This winter, fellow riders have suggested that I put the bikes away and drive a car.
“Why?” I’d ask.
They’d tell me that riding in the winter is stupid and dangerous.
As Canada Moto Guide notes, much of Europe already has laws in place to require the use of winter tires for all vehicles in specific months. This alone takes a lot of motorcycles off of roads. However, some governments want to take it a step further: A couple of years ago, Quebec proposed a ban on motorcycles from its roads entirely during the winter months.
During a cold ride to a flight lesson I realized it’s not entirely crazy.
Motorcycle training courses around here don’t teach about riding in snow, on ice or in subzero temperatures. There are lessons that deal with riding in the rain, but rain is a different beast than the cold. The dynamic of how riding works changes in the cold.
The tires you ride on during the summer will suck in the winter. Think of the average motorcycle tire like you would a summer car tire. Tire compounds meant for warmer weather offer far less traction when the temperature drops. Add in road salt/sand, ice patches and snow, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Have you ever seen a BMW car hilariously spinning its tires in a dusting of snow? That’s how your motorcycle may handle. Only, it won’t be as hilarious when your tires break traction and your bike comes down on you. I’ve ridden in snowstorms and can attest to how little braking power and how little traction you have.
This YouTube video is a good example of how little traction a regular motorcycle tire will have:
Traction losses can be mitigated somewhat using motorcycle snow tires. Yes, motorcycle snow tires do exist! You can even get snow chains for motorcycles. Some riders may cheat by mounting car snow tires. But remember, even with the improved traction of a snow tire, you still only have two wheels to a car’s four. Mistakes will be costly.
The cold affects you, too. When you’re bundled up like Bibendum, the Michelin Man, you can’t move around as quickly as you can in the summer. That could make emergency maneuvers more difficult. If the cold makes it through your layers and heated gear, you’re talking about stiff body parts and lowered concentration. Riding a motorcycle takes a lot of concentration. When you can’t stay sharp, you should get off the road.
With all that in mind, should motorcycle riding be made illegal in the winter?
I don’t think so. This blog isn’t to scare you from riding in the winter. If anything, I encourage you to. Just don’t be silly with it and take your sportbike out on summer tires. Take care to prep your motorcycle and yourself; winter riding can be some awesome fun. My Jalopnik colleagues don’t often ride in these conditions, but they feel similarly. My Suzuki Burgman 650 handles the job with grace.
I’m far from a fair weather rider. I’m the kind of weirdo who sees a thunderstorm ahead and keeps on riding. That said, I do recommend avoiding snowstorms and gear up for safety, even in the cold.