Ah, the crisp chill of winter. For some motorcyclists, that means it’s time to pack it in for the year, and wait for things to thaw, usually in March or so. For the hardcore, the dedicated, or the slightly stupid (I’m easily all three), it means it’s time to enjoy some brisk rides.
Windchill ain’t no joke, even in places like Texas, California, and Florida where it generally remains fairly warm even in the dead of winter. To combat it, you’re going to need the proper gear. Let’s break down the options, and get into my personal picks and recommendations for winter riding.
You can take a high tech (and high-cost) approach with heated gear and grips, a low-tech (and budget-friendly) approach with lots of layers, or a middle-ground approach with technical apparel that can rival heated gear while being easier on the wallet.
I’ve done the low-tech approach, and basically worn a snowmobile suit and lots of layers in the winter. This worked even when I lived in Idaho where it gets much colder than it does here in Texas. It’s cumbersome, takes forever to get in and out of, and impairs your dexterity, but it does work. I’ve since given the low-tech approach the heave-ho in favor of more technical gear.
Now, that doesn’t mean I’m wired up with a full heated gear rig. For one, I don’t think it gets cold enough here in Texas to even justify heated gear. Second, heated gear is expensive, and third, I honestly don’t want to deal with more gadgets and devices with batteries and chargers to worry about and fiddle with. I’m buried in tech and gadgets all day. So I don’t own any. Nowadays, I just go for some simple and fairly affordable technical layers with normal riding gear on top.
Freeze-Out Warm’R Long Sleeve Shirt
It all starts with a good base layer on the core. Keep your core warm and you’d be amazed at how comfortable the rest of you can remain as a result. I go for the Freeze-Out Warm’R Long Sleeve Shirt (available in men’s and women’s at Revzilla). I put this on first, then whatever shirt I’m wearing over it. You could slip it on over a t-shirt or other thin layer, but I find the fleece interior material hangs up on other fabrics and causes bunching and binding. I have one in a 2XL, my normal size in shirts, and while it fits a bit snug, the generous stretch material and insanely soft fleece inside keeps it comfortable. Size up if you want a bit more room.
The multi-layer technical fabrics do a bang-up job keeping you warm by both blocking the wind and retaining your body heat. I’ll find myself sweating in 28º temperatures with only the base layer and my favorite lightweight Biltwell hoodie. They’re fairly breathable, though, so you don’t have to worry about getting a chill from sweat.
Freeze-Out Warm’R Long Johns
No surprises here, the base layer for the legs matches the upper body. The Freeze-Out Warm’R Long Johns (also available in both men’s and women’s at Revzilla) are of identical construction to the shirt, and match their performance for predictable protection from the cold.
I have a 38-40 waist, but pants tend to run snug on my hips and thighs, so I tend to size up slightly. These fit me well in an XL, which is a 40-42 waist according to the size chart. They are a bit more generous than the shirt.
Freeze-Out Warm’R Glove Liners
You shouldn’t be surprise by this, at this point. I’ve tried various glove liners in the past, and none of them could provide the combo of wind protection and warmth of the Freeze-Out Warm’R Glove Liners (once again, available in men’s and women’s at Revzilla). Keeping your hands warm is a difficult task, though, and of course, individual tolerances to the cold vary. I’m personally very cold-tolerant, but would say the Freeze-Out Warm’R Glove Liners are good under a pair of summer gloves down to around 45-50º and a pair of more general purpose all-season gloves down to 40º or so. You’ll need to pair them with windproof/waterproof insulated winter gloves for best results in temps below 40º.
Gaiters & Neck Warmers
I’m a huge fan of wearing a gaiter year round. It’ll keep the sun, air, and bugs off your neck, and help wick moisture for better cooling in the spring, summer, and fall. In the winter, they’re crucial for keeping cold air of your skin, and also acting as a seal between your neck and your helmet, to keep unwanted cold air out. I go between various gaiters/warmers from Klim, Oxford, and ZanHeadgear depending on the weather. There isn’t quite one do-it-all, unfortunately.
Mid and top layers
This is pretty simple. Just get some good riding gear and put it on over the base layers. Leather’s a good choice, as is anything with full-coverage Kevlar/aramid lining, as that will do more to block wind and provide insulation than something like plain denim. Waxed canvas and non-perforated poly/nylon textiles work well, too. Here are my go-to’s when the going gets cold:
I like rocking a Dixxon flannel shirt as a mid layer between my base layer (if any) and riding jacket. They’re warm but breathable, comfortable, and you’re guaranteed to look good off the bike no matter who you are.
Basically my favorite riding jacket ever. You can read my full review of it on J&P Cycles Countersteer to get all the details, but this is very close to being a perfect year-round jacket. It’s so good, that when I had to size down some gear after losing a few pounds, it was the only thing I re-purchased, though I opted for the limited-run Gunmetal, because it’s badass.
Base layers are hardly needed here, too. The RSD Jagger with the included (fully waterproof) hooded liner is often fine on it’s own, with just a Dixxon or even a t-shirt under it, in all but the coldest, wettest weather conditions (we’re talking single-digit temps and sleet, ice, and snow that just aren’t worth riding in).
RSD also makes the Mia jacket, which is the women’s equivalent of the Jagger. Same buffalo leather, same waterproof hoodie, same year-round functionality.
The Cordura denim and layer of Kevlar work pretty well on their own in providing insulation in most chilly conditions. They run true to size, and though they’re more of a slim-straight fit, the crotch gusset and stretch fabric gives room to move even if you have a more stout build. They’re still fairly fitted, though, and not well-suited to wearing with a base layer.
Get the RSD Tech Denim Jeans on Revzilla.
Very similar construction to the RSD Tech Denim Jeans (stretch Cordura denim with a layer of Kevlar), the MH1000 Jeans from ICON 1000 have a more traditional straight fit, and are a bit roomier. So much so that I originally bought them in my normal size, a 38, and had to exchange them and size down to a 36.
They’re good year-round, and the roomier fit works well for adding a base layer in the cold. They sport exterior zippers for easy access to the knee armor pockets, which make them a bit less incognito, but they’re still otherwise a great comfortable pair of riding jeans.
Get the ICON 1000 MH1000 Jeans on Revzilla.
Firstgear Gauntlet Gloves
For the winter, I have two criteria for gloves: 1) gauntlet and 2) waterproof. Gauntlet, because cold wind going up your sleeves sucks. Waterproof because being cold and wet don’t mix, and what blocks water will also help block cold wind. Some sort of insulation material is nice as well, but not an absolute must-have, since the Freeze-Out Warm’R Glove Liners work so well.
For this purpose, I have a pair of insulated, waterproof Firstgear gauntlet gloves that I have been using during the winter for years now. They work great on their own, and the fit is just roomy enough that they work especially well with glove liners for that extra layer to keep your fingers from freezing off. Unfortunately, Firstgear discontinued the specific style I have awhile ago. The Axiom or Outrider (as always, available on Revzilla) gloves in their current lineup are good substitutes, though.
My fingers may still get a bit cold after a long stint on the highway at 70+ mph in sub-40º temps, but (usually) not painfully so.
RSD Mojave Boots
A thick leather boot with a waterproof liner should be able to do most of the heavy lifting keeping your feet warm. There are more technical boot liner and sock options, like Freeze-Out Warm’R Boot Liners, but my experience has been that all you need are a pair (or two) of thick warm socks and some good boots.
These RSD Mojave Boots are my favorite boots, by far. I actually have a couple pairs of these, and am bummed that they’re currently on closeout and probably discontinued. Hopefully RSD replaces them with something as good as these. Waterproof, breathable, and comfortable in all but the hottest weather. The leather and Vibram sole is all heavy-duty stuff (that takes awhile to break in), lasts for years, and just looks better with age. Get ’em on Revzilla while you can.
I find having a Pinlock visor of some sort to be a great addition to your gear arsenal whenever it’s cold or rainy. Being able to keep the shield closed to keep out cold air and rain, but also stop fogging dead in its tracks has a huge effect on your ability to concentrate on riding.
The ST1400 is easily one of the best and most versatile helmets on the block. Not only do you get an incredibly lightweight full carbon fiber helmet with Scorpion’s cool AirFit inflatable fit system, but Scorpion includes clear and dark visors, a drop down sun-shade, and the Pinlock insert in the box. The value is incredible, and this is a helmet that is ready for pretty much anything.
Beyond highly recommended. All my other helmets have just been collecting dust since I got this helmet. There’s nothing that any of them can do better than this one. Get yourself a Scorpion ST1400 on Revzilla.
And there you have it. My tips and recommendations for the gear needed to make it through the winter.
“But you live in Texas, where there isn’t really a winter,” you might say. Fair enough, but as I mentioned earlier, I used to live and ride in the winter in Idaho, where winter is much colder and harsher than what we experience in Texas. What I use now is far superior to anything I was using then, and should be sufficient for all but the coldest climates. If you’re in one of those frigid northern locales, and ride during the winter, I salute you.