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Changing up: winter gear

As the mercury drops and the rain comes down, you need a different approach to what you wear. So here are some tips to help you stay warm, dry and in confident control whatever the weather throws at you

Riding in winter can be every bit as enjoyable as summer, but only when the gear you wear is up to scratch. Sometimes the key issue isn’t as simple as cold or rain: it can be the changeability of winter weather that catches many riders out. However, there are strategies that can tilt the odds in your favour and give you options to deal with Mother Nature’s shifting moods.

Start with the bike

 Before you begin thinking about your winter wardrobe, it’s worth examining ways to mitigate the effects of weather while riding.

An obvious one is heated grips. By keeping your hands warm they not only improve your comfort, they can stop your hands going numb with cold leading to a dangerous lack of feel for the controls. Aftermarket kits are relatively easy to install, or you could always get a dealer to do it for you. Typically, they’ll have a controller to allow different heat levels and the feeling of that warmth surging through your hands is hard to beat.

Another surprisingly effective way of keeping your hands warm is using hand guards. Common on off-road bikes to help stop bashing your hands, on road bikes they reduce the wind flow over your gloves and consequent loss of heat. They can also stream a fair bit of rain away, and drier gloves mean warmer hands. Handlebar muffs are another option, but they won’t fit every bike.

You can make a huge difference to how warm and dry you’ll be when riding by choosing a bike with a fairing. But, if it’s too late for that, you can still think about an aftermarket fly screen. A good-sized screen can really increase your winter comfort and many are easily detachable if you want to return to a naked style come summer.

Heated gear

Heated gear is incredibly effective at keeping you warm in winter. Heated gloves are widely available and nowadays many are wireless designs with a built-in battery. Heated vests, undershirts and pants are not as easy to find at bike shops in New Zealand, but heated base lawyers are a favourite of South Island tradies. Shop where they shop…

Wired-in gear may have the hassle of fitting but the advantage is you won't run out of battery just when the weather turns nasty.

Layer it on thick

The most important part of dressing for winter riding is to use layers. An ideal approach would have a thermal base layer that can wick away sweat, a light layer you can wear off the bike in a café, a warm fleece or wool layer, then a topmost layer–for example a textile jacket and pants–that is both wind- and waterproof. It goes without saying that it should also be abrasion-resistant and contain a full set of armour. (Look on motocap.com.au to guide your choice.) Even that, however, may need a supplement in heavy rain, which has a habit of sneaking past closures like zips. Nothing beats a one-piece waterproof oversuit that fits over the top of all your other riding gear. Just be sure to get a size that will do so.

For monsoon conditions, finish off with waterproof over-gloves and over-boots. Just remember to take off the overboots as you step off the bike.

Having layers like these, as long as you have adequate stowage on the bike, is the secret to coping with changeable conditions.

Extras

While layers are the foundation of keeping you warm and dry, it’s the extra pieces that can make or break how it all works in practice.

Winter gloves and boots are a must, but they vary widely in warmth and water resistance. Choose ones that will suit the sort of riding you intend to do. Then take a layering approach once more, with thermal socks and inner gloves.

Other things that might be seen as optional can actually make a world of difference to how warm you feel. A scarf, comfy or other neck covering is a case in point. Try wearing one and you’ll never go back.

Did your helmet come with a chin shield? Many do, and installing it can prevent a lot of cold air circulating around your jaw.

Top it all off, literally, with a balaclava for the full ensemble, and you’ll stay warm as toast.