The correct gear can go a...
The correct gear can go a long way toward making a ride on a cold and wet day less miserable. Here, Kento sports a waterproof jacket-and-pants combo suit, waterproof boots and waterproof gloves to stay warm and dry at the Kawasaki Z1000 launch last year. Unfortunately, color choices for this type of gear are limited.
Whether by choice or necessity, many of us extend the riding season well into fall at the end of the year and start early the next spring. Even more dedicated (or desperate, depending on your viewpoint) riders will ride year-round, regardless of what Mother Nature has on offer. Whatever your reason for riding in the cold, wet and snowy winter months, some forethought and care can make the experience less miserable and even, in some ways, enjoyable.
Your gear becomes doubly important in the winter, as now it not only has to protect you, but also it must keep you warm and dry for sometimes hours at a time. A dedicated waterproof jacket-and-pants combo is your best bet, but keeping a rainsuit handy to quickly slip over your usual gear ranks a close second. If you plan on riding in the rain regularly, it's well worth investing in a set of waterproof gloves and boots. You'll be warm and dry when you wear them, but there is also an added benefit: You'll have spare gloves and boots so that one set can stay at home to dry while you're out riding the day after a storm. Generally, waterproof gear means extra warmth but if you need even more, add additional thin layers underneath rather than one thick undergarment. For the ultimate, an electric vest works wonders in even bitter-cold weather.
A constant problem in rain and cold is a fogging visor, and there are several options here from anti-fog visors to breath guards and even electrically defrosting visors. The nights are obviously longer during the winter, so chances are your commute will be in the dark - a clear shield is a must. Whatever combination of gear you end up with, the most important aspect is that it doesn't intrude on your riding or distract you in any way. For example, you can't work the controls with frozen fingers, but an extra-warm pair of gloves may be too bulky and not much better. A neck warmer may be nice and toasty but limit you from turning your head enough for a shoulder check. You may have to search to find the right gear, but you should be able to find a nice balance between comfort and practicality for the conditions you intend ride in. Finally, if your winter riding includes commuting, keep a change of clothes ready at work - just in case.
Racers prove constantly that...
Racers prove constantly that there can be plenty of traction on cold, wet pavement. While it's possible to brake, accelerate and corner fairly aggressively, the key is to avoid any sudden inputs to the controls - that is when you are most likely to lose traction.
Now that you're ready to ride, what about your bike? Be sure you've got plenty of tread on your tires as you'll surely be riding in more rain that usual and maybe even snow. Likewise, make sure your bike's lights all work properly as it will be dark more often than not. And your bike should generally be in good working order; the last thing you want is to be stranded by the side of the road in sub-zero weather waiting for help to arrive. You can also consider adding accessories like a heated seat or grips.
The biggest worry about riding in the winter is a lack of traction. Not only will the pavement and your tires be cold, but streets are also more likely to be wet or dirty. Black ice can be a problem when the temperature hovers right around freezing, and it doesn't necessarily have to be raining or snowing. One of our testers got a nice surprise one day while driving past a car wash. It was just cold enough that water draining from cars leaving the wash turned into ice on the road. Luckily, our man was in his car at the time. Watch especially for painted lines, manhole covers and sealer, as traction degrades quickly over those surfaces in the wet and cold. In town, the right or left portion of a traffic lane will generally have more traction than the center. Cars drip oil constantly in the middle of the lane, especially at intersections where they are stopped for long periods. That same traffic dries and cleans the sides of the lane where the tire tracks run, leaving those areas cleaner and drier than the center. Dry pavement is obviously better than wet or dirty pavement, so look for and keep to the dry and clean part of the road whenever possible.
When riding in the city during...
When riding in the city during the winter months, watch for painted lines, sealer strips and manhole covers, which all offer very little traction in the cold and wet. Look for dry portions of the traffic lanes where car tires run, especially near intersections.
On the highway, increase your following distances accordingly and keep to the left or right of a particular lane - as you should in any case. One thing to watch for in the cold weather is that your fingers will stiffen up after some constant highway riding when they don't get much use. Be sure to keep your hands active and some blood flowing through them, so that you'll be able to grab and feel the brake effectively if needed.
While riding in any adverse conditions, avoid sudden control inputs as they will cause a loss of traction more quickly than normal. That includes sudden bursts of throttle, abrupt braking or sharp steering maneuvers; be smooth with every aspect of your riding technique. As we've mentioned in the past, it's possible to brake almost as hard in the wet as it is in the dry, but it's absolutely necessary to smoothly apply and release the brakes. Practice this in a safe place next time it rains, so that you don't have to find out how quickly you can stop for the first time in a panic situation. The same goes for acceleration, although not to such an extent: Be smooth on the gas and you'll be able to accelerate surprisingly quickly if needed.
While it's possible to ride...
While it's possible to ride in the snow, we wouldn't recommend it. If you must, it's imperative to keep a light touch on the controls; a tiny steering input can put you on the ground, even on a straight stretch of road.
Key in any inclement weather is not to put yourself in a traffic position where you may have to react quickly to an errant car or other sticky situation. It's good to have the skills necessary to cope with a problem, but riding smartly and conservatively reduces the chance of problem coming up in the first place. Dress and ride appropriately in the winter and you'll find you can extend your riding season significantly, whether for fun or transportation.