30 Miles at 20 degrees

Time for my usual lunch outing with a friend. Wait! It’s only 20 degrees out there. It’s 15 miles to his place.

No worries. I have my new Gerbing heated vest. I’ll take the bike.

The F650 hadn’t been started in a while and it had been very cold. Wouldn’t start. My guess is a little condensation in the fuel or in the cylinder. Maybe a coating of frost on the plugs? Don’t know. Eventually I got it going with some starter fluid sprayed near the air intake.

I have left the 20W50 weight oil in it so far this winter, so that didn’t help either. Pretty stiff.

Also, I had to spread some ice melt in order to have some footing to keep the bike upright until I got out of the driveway and onto the pavement.


My $50 vest controller loops over the handlebar. You press the round button to cycle it through OFF(no light), FULL POWER(red), 3/4(blinking red),1/2(green) and 1/4(blinking green). One end connects to an SAE outlet from the battery and the other plugs into the vest.

I used some “8 hour” hand warmers between my outer mittens and the liner mittens. Over the fingers. My thumbs did get cold. Also my knees. Need to do something about the knees.

Well, I’m out there on the bike making my way in traffic. I can almost hear the thoughts, “Wait a second, it’s 20 degrees out there. What is this guy doing?”

“No woman would be so stupid!” Probably accurate.

“That’s out there!” Obviously.

“I knew it! It had to be a Beemer.” Another BMW nut.

“Captain America!” Vague admiration hidden in sarcasm.

Actually, I’m having a good time. It’s an adventure. Why? I’m the only bike in sight for one thing. Never saw another. It’s cold, but I am prepared. Also, there’s that mental magic, “It’s just not as cold on a bike as you would think”.

I don’t know why.

P.S. It turns out 20 degrees was a really warm day. Lately it’s been hovering around zero. Fahrenheit. For the time being, the bike is sitting happily on the battery tender.


Cold Weather Riding: Part 6


Some people drive up from Boston to go skiing at Gunstock. They look over as an old BMW pulls in with a pair of snow shoes strapped on the back. “Whaaaaa?”


It’s alarming. No one rides a motorcycle to a ski area in February.

“What does that guy know that I don’t know?”

For one thing, it’s only 1/4 mile from my house to the ski area. I don’t get cold on a three minute ride.

I disappear into the woods.


Steep Part


Half way up Cobble Mountain, I notice some critters have been sharing this section of the trail. But their tracks veer off towards this shelter:


A warm south facing rock overhang, dry pine needle floor, no mortgage.


Snow-coated Alton Bay in the distance.


Gunstock Downhill Ski Runs


Panorama High Speed Quad running full capacity in the distance.

Back home an hour and a half later. Hot tea. Then, more hot tea.

Cold Weather Riding: Part 5

The F650 has been accumulating that white powdery, road salt, metal-eating,  winter worn look. It’s 33 degrees, sun is shining, roads are dry. That’s right! Time to head for the local car wash.

But why not do it with a bit more comfort?


Check these out. Got them for Christmas.  They come in a foil pouch and as soon as the air hits them they start producing heat. How? It’s a blend of iron powder, water, salt, activated charcoal and vermiculite. Sort of a very slow-acting, self-igniting gunpowder, I imagine.


I have been using an LLBean wool mitten liner inside an old pair of down ski mittens. I put the Yaktrax pouch just on the outside of the wool mitten above my fingertips.  With the wool mitten already inside the down one, it’s easy to slip the pouch in-between and get it where you want it.

Sure enough, I could feel the heat as I set off down the road. My face was feeling cold until I realized my face shield wasn’t down all the way. After that it was all cozy.

At the car wash do-it-yourself bay, I took the mittens and helmet off and put on a lighter pair of gloves to handle the wash equipment.

A nice thing about having the heat in your mittens is you can afford to get your hands cold performing a task that requires your fingers out in the open, like putting 12 quarters into the wash machine. You get relief as soon as the mittens go back on.

I use up my 3 minutes with prewash, soap, wax and rinse. I try not to blast away near the wheel and suspension bearings. Some places you want the grease to stay. I wipe down the bike. I’m on my way on a clean machine.

Do the hand warmers work? I’m riding back into the driveway thinking I’d like to stay out longer. Why not. My hands are fine.

Let’s see now, how far south do I need to ride in the cold before I find 50-degree weather? It’s been on my mind.



Cold Weather Riding: Part 4

Here in the middle of New Hampshire winter, it has actually warmed up a bit, hitting the mid 30’s F during the day. The roads are more or less bare and dry. Lovely riding weather!

But I know winter riding isn’t for everyone. If I had $16K or more invested in a showroom condition chrome goddess, for example, there might only be 3 or 4 worthy riding days a year.   More generally, though, most North American motorcycles are ridden for pleasure and pleasure rides are typically long, often a whole day. Winter is too cold for that.

Conventional wisdom assumes you will properly prep your bike for storage, squirrel it away in late fall, and then prep it again for riding in the spring. Even a serious enthusiast like Peter Egan of Cycle World keeps his Wisconsin garage door shut this time of year.

For these and many other reasons, winter riding is almost universally a non-starter. And that means I am definitely interested in doing it.

My winter prep is simple. Late last fall I changed the normal 20W50 oil to 10W40. Coated vulnerable parts with ACF50 aircraft corrosion inhibitor.  Snapped the big muffs over the handlebar controls. That’s it. Good to go.

By cold weather, I mean 10 degrees F overnight and 20 degrees or more when I start it. Nothing severe. But even with the lighter oil, the engine is pretty stiff cranking over. If I have enough time, I like to put the bike up on the center stand, start it, and then let it idle until it thoroughly warms up.


After the initial cold start, there is a big white vapor stream coming out the exhaust, but after it warms up the white puffs disappear. I usually make a few short trips during the day and the subsequent starts are more like normal warm-weather starts.

The spots on the pavement are frost droplets that melted and ran off the dark cover after the sun had been on it for awhile. Normally the bike is under a tarp/enclosure at the house we are building, but last night I left it in the parking lot behind our condo. I know where to park it so no space ranger will run over it in the dim pre-dawn light.

There is something very satisfying about firing up the trusty BMW, defying the cold. The bike is like medicine and road conditions can leave it sitting for days at a time and me in a funk. Sure, I can borrow my wife’s Infiniti and enjoy those heated seats and the “snow-mode” AWD traction, but the F650 is the thing that puts the happy magic on me. It’s what I need.

I do a lot of shuttling back and forth between the new house and the condo. It’s about 1/4 mile. For these brief trips I don’t need any special clothing no matter what the temperature, just what I would normally wear outside. Plus helmet of course.

A serious winter ride for me is 20-25 minutes at 25 degrees, and I dress warm.

The head gets a close fitting black balaclava under the full face modular black HJC helmet with internal sun shade. When stopped, the clear visor can fog up so I try to exhaust my breath out the bottom of the helmet. Worst case I can partially raise the visor to see while stopped then drop it when I get under way. The sun shade seems to help with the fogging, somehow altering the air flow in front of my face.

Here’s a secret: The full face modular helmet is like sticking your head into an insulated case and it’s amazing how a warm head will tame the cold. Huddled inside their cars, you just know people are wondering what’s wrong with you, out there in the brutal cold. For some reason a snowmobile rider (also wearing a helmet) makes more sense to them, but I’d rather be me with my short, useful rides.

The torso gets a cotton T shirt, a long sleeved mock turtle neck UnderArmor layer, a light wool long sleeved layer,  a second UnderArmor layer, a turtle neck long sleeved cotton pullover, a light down jacket and finally my windproof warm-up jacket.  Seven relatively thin layers.

By the way, bright sunshine in the cold is worth almost 10 degrees F of comfort.

Legs have tight fitting UnderArmor bottoms and Duluth canvas work pants with cargo pockets.

Feet get ordinary winter socks and my Skarpa insulated, waterproof hiking boots.  I have good circulation in my feet.

For the hands, I use an UnderArmor mitten liner glove, down mittens, and the handlebar muffs. My hand circulation is not that great, so they can get chilled on a long ride. Mittens make it harder to operate the directional button and especially the high beam switch, but the clutch, front brake and throttle are manageable and not a safety issue.

It sounds like a lot to deal with, but working on the house I already have a a lot of it on. The thing is, this configuration works for me. I can ride in comfort with confidence, knowing I will be fine. Worst case I feel a little chill near the end of the ride. I prefer the low tech approach and have so far resisted electric heat of any kind on my short trips. Winter touring would be another story.

Surprise! Wind chill is mostly irrelevant in winter riding.  Why? You are already moving through the air at 40-50 mph and that’s typically much more than any breezes in the forecast. So whether the wind is blowing or not, you have already covered that issue with your gear. Winter wind briefly becomes an issue when you are stopped and have your gloves off to organize things or work on the bike. Fueling it, etc.

Keep in mind that cold tires don’t grip the pavement as well as warm tires, and the road can have a light dusting of sand or salt, or patches of black ice in the morning from snowbanks melting onto the roadway and freezing overnight. You have to ride more conservatively. Extensive black ice is a show stopper, by the way. It is fortunate, in one sense, that the suspension is stiffer in the cold. It offers a bumpy reminder of the wintry conditions. But with the upright F650, I can easily shift my weight onto the pegs and glide over anything.

I don’t see any other bikes on the road, and I do mean none, when the temperature drops below 40F and stays there. Winter riding is apparently a secret pleasure. What is the secret? If you have a minimalist attitude, warm clothes, flexible schedule, the need to make a lot of short purposeful trips and a bike that weathers well, you can keep the motorcycle magic going all winter long.