Winter Maintenance and Riding

Harry Clark, ABATE of New York Safety Officer

By the time you read this, the riding season is pretty much over here in New York. Winter separates us from riding, at least for a while.

For those of us who like to get a ride in during the winter, I recommend the best in riding gear. You’ve got to keep the cold air off your skin. An electric vest, similar to an electric blanket, can make a winter ride not only endurable, but enjoyable. Mine plugs right into the bike’s electric system, and puts out lots of heat. Like it or not, a full-face helmet is the way to go when it’s really cold, and you want or need to get a ride in. Riding in the cold is not a case of how much cold you can endure. It’s a matter of gearing up to stay reasonably warm. Riding in the cold without proper gear can lead to hypothermia, which can impair your judgment and lead to an accident. Staying warm is as much a matter of safety as it is comfort.

Winter also provides a time to catch up maintenance on your bike. Read up on maintenance requirements in your owner’s manual, or ask the dealer for advice. Check brake pads, and change brake fluid on a regular basis. Check steering head and swing arm bearings for play. Adjust as required. Steering head bearings can get “notchy” if not kept in adjustment. If you feel any signs of a problem as you swing the front wheel across center, the steering head bearings may need replacement. Swing arm bearings, if loose or worn can cause handling problems. Your bike has got to be in good condition. You can’t scrimp on maintenance.

In order to be a good defensive rider during the riding season, you need to be an excellent defensive driver year round. You can work on that during the winter. Keep in mind one of the principles of defensive driving: make sure other motorists can see you easily. In the dark, dreary days of winter, it pays to run your headlights on your car and truck, to make sure other motorists see you. Snow on the ground often makes vehicles on the road harder to see. If you appreciate the importance of other motorists seeing you in your car, you’ll do the same on your bike.
And winter is a good time of year to shop. Get yourself that new jacket, riding pants, or riding gloves. Glove leather breaks down with perspiration. Gloves need cleaning. Gloves won’t provide protection when you need it if the palm leather has been weakened and is about to tear. If you’ve been getting by with marginal gear, upgrade to something nice, some leathers or a riding suit that will protect you in case of a mishap. Keep in mind that there is summer gear out there for hot weather riding. I have a pair of Kevlar jeans and a mesh jacket for those hot days. I prefer full-coverage gear, especially when I travel on the bike. Get yourself a tire repair kit. I had a blowout on my rear tire this season, but because I had the tire repair kit, with patches, glue, and C02 cartridges, I was able to get home that day without calling a tow service.

Hoping all of you had a safe riding season, and will again next year.
Ride safe. ~ Harry Clark, ABATE of New York Safety Officer