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Home Bike Tips

Staying Warm Through The Winter On Your Motorbike - By Ren Withnell

Most motorcyclists put their bikes away sometime around October or November, and leave them tucked up in the garage until March or April.  Some of us are more foolish and ride all year round.  Keeping the motorbike in good order through the winter requires work and I hope to write about this soon.  

Keeping warm is the other problem.  I have been riding through 15 winters now, and I have learnt an awful lot, mostly the hard way.  It is a cold and fresh November day as I write this and I've been out on the bike.  I would like to tell you I have been snugly warm all day, but I can't.  But I have not been painfully cold.

The first thing I understand now though is the concept of layers.  Today I have one the following: -

Socks, 1 pair of lighter socks, 1 pair of thick woolly socks.

Boots, high enough to go well into my pants to keep out the draft.

Thermal Leggings (Long Johns).

Cordura Quilted Motorcycle Pants.  Make sure they come high enough to keep out drafts between your jacket and pants.

Thick cotton T-shirt.

Cotton Long Sleeve T-shirt

Thick fleece jumper.

Cordura Quilted Motorcycle Jacket.

Silk Scarf.

Helmet.

Thermal Stretchy Inner Gloves

Thick Motorcycle Gloves.

So my body has 4 layers, my legs 2 layers, my feet 3 layers including boots, hands 2 layers and my helmet to keep my head warm.  With all this on I am still not roasty warm but I am not shivering or uncomfortable.  So, let's break all this down.

Boots.  Motorcycle boots do not normally come in thermal format.  This is the job of the socks.  Do make sure your boots are 100% waterproof though.  Wet feet, even in the best insulation money can buy, will still get very cold.  This applies to all your clothing.  Make sure the boot is high enough, or the trousers long enough, to get a good draft-proof seal around the ankle area.

Socks.  You can buy relatively thin thermal type socks to wear as the first layer, then thick knitted woollen type socks for the next layer.  If your boots are 100% waterproof you do not need to worry about fast drying materials.  

Leggings or Long Johns.  Possibly the least attractive part of my attire.  My girlfriend cringes when I undress at her house.  But the fact is they keep my legs warm.  Function before fashion I say.  I get any old thermals I can find in the shops at a cheap price.  I also use those god-awful leggings that were fashionable on the ladies in the 80's, I acquired them from an ex of mine.  Not as warm, but ok in a pinch.

Cordura Motorcycle Trousers.  There are tons and tons out there to choose from.  Try to get ones that come up quite high and over any jumpers you may be wearing.  This seals in the heat and keeps out the rain too.  Again they are not the most attractive of items.  Make sure they are 100% waterproof, same reason as the socks.  Many today will come with removable quilt linings.  Obviously use the linings...

Body Layers.  I normally wear a short-sleeved t-shirt, long sleeved t-shirt and a fleece.  Try to get the thickest cotton or thermal t-shirts you can lay your hands on.  Fleeces to come in a variety of thicknesses.  Make sure the fleece has a long neck, this helps keep out the wind.

Cordura Motorcycle Jacket.  Again there are hundreds out there on the market.  Most will have removable quilt linings, most should be waterproof.  Always try on the jacket in full winter get up.  It needs to be large enough to go over all your other layers and your big pants!  Some Jackets come as a set with the trousers and zip together to for a good seal.  I've never tried them, as yet I have not found it necessary.  

Scarf.  Possibly the simplest piece of kit, yet it can make the most difference.  Getting a good seal around the neck is vital to keep any drafts of your chest.  There are a wide variety of types and materials out there.  I've had everything from an old bed sheet right through to fancy fleece items that cover your shoulders and chest.  To be honest as long as the seal around the neck is good, there is little difference.  Many people like to be able to pull their scarf over their face to keep the mouth and nose warm.  This never worried me, but try different configurations to see what works for you.

Gloves.  I've spent fortunes on gloves and tried all different kinds.  I have reached this conclusion.  As long as the gloves are thick and thermal, you have the best already.  YOU WILL GET COLD HANDS!  Do note this vital piece of information though.  The human body, when it gets cold, keeps it's heat in the torso, where the organs required to keep you alive are.  Hands and feet become surplus to survival.  The body sends as little blood and heat to these parts as it can get away with.  If your hands and feet are cold, try warming your torso more.

Other than that...enjoy the challenge of riding over icy roads, watching your bike rust in the salt and going to your local bike haunt to find it deserted 'cos all your mates are fair weather wimps! 
 

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Reader's Comments

Ren - The Edx said :-
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www.gov.uk/getting-an-mot/retestsx ...
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Jack Amsden said :-
I once had a onepiece snowmobile suit that worked well, windproof and few cracks to leak.
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Dave said :-
For the hand the heated grips are ok but tips still get cold. The OXFORD muffs are very good but dont look good! Comfort over look? You choose.
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alan said :-
I've been riding chops and custom bikes for just over 40 years and have 'evolved' into the following. I've never found totally waterproof gloves which allow adequate feel of the controls. I use two pairs of the diesel 'gloves' that are available in filling stations under an ordinary pair of full leather winter gloves which I grease up regularly with waterproof grease available at army surplus stores. Boots are current army issue regularly greased with full length goretex boot liners. I wear t shirt, sweat shirt, fleece jacket, leather jacket, 'Held' waterproof jacket, jogging bottoms, camo trousers, 'Held' waterproof overtrousers. I make regular stops at service areas and Little Chefs to use the hand air driers to blow hot air all through my clothing. The best tip I can give to keep warm in the wet is to ask a long time chop rider about 'tea bags'
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Rick said :-
I have been riding my 40 mile daily commute every day, summer and winter for 4 years now. You know when you've crossed over to the other side of sanity when you arrive at work with 3 millimeters of solid ice attached to your visor. I have spent thousands on posh materials "specially developed for the motorcyclist" and the only piece of kit that I can really recommend is my set of £20.00 bar muffs. 3 years in and still doing their job admirably. You may not look cool but you will feel well smug and be able to feel the ends of your fingers.
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Glenn said :-
Buy a £15 dayglow workmans jacket XL.
Wear it over your "waterproof" winter jacket.
Presto a proper waterproof jacket that is very warm.
Bonus: gets you seen by sleepy motorists.
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vikram said :-
hi im a newbie to winter riding(doing it for the last 2 years)last year i was foolish enough to stay in leathers all year switched to goretex and heated gloves this year and my 20 mile commute is so different! i can now feel my fingers and am not shivering every time i stop...any help for a newbie is welcome re winter riding tips at vicks_nag977@yahoo.com. many thanks
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Rick said :-
Well this is my second winter riding and I have learnt a few tricks.

Feet: Doesn't matter how many layers I wear on my feet, my feet are still like ice blocks when I finish my 50 mile commute, actually I find wearing thick socks as well as thin socks makes my feet really uncomfortable (tight in the boot) and even colder, so I wear normal socks and some knox hot socks my feet are still freezing so looking at other ways to keep them warm (which is what brought me here).

Hands: Last year I wore summer leather gloves all year round and boy did I pay the price and I had heated grips (don't waste your money on them it's the back of your fingers that get cold they make no difference), this year I invested in some Revit Fahrenheit winter gloves and they are pretty good though my hands still get cold, I have found a way to let my hands warm up though and that is to hold my hands straight over the clutch and brake pedals from time to time so the air streamlines over them... why does this work well I haven't a clue .. but try it works everytime, you have to be quite brave to do this at speed though so pick your moments, I for sure think muffs are the only real answer but as other people say they look rubbish I haven't suffered enough yet to want to go to that extreme (thanks to my little trick)

Body/Legs: Pretty much layers work, tuck everything inside your trousers underneath to ensure you don't get any drafts through the gaps.

Neck: I invested in a Knox hot hood enough said ... it's the mutts!!!

Hope these little tips help a few of you out there :o)


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chris said :-
when the snow comes out so do the studded knobbies, i am a desert rider and i dont ride street in winter. i find the best place to start is ladies pantyhose. i swear by it, and if ya dont believe me joe namath and a few buddies will tell ya. it really seals the heat in, if you are uncomfortable with this then you can go to the sports supllier and get the same thing for 15.00 that has a football on the package..
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James said :-
The layer system is definitely the best approach I find that a skin tight base layer works best, It's what I used to do in the Marines and the principle remains for biking (anything will do - women's tights, specialist kit from outdoor/mountaineering shops) and then build up your layers with what ever you have that's warm & not too bulky. The idea is to trap layers of air which adds to the insulation. It's important to remember that your only heat comes from what the body can produce, and it does this by burning fuel (food) so don't set off without breakfast. Though if you're like me and can't stomach food too early in the morning a hot sweet drink works a treat!

Another relic(though anything but old fashioned) from the Marines is decent socks: "Mund Everest Extreme Cold Double Sock" cost about 20 quid and for me there is no alternative - not too thick to force your feet against the cold boot which aids heat dissipation, and they feel (there's no other word for it) sensual when you put 'em on.

When it gets really cold or if I've a long journey then a ski mask under the helmet retains more heat than helmet alone.

My hands are always cold and I don't bother trying to find that magic pair of gloves because they do not exist! As long as I can keep 'em from going so numb that it's no longer possible to operate the clutch (or brakes!) then I'm still functional...
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Doc in the states said :-
Been riding 30+ yrs year round except on ice in the states and I've found the best set up for me has been long sleeve polypropylene shirt over a tee shirt or flannel shirt then I made up a electric jacket to go under my Joe Rocket 2/3 jacket or my tour master 2/3 jacket.
Poly pants under jeans then ski pants with chaps over them till I can afford over pants.
The best thing I found for the hands has been a set of heated grips, unlined leather gloves and polar hands which are like the old hippo hands vetter made years ago on the handle bars.
I rode many miles in 13 deg f and can still feel my fingers.
Feet I never had that much trouble with wool socks with steal toed engineers boots.
On really cold days I use a poly ski mask under my helmet mainly to make up for what my beard doesn't do.
I wish I'd learned about the electric clothing years ago but I've only been using it for about 6 years and even on trips in the summer months I don't leave home with out it because mother nature knows when your unprepaired


UTC
Peter said :-
I have ridden for 5 winters in the UK. I use my bike to do a 200 mile round trip to see my girlfriend in London. I have ridden through 2007's worst snowfall in November. That was the worst trip ever. It took me 4 hours to travel what would normally take me 45 minutes.

I currently ride a BMW K1200S with heated grips and no-one else's grips come anywhere close. Do not buy Oxford hated grips, I had 12 replacement sets before I had an accident, and none ever worked properly or got hot enough. If you have or are ordering a BMW, pay for the grips, they allowed me to go last winter with mid season gloves.

The best set of bike undergear and the only ones that work are the Dainese X-Technology two piece underwear. These are the only technical underwear I have found that keeps me cool in summer and warm in winter. They cost about £90 in total, but they are worth every penny and even support your muscles.

I use a BMW Streetguard 2 suit. I am not impressed with it's cold weather ability, but I am with it's functional design and waterproofing. I have to use more layers with this then I used to with my Spidi Gran Turismo which was fantastically warm and looked hyper-cool. Only problem was, it wasn't waterproof, having a really crappy imitation goretex called H2OUT.......DO NOT BUY A SPIDI SUIT IF YOU WANT TO BE DRY......This advice comes from riding in torrential rain...I have ridden in worse weather in the Streetguard 2 and not one drop got in. THe Spidi was like a swimming pool.

Once you get wet inside, you get cold. Therefore, it's worth spending money on a top class Goretex lined jacket. If I could have afforded a Rukka outfit, I would have. For the same money £800+ as I spent on the BMW Streetguard 2, I could have got a Rukka suit. However, it would have been lower spec than what I got.

I also use a BMW branded windstopper fleece, and a cotton tee shirt. I wear Daytona Evo Sports Goretex and there is no better winter boot ever made. They cost £400, but they are supreme in every department (apart from looks). They are handmade and every part including the soles can be replaced. The quality is beyond anything that any other manufacturer produces and there are countless stories of every other part of people's bodies being injured bar the boot areas. Once you own and wear a pair you will not buy any other boot. My feet are never cold and I only wear a normal pair of socks...that's how good they are. I wear them all year round and they are fine in summer.

I agree with the other respondent who mentioned about eating. It's 100% correct...NEVER get on your bike without having eaten something. Cold, wet and hunger are distractions and you always need 100% concentration on a bike.

The key to warm hands and feet is having the right jacket and layers on!! YES!!! It's not about socks or gloves, but about keeping your CORE warm. Your body needs to keep your CORE (your vital organs) warm. Therefore, when there is extreme cold, it shuts circulation to a minimum in the extremities (hands and feet) to maintain an even temperature of your core.

This is why buying a good Goretex, waterproof jacket and layering is important to surviving the winter.

One last thing, if you have never ridden in winter before, remember to keep your bike in good condition, but also more importantly remember to adapt to road conditions. If you get caught in the snow like I did last year, the secret is to ride smoothly (you should do this anyway!!) This means brake progressively, accelerate very gradually and in one or even two gears higher than normal. Lean in gently into bends and corners and try to keep your weight and body upright. If you live in Europe, be very careful on roundabouts, these are the most dangerous constructions for motorcyclists even in good weather. Anticipate hazzards, braking and taking evasion long before the obstruction.

Most of all, don't be afraid and make sure you have at least 3mm of tread on your tyres. Any less than this and your bike will not handle, grip or BRAKE in bad and cold weather. FINALLY!!! Riders who ride all year round are infinitely superior to fair weather riders because they learn to be progressive and smooth and to read road and weather conditions. So riding in winter actually improves your summer riding.

Safe riding and have fun!!
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ron holmes said :-
Hi Everyone. reading this has just give some fond memories, in the late 60's I did about 40 camping rallies mostly winter and every bank holiday travelled 300 miles to newcastle from high wycome bucks this normally took 12 hours on my ES2, so I have been through all of the weather england can throw at me and never been stopped by it.
at 62 I am back again,I am working on the cold rides at the minute just done 1200 miles in scotland end of october snow and cold weather down to 1.5 degrees inside the tent (yes we have all the gagets now to tell this). I am trying out different clothing as a lot of it is new to me now
Iwould not have made it without my bar muffs, I will be fitting those finger guards that the off roader use on their bars, I will put my muffs over the top to stop them pushing on the levers and fingers, I can not get the fancy leather boot on one of my feet (bike crash years ago).
LOOK ON THE WEB UNDER MUCK BOOTS, find a horse tack shop that stocks them and try them on, (just do it)you will not regret it, I would like to know if anyone likes them as much as me.
I have worn ladies tights in the passed and it certainly makes you ride more carefully as you don't want an accident wearing them.
that was long winded wasn't it.
regards ron


UTC
N. Cooke said :-
After reading the comments below I have come to the conclusion that bar muffs are the way to go, ladies tights mmm well I wore them in the army so why not. I've only been riding since June '08 but I love it, have a little Gilera Coguar 125, but again I love it, I've never been a 'Fashion' victim so the muffs will be bought soon. Thanks for all your help gents.

Safe riding and take care.
UTC
Danny said :-
I've not ridden very long, since maybe late 06'. But I have experienced some of the worst weather the UK can throw at me. My average daily commute is maybe 100-150miles included riding for the sheer love of it. A few crashes here and there in the winter due to not being able to concentrate fully as my body shook and shivered violently forced me into looking for some fast fixes to my problems. Having spent to much monies on fancy 'Windproof-waterproof-idiotproof' motorcycle clothing i can confidently say, It's all a waste of money. Granted some do what it says on the tin... but so does every day clothing and items you'd find around the house. Heres what i wear and is happy with.

Footware in order:
1. One pair of thin socks.
2. One pair of thick socks.
3. Two plastic shopping bags.(one for each foot)
4. One pair of wellington boot.(100% weatherproof)

Legware in order:
1. Two pairs of thick baggy jogging bottoms.
2. One pair of thick baggy jeans(90% weatherproof)

Handware:
1. Two thin pairs of stretchy gloves.
2. One pair of yellow kitchen cleaning gloves.
3. One pair of motorcycle gloves(70% weatherproof)

Torso/Mid-section in order:
1. One vest.
2. One thin short sleeved T-shirt.
3. One long sleeved T-shirt.
4. One extremely! thick turtle neck jumper.
5. One-piece full body suit (100% weatherproof)
6. Motorcycle jacket (95% weatherproof)

Head/Neck in order:
1. Thick 5ftL 1ftW scarf.
2. Thin face mask.
3. Helmet.

All this lets me still feel the bike,controls and road yet keeps me 75-80% as warm as the minute i left my house in even the coldest of days.

Side notes:
Elastic rubber bands go along way! Try not to wear cotton as a first layer as it retains moister such as sweat and water more then other fabrics. Get those bar muffs today! I have a friend who was riding behind a large lorry late at night, and out of no where came a small stone assuming from one of the tires, broke two fingers and cost him £90 in new gloves... So regardless of weather , get them. Grip warmers are only a good idea when matched with again bar muffs. Rest for 15 minutes every 40-50 miles when riding at night, take advantage of any warm garages, shops etc maybe check out the bike magz they have to offer haha' as there's been times where those white lines in between lanes had almost hypnotized me and caused me some close calls due to over riding. Ride safe guys and take care, Danny.

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justin said :-
agree that longjohns are ghastly to look at, but great to wear. Mine constantly tend to slip down, possibly from being tucked into my socks. Any tips on keeping them up guys?
UTC
Mark (UK) said :-
I ride all year in the UK and EU and I thought I would add my two-bobs worth if it is of any help.

First thing is that the best modern "all-season" gear is very good but costs a lot. A two piece BMW, RUKKA, etc is £500 to £1000. This is because they have all the right stuff in the makeup of the kit. Anything with Gortex in it is always much more expensive and the "Gortex-a-like" stuff is not anything like as good. Trust me I know.

One thing that has not been noted here is the bike you are on will make a big difference as well. A full fairing stops air and water being driven into the rider, as on a naked bike, and is a very good start to say the least. Another is kit size. I am 2M tall, big hands, big feet, etc and getting what I want is a pain. Leg length and gloves are the worst problems.







UTC
Mark (UK) said :-
Ok so what do I use. You will need to try a few things out to find what is right for you.

Gloves and hands.
Handlebar muffs are the number one thing to use and, with or without heated grips, you can use summer gloves. Big hand guards work well but muffs are 100%. The stitching, in gloves, is the problem as it allows air and water in. Use long gloves with the jacket cuff over the top so the water does not run in and a tight cuff to keep the air out of your jacket. Overmitts, heated gloves, etc are another option but Marigolds and plastic bags are not. Winter gloves are bulky and I do not like them much myself.

Boots and feet.
I use Sidi courier non-waterproof boots, because they are very long, with a secondary Gortex liner. Regatta gaiters because I am tall and you need to have trousers/overcover that goes right down (over the boot) to the ankle. A proper pair of waterproof bike boots is the way to go and do not have the problems of gloves. Derry boots, toe-caps or wellies are not as the offer no protection. Plastic bags, thick ones not the supermarket type, can work well but take care with them as they will slip on the road when you put a foot down in the wet.
UTC
Mark (UK) said :-
The body.

I use full, arm and leg, length man-made fibre thermals with cotton layers on top if it is extra cold. This allows sweat to wick into the cotton and keeps water off the skin. Leather jacket and trousers with a one-piece lined Sidi 100% (warm and never leaked) waterproof suit. Or a leather jacket, Dianese Dry-Line trousers with a Sprayway Gortex over jacket. I do not have a problem with any of this and the Sidi is perfect. Not seen another one though. Best not to buy very cheap thermals as they do not last. Get one or two sizes up as they are more comfy and because they shrink in the wash.

A jacket with a coller that goes right up to the base of the helmet stops water/wind getting down your neck. Also get on your bike and check the arms and legs are long enough in the riding position. Keep your head warm. A very well vented lid is not going to help any. Heated seats, jackets, etc work well if you want to pay for them. Check out what couriers use as they are on the road in all conditions.




UTC
dave c said :-
cleaning and reproofing leather boots needs to be done often in winter. toasty feet make it well worth it. and boots last.


UTC
Niz said :-
Up until two weeks a go i was a layers man 4 top and three bottom. But dampness from sweat seemed to undo all
of the hood work from them. What happened two weeks a go? Bought gore-tex and all from Hein G:
journey II jacket And trousers
Eco II gloves
bullson boots, with HG sheltex (licensed gore-tex)
underneath I wear edz base layers top and bottom, berghaus activity fleece, thermal leggings.
Bar muffs and motopro grips have done me well
lastly, I butchered some Oxford hot wraps so that they fit in my boots.

rode in 1deg yesterday on m4 at 80 and no wind chill or dampness just dry warmth.

UTC
David said :-
Glad I`m not the only one who rides in the cold and wet. One thing I seem to have a problem with is keeping my midriff warm. When I1m riding I am not aware of it being cold, however when I return home and strip off my layers it is very cold to the touch. I ride a naked CB900. Any ideas
Rgds
David
UTC
richard said :-
Heated grips and muffs are the best so far. I ride a Honda ct110 5 days for about 8 hours all year. The battery struggles a bit, and the temp. is say 1/3 on, to work blinkers. However the extra vigilence is only a small price to pay for benefit of jolly fingers and enhanced concentration.
UTC
Rob said :-
Thermals are definitely the way to go. I wear Patra Silk vests and longjohns, and they work much better if you tuck your shirt inside the longjohns, but mind they don't ride above your pants!
UTC
flee said :-
ihave been riding 50 plus years my tip is ride all year round and wear the same clothing 2pairs of long johns pair of marigold liners cheap nylon socks 3 tee shirts leather trousers army boots if its realy cold shove a newspaper across your ches it will keepthe cold and wind out put dubbin on your gloves and boots i ride like i said all year and if you get hot in the summer take a layer off and put it under your seat i amused to the weather and i never have a problem

UTC
Ben said :-
Hi

Dave, Re keeping you midriff warm?

Try an Kidney Belt. You can pick one up very cheaply on Ebay

I wear a cotton Balaclava, a Thermal Polo neck top, thermal body warmer, HG All seasons Jacket, Thermal Scarf, A High viz Waterproof/Windproof Jacket, thermal long johns ( a courier mate of mine recommended ladies tights (NOT STOCKINGS!!)) a HG All season trousers (or you can get some Ski Salopets), thermal socks, Boots, Silk inner gloves, Leather HG Gortex gloves and Handlebar muffs


Mark, If you are in Germany/Holland, HG seem to have larger sizes. I have XXL gloves from them (bought in the UK before they ceased trading here)


Regards
Ben
UTC
Dave Ireland said :-
When I was couriering, I went through the process of gradually improving my kit, ending up with Rukka jacket, bib leggings, overmitts, and decent boots. As an adjucnt to this, I also fitted my bikes with full touring fairings. Over the next couple of years, I gradually stopped wearing all the Rukka gear, as it wasn't necessary and I found I could work in all weathers with fairly ordinary non-expensive kit, simply because the fairings were doing so much in keeping me out of the horrible weather. I still had heated grips (and internal bar heaters) but I missed the massive foot-heaters that were fitted to the BMW boxers when I sold mine.
There is one thing that's vital - keep the wind off and it will also mostly keep the rain off, too. If you do that, you can just keep going for many hours, still at full situational awareness.
One of my bikes still has its final fairing, from when I was working on it, and another will have an ex-BMW RT fairing fitted to it fairly soon. Back then I was doing it out of necessity, now I'm doing it for comfort, but also necessity; as I get older I dislike the cold more. :)
UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Cheers Dave. I would ask - considering I ride a 125 most of the time do you think a fairing makes much difference for the slower rider or the commuter who, like me, is wading through traffic? I imagine it certainly helps with the long motorway trips.

For myself the worst part is always the hands. I'm going to see if I can cobble up some kind of hand protection similar to those fitted on motocross or enduro machines, but a little larger to offer wind protection. I'm sure my first attempt will look ridiculous but it will be a proof of concept before I invest in something better looking.

It's good to read so many solutions from various people. One thing I note is that some folks suffer with cold feet rather than cold hands. I never have much trouble with my feet. All our bodies are different so each solution needs to be tailored to each individual. There's no one sure fire fix for each and every rider.

Cheers!
UTC
 

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