Winter motorcycling

Advice from AA motorcycle patrol Stewart Topp

The AA has 50 patrols on motorbikes in six major cities who use their bikes in all but the worst conditions

The AA has 50 patrols on motorbikes in six major cities who use their bikes in all but the worst conditions

Once there's an autumnal chill in the air, many bikers think about putting their cherished machines away till the spring. With proper preparation, however, there's no reason why motorcyclists can't stay on two wheels for most of the winter.

The AA has 50 patrols on motorbikes in six major cities who use their bikes in all but the most difficult conditions.

Stewart Topp was the AA patrol of the year in 2009. He is a motorbike breakdown patrol in London so he's well placed to give tips on winter motorcycling.

Stewart's 'Topp' tips for bikers

Will your motorcycle and gear cope with the extra demands the cold and wet weather will place on them? I give both my bike and my bike clothing a health check around November each year.

As long as you follow these basic steps each year, and always ride to the weather conditions, you should have trouble-free, comfortable and safe riding.

Stewart Topp

Stewart Topp

Tyres

The first thing to check is the tyres. Motorcycle tyres are required by law to have at least 1mm tread depth but this really is the bare minimum and, for the winter months, I would recommend having no less than 2mm. This will allow you to cope better with standing water, wet roads and leaves, which can be a disastrous combination for bikers.

Wet leaves which have built up by the curb can catch out the most experienced of motorcyclists, even at slow speed.

Battery

Most motorcycles automatically run with headlights on all year round now. Along with items such as heated handlebar grips, they can put quite a demand on the battery and charging system. The majority of bikes now have an electric starter motor and no kick start, so a good battery is vital for reliability. A regular overnight trickle charge can really help.

Chain

Another important item is the chain. Ideally you should lubricate the chain and checks its tension every week through winter to avoid corrosion and prolong the life of the chain and sprockets.

Other checks

Consider changing the foot rest rubbers, to help prevent wet boots from slipping.

Check your lights regularly. I keep a rag in the bike to wipe over the headlights to ensure maximum visibility. It's handy to wipe the saddle in the rain too.

Clothing

The most important thing is to be seen. Always wear a high visibility jacket as it could save your life.

You need to consider whether you have the right clothing to keep you warm and dry – whether you have a 10-minute commute or you spend 10 hours on a bike each day like me.

If you're not wearing the right clothing, your body will suffer and your concentration will be impaired.

Spend as much as you can afford on quality kit. If you only have a small budget, it's worth checking out an army surplus shop, as you might be able to save on gloves and balaclavas for example.

Layering your clothing can be warmer than wearing one thick layer, and layers can be removed if you get too hot. Good thermal under-layers can make a big difference in the cold weather.

Wearing sunglasses can help vision on days when the sun is low in the sky. Glasses with brown tinted lenses not only offer protection from the sun, but also enhance red lights – brake and traffic lights etc.

(16 November 2011)