Never Lick A Frozen Fender
And Other Tips for Winter Scooter Riding
By David Westman, SQREAM Denver
If you love riding scooters as much as I do, youre gonna be tempted to ride all year long, even through the bone-chilling months of winter. With the high price of gas, that temptation to ride your scooter with Jack Frost nipping at your nose (and other exposed body parts) is even stronger. The only way to get rid of temptation is to give in to it, in the immortal words of Oscar Wilde. So lets give in.
I gave in last year, riding my scooter through one of our Colorado winters. We are fortunate in Denver in that we have a lot of sunny winter days, dry roads and not much ice. But wherever you live, these winter riding tips will get you through to spring -- unless you drive around Key West. And then we all just hate you.
To survive scooter winter riding, there are three things to keep in mind yourself, your scooter and your riding environment. Lets take a closer look at these factors in order to stay warm, safe and upright all winter long.
Our first priority is to keep your body warm, dry and safe. One reason we get cold riding on a scooter is that we dont generate much body heat just sitting on a bike. The other reason is wind chill.
You need to protect yourself from the cooling effects of wind chill, including hypothermia and frostbite. Weve all experienced the cooling effects of wind chill during summer. Winter weather conditions multiply that effect even more so. Did you know that exposed skin is at risk for frostbite in temperatures as warm as 55 degrees? Riding at 30 mph on a 45 degree day can result in hypothermia and frostbite in just 30 minutes. Wind chill is the enemy. Your clothing and gear are your protection.
Helmet. A full-face helmet is a must in winter riding. You lose 90% of your body heat through the top of you head. A full-face helmet with a face shield is going to retain that heat and keep your face from freezing into a permanent grin. Your breath will cause fogging on the face shield, especially when stopped. Coat your face shield with a good anti-fog solution or cloth, which can be found at ski shops. A snowmobile breath deflector also works great at keeping your breath from fogging up your face shield.
Neck Gasket or Scarf. A lot of people forget to cover their neck when riding in winter. Your helmet only goes down so far and your jacket only comes up so high. Cold wind can funnel down your jacket, cooling your torso in no time at all. So cover your neck and block that airflow. A combination of balaclava and wool scarf will keep your neck warm.
Jacket and Layers. A good motorcycle jacket with armor and a zipped-in furry lining can do wonders. Watch out for exposed zippers. Cold wind can penetrate and rush right in. Look for jackets with wind flaps that cover up the zippers. A good motorcycle jacket will also fasten at the waist, keeping cold wind from going up. Ski jackets can also make a good second choice. Look for one with good insulation inside and wind breaking resistance on the outer shell. Ski jackets can also be found in bright colors, increasing your visibility. People do not expect to see scooters on the street during winter, so they more you can make yourself visible, the better. Wear several layers of clothing under your jacket to better retain body heat, including a layer of thermal or fleece undergarments.
Keep your torso warm. When your torso gets too cool, it restricts blood flow to your hands and feet and they get colder. As strange as it sounds, the best way to keep your hands and feet warm is to keep your torso warm.
Gloves. Wearing gloves for winter riding is a must and a top priority. Your hands operate the primary controls of the scooter and its crucial to keep them warm and working. Look for a good pair of winter riding gloves from a motorcycle shop. Insulation without too much bulk is key. Look for a high-efficiency lining like Thinsulate. Gloves with pre-curved fingers will give you the best feel and comfort when gripping your throttle, clutch and brakes. Thin glove liners can also add extra insulation. If you are driving a "twist-n-go" bike, you can get away with mittens, which will keep your hands warmer. Look for gloves with long cuffs to cover the wrists of your jacket, keeping the wind from going up your arms.
Pants and Boots. Lose the jeans. Cotton provides no insulation or protection from wind chill. A good pair of snowmobile pants will give you the insulation and protection you need. Or consider a pair of ski pants with good wind-breaking capabilities over your regular pants. Look for pants that are longer, to help cover your ankles and boots while in a seated position. The nice thing about a scooter over a motorcycle is that we have a leg shield. This reduces wind chill on our legs. A good pair of insulated, sturdy boots will keep your feet warm and dry. Consider layering your socks if your feet get cold.
Electric Clothing. Theres a whole line of battery operated clothing now available including electric vests, gloves and socks that will keep you warm on longer rides. They even come with thermostat controls so you can regulate the temperature. If you are more susceptible to cold than most, this is a great solution. An electric vest can add warmth without the bulk of extra layers. It will keep your torso warm, which in turn will keep your hands and feet warm.
Even with all your layers, protective gear and clothing, you might still get cold. If so, stop and take a break from riding inside a warm coffee shop or some other place. Drink something warm. Its better to warm yourself up than to keep riding and risk hypothermia and frostbite. Once your body becomes chilled from hypothermia, your ability to control your scooter will deteriorate. You will get clumsy and stupid and thats bound to put an abrupt stop to your riding the hard way.
Now that youre warm and toasty, its time to examine at your scooter.
Windshield. The biggest thing you can do to reduce wind chill is to add a windshield. This will keep the cold air off your body plus protect your from flying rocks, sand and gravel. Some may say it distracts from the aesthetics of the bike and there is the extra cost to consider. Personally, I would rather just add more layers and not be stuck behind a windshield.
Inspect Your Bike. Just like in summer, go down a checklist of things to look for before you go riding.
Your Riding Environment
Ok, youre warm and toasty. Your scooter is ready to circle the North Pole and back. Now what? You need to know the weather and the riding conditions of your area.
The Weather. If youre going to ride in winter, you must know your forecast. Take the time to catch your evening weather forecast on TV, read the paper or surf the net. Your local weatherperson is about to become your best friend. Knowing what temperatures to expect and what bad weather may be heading your way are crucial. Will it be sunny? Is a blizzard headed your way? While the forecast is not always accurate, its much better than knowing nothing at all.
Visibility. As I said earlier, people in cars are not expecting to see scooters riding around in the winter. Make yourself as visible as possible. Wear bright colors. Use your horn to let people know you are there. Dont ride in blind spots. Ride where drivers can see you in their mirrors.
Road Conditions. Watch your local traffic reports. They will often tell you the conditions of the roads in your area, i.e., snow packed, icy, slushy, and dry. Take these into consideration before you drive. If you scoot the commute, youll get to know the road conditions on your route. Always be on the lookout for black ice. Watch for sections of the street that never get any sun. Ice can be sitting there in all that shade.
The ideal winter conditions are a sunny day and a dry road. Your day may even start out that way, but if you ride all winter long youre bound to get stuck in a snowstorm and have to drive on snow or ice. What do you do?
If youre not comfortable riding your scooter over snow and ice, have a back up plan. Call a friend to pick you up. Take a bus, train or cab. If youre stuck at work, see if there is a safe and secure place to store your scooter and then get a ride home.
If you get caught riding in a snowstorm, dont panic. Riding on snow requires that you slow down, ride very smoothly and allow a longer stopping distance. Be slow and gentle with your brakes, clutch, steering and throttle. Watch for cars following too closely. Falling snow will make you harder to see so watch for cars that might cut you off. If its a light snow with signs of stopping, take a break and wait it out.
Watch out for ice on bridges that freeze before the road does. As you ride, look ahead for patches of ice that are in your path and avoid them, if you can. If you find yourself on ice, keep your scooter slow, straight and steady and minimize using your brakes, clutch and throttle.
Some areas of the country, like here in Denver, use sand instead of salt on roads. That sand sits on the roads all winter long so watch out for it. Large grains of sand, i.e., rocks, can be kicked up by cars and truck in front of you. Be careful of the de-icing liquids laid down before a snowstorm. They can make roads very slick.
With these tips in mind, you can safely and warmly ride your scooter through winter and into spring. Get yourself out there in that fresh, cold air. Lifes too short to keep your scooter sitting idle.