Here’s a simple, three-step program that will help you get the most out of fall.
- Step 1: Preserve body heat. The human body is a pretty good source of heat. So as the temperature drops, your first priority should be to preserve as much of that heat as possible. How?
- Think layers: What keeps you warm isn’t just the material in the clothes you wear. It’s also the air trapped inside. That’s one reason why a few lighter layers are better than one heavy one for fall riding. Plus, layered clothing allows you to fine-tune your comfort level by adding or subtracting a layer in variable autumn temperatures.
- Build a base: The stuff you wear right next to your skin is called a base layer, and it can be incredibly important in staying warm. Old-school cotton provides warmth, but if you sweat, it’ll stay damp, and you’ll get chilled. Synthetics like polyester wick away perspiration to give you more consistent warmth, and they adapt better when the temperature goes up. Looking for an unconventional choice? Some well-traveled motorcyclists swear by silk long underwear for its combination of warmth and comfort.
- Get fleeced: Remember when you were a kid and your mom dressed you in so many layers of winter clothes you could hardly move? It didn’t work for throwing snowballs then, and it won’t work for operating a motorcycle today. What you need is a light insulating layer that fits comfortably inside your riding jacket. Many riders use Polarfleece, which works great.
- Adapt to conditions: Lots of riding jackets offer liners you can zip in when the weather gets chilly. Some are just thermal vests, which can leave your arms unprotected from the cold, while others have an entire inner jacket for maximum warmth. Remember, though, that this is likely to be the layer you’ll want to shed first when the sun gets high in the sky. So plan space to carry it on the bike.
- Get dressed inside: If it’s chilly in your garage or the parking lot of your hotel, be sure to put most of your gear on indoors. There’s a fine balance here because you want to retain the indoor heat, but you don’t want to seal everything up and start sweating. You might want to zip that last zipper just as you’re headed out the door.
- Have a glove strategy: You may consider carrying as many as four pairs of gloves on a cold-weather ride, with heavy gloves, lighter gloves, glove liners and rain gloves. There’s good reason to take this element seriously: Your hands are the most important interface between you and your bike. When they get cold, your ability to operate your bike safely is compromised.
- Cover your head: If it works for ninjas, it can work for you. We’re talking, of course, about wearing a balaclava, which is a thin head-and-face covering that allows only your eyes to show. Sure, you look funny. But you’ll be warmer. You can find balaclavas in motorcycle shops or outdoor stores. Just make sure the one you buy is thin enough so you can still get your lid on.
- Wear a full-face helmet: It may seem obvious, but a full-face helmet can keep you much warmer than an open-face lid. The trade-off is that you risk fogging your faceshield, so keep it cracked while moving, and be ready to open it wide when you stop.
- Step 2: Block the wind. You can be wearing all the layers in the world, but if they don’t prevent the wind from getting in, sooner or later, you’ll get cold. So consider these strategies for fending off wind.
- Stop it cold: Make sure your outermost layer is windproof. Leather is pretty good at this, and so are some high-tech fabrics, but so is your rainsuit. No, it doesn’t add warmth, but it can be remarkably effective in keeping the chill out.
- Watch where clothing overlaps: When the wind is blowing at 65 mph, it will find its way through any chinks in your cold-weather armor. Take the time to pull your gloves completely over your jacket sleeves and cinch them down tight. At the waist, “weave” upper and lower layers over each other. For example, pants over base-layer top, fleece pullover over pants, rainsuit pants over fleece pullover, jacket over rainsuit pants, etc. This keeps the wind at bay. Finally, make sure there’s no gap between your pants and boots.
- Don’t stick your neck out: When it comes to heat loss, one of the most vulnerable areas is your neck. Even a simple bandana can help, but there are products made specifically to protect this area.
- Don’t forget the bike: You don’t have to wear all your wind protection. A fairing, even a small one, can make a tremendous difference in cooler weather. In addition, many dual-sport bikes and adventure-tourers come with handguards that serve as mini-fairings for your hands. Don’t have a fairing? A well-packed tankbag can be almost as effective in blunting the wind.
- Step 3: Add heat. Few things in life beat the sense of well-being that comes from riding down the road on a chilly day all toasty warm. You can get that feeling with electric clothing. What’s especially nice is that most electric garments offer some level of insulation when they’re turned off, too, meaning they’re perfect for variable fall weather.
- Going electric: In the beginning, electric clothing for motorcyclists meant vests. That’s still a good starting point, because if you can keep your body’s core well-heated, your extremities should stay warmer, too. These days, though, you can choose from electric jackets, liners, pants, chaps and socks. If your alternator is up to the challenge of powering them, those pieces can generate enough heat for extended forays in sub-freezing temperatures.
- Hand warmers: Like other electric clothing, heated gloves turn your bike’s generating system into protective warmth. Here, though, it’s more than just comfort at stake. Warm fingers handle the throttle, brake and clutch more safely than stiff, frozen digits. Plus, electric gloves can often be thinner than their fully insulated counterparts, making for better control feel.
- Hot bikes: Instead of wearing your heated gear, you can outfit your bike with electrics. Heated handgrips, for example, or a heated seat.