Cold Starts & Warm Ambulances!

A relatively small percentage of riders are all year round riders especially the further north or south from the equator where there is likely to be greater seasonal changes. 

In the Northern Hemisphere as the new year has just started, some riders will be looking forward to the spring when they will venture out on their machines again.

From September onwards, the weather generally gets colder and the days get shorter with longer nights, thus there is a greater potential for a deterioration in weather conditions. Early morning frost, ice, snow and more rain affected days become commonplace, hence why a large percentage of riders choose not to ride during the winter months.

For those riders that do ride throughout the winter months, there is a real appreciation of the weather conditions and how that will affect the rider and motorcycle control. Whilst in general, motorcycle accidents are less in the winter months, this is more a reflection on the reduced number of motorcycles on the roads, however the causes are much more linked to the weather and road surface condition than at other times of the year.

What many riders acknowledge is that, riding in the winter requires a certain mental approach, skill set and a greater understanding of the environment that they find themselves in. Greater emphasis is placed on wearing the correct cold/weatherproof motorcycle clothing and riding more conservatively and defensively, allowing extra time & space, paying greater attention to weather reports and how that might affect a particular route.

The winter rider should be planning their route and anticipating how the rider and motorcycle control will be affected by the varying conditions.

E.g. My daily commute to my place of work takes me on a route from urban sea level area, along an exposed rural area, climbing to approx. 900ft (275m) and then back to rural exposed area at just above sea level that has a local climate (micro climate) that is annually colder than its surrounding areas. A good portion of the route has surfaces that are not treated by the local authorities for icing conditions, so although at my departure point the temperatures may be 2-3deg above freezing and perfectly rideable, I know that along my usual route the temperature will be considerably less than that. Therefore there is a much greater risk of road icing especially under the right moisture conditions. This will either mean that I change my route, or choose another mode of transport as the risk is too great to travel on a quiet rural road with a good probability of icing.

Many of the winter motorcycle accidents that are dealt with by the emergency services are caused by a misjudgment by a rider or driver of the weather and road conditions or even a failure to anticipate the errors of other drivers or road users in general.

Many riders and drivers, myself included, might like the notion of starting the engine and letting it run for a while to let it warm up and then commence our journey, but the reality is that most of us will hop on or in, as the case may be, start the engine…engage gear and get going! In many of our perceived lives, there just isn’t time to let the engine warm up…we must get going!…however I’m sure that really isn’t the usual case for most of us. 

Although I will tend to get going soon after I have started the engine, one thing that I make sure of is that for the first few miles I take it easy and ride as smoothly as I can so that the bike components are allowed to warm up as I go along. And the most crucial component, especially during the colder temperatures, is the tyre and tyre pressure. By allowing the tyres time to warm up I am allowing them to perform at their best and allowing them to interact with the road surface to give the best possible grip and traction.

Many of the motorcycle accidents are caused by a failure to allow the motorcycle to perform to its potential or rather demanding a performance beyond its potential at a given time. By performing regular pre ride maintenance checks, by allowing the tyres to warm up gradually and by allowing more space between vehicles thus requiring less hard braking, the rider is more than likely to have an enjoyable, accident & incident free ride which means they are less likely to need the assistance of the emergency services.

Another crucial element, for many reasons, is the wearing of appropriate winter clothing that will keep you warm and dry. Rider discomfort is one of the contributing factors in motorcycle accidents, that not only may distract the rider but may also physically and mentally hinder the performance of the rider. 

Another reason is that good thermal protection will assist the rider in a post accident scenario. If the rider is able to remain warm and dry, then this will not only help the comfort of the rider but also the physical effects resulting from traumatic injuries. 

In many instances, riders who have been involved in an accident are unable to move because of their injuries. They are more than likely lying on a cold and sometimes wet surface which may even exacerbate a hypothermic condition. Any loss of blood will further compound the problem, therefore having the extra thermal layers on in the first place will help to resist a physical deterioration until an emergency assistance arrives. In many cases, even placing extra blankets or coats over an injured rider will achieve little if they are poorly insulated from the cold surface beneath them.

All riders should be aware of the cold journey starts and how the cold and wet combinations may affect the safety of the ride. Wearing good winter clothing will go some way to protect the rider throughout the ride and potentially offer assistance during & after an accident. Although a warm ambulance may be the vehicle that places the rider on a route to salvation, it is probably best to avoid the necessity of such a vehicle, in the first place.

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