Winter Riding: Keeping Your Hands Warm
When it's cold out there, you still have options!
In cold weather, your extremities can end up freezing even if your core is warm. You can wear wool socks and insulated boots to keep your feet warm, but there’s only so many layers you can wear on your hands. You do, after all, need to be able to move them to work the controls on the motorcycle. There are several different ways to keep your hands warm. Your solution will depend on your bike, the climate you live in, and your circulation.
Keep Riding All Year:
Warm Gloves Or Liners
You can get “winter” gloves to ride in. Lots of gear manufacturers make gloves rated for cooler weather and those might be just fine for your needs. Advances in technical gear mean that winter gloves aren’t as bulky as they used to be, but they will be bulkier than your regular non-insulated summer riding gloves. You can also find silk or technical glove liners that, combined with your regular riding gloves, will keep your hands warmer. Either of these may be perfectly comfortable for you, and fill your needs if you have good circulation and don’t ride in temperatures below freezing. You may be tempted to wear ski gloves or other gear that isn’t motorcycle specific, but keep in mind that pavement isn’t any softer in the wintertime.
If you’d prefer something a little more insulated, but don’t want bulky winter gloves, Hippo Hands might be a good solution for you. These are hand covers that stay on the bike: they fit over your handlebars and stay there. They do not require any electricity, they simply create a windproof, insulated area around your grips to keep your hands warm. Some riders find not being able to see their hands or the motorcycle’s switchgear a bit disconcerting, but they’re a relatively inexpensive option and can be found used (and off-brand) fairly easily, too.
Even if your bike wasn’t shipped with heated grips, they are available and can be installed as an aftermarket item. Check your owner’s manual and do a little online research to make sure your motorcycle’s electrical system puts out enough spare charge to power a set of grips. The heat is generated at the grip, and only heats the palm side of your hands and fingers. Heated grips will keep your hands from freezing, but won’t keep your hands toasty warm. On the plus side, you can't forget your heated grips at home, and you don't need to pull over to turn them on.
Once your hands are chilled while riding in cold weather, if you have crappy circulation like I do, there’s just no warming them back up again until you’re able to stop and wrap your hands around a hot cuppa. Heated gloves replace the heat you lose to cold wind. Often, once your extremities have been thoroughly chilled, your body gives up on them and conserves heat by closing off those blood vessels and keeping heat in your core and head. Because the heat in heated gloves surrounds the outsides of your hands, they will keep your hands toasty warm. You'll need to remember to bring your gloves with you, and plug them into the bike. If your hands begin to freeze unexpectedly mid-trip, you're going to have to pull over to connect all the wires and put the heated gloves on. You can, however, combine heated grips and heated gloves (if your bike will power everything) for a full-surround heated immersion experience.
Even if you’re heating your hands with electricity, your bike’s metal brake and clutch levers will be cold, and that cold metal will suck all the warmth out of your fingers. There are a lot of lever wraps on the market. Neoprene wraps will offer great insulation for your fingers against cold metal; leather wraps less so (but will still be better than nothing). You can also use something like Rescue Tape to wrap the levers, if you want something cheap and easy to remove in the spring.
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Motorcycles and bicycles