Is it Safe to Ride A Motorcycle When it is Snowing?

Written by Steven Matz on . Posted in .

One of the best things about riding a motorcycle is that riders feel free — like it is just them and the open road. It can be enjoyable and relieve stress. However, in Michigan, the open road can get very cold and snowy in the winter. Is riding a motorcycle in the snow safe? Maybe not.

Motorcycles provide year-round enjoyment, but they can also be unsafe if riders are not vigilant about the weather. Snowy and icy conditions can make for a perilous ride. If you decide to drive in the snow, keep reading to learn the best practices of riding in winter conditions. If you need a motorcycle accident attorney, Matz Injury Law is here for you.

How Cold is Too Cold to Ride a Motorcycle?

Michigan sees an average snowfall of about 61 inches per year. The average high daily temperature during the winter months in Michigan (from December 1 to March 7) is under 41 degrees Fahrenheit. While it may be uncomfortable to ride your motorcycle in colder temperatures, you might wonder if it is actually unsafe.

Ultimately, your own limitations will determine whether riding your motorcycle in cold weather is a good idea for you. However, if the temperature is below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit), it is probably a good idea to avoid riding. Ice can form at these temperatures, making it extremely dangerous to be on your bike. Hitting black ice can result in losing control of your bike, which often leads to motorcycle accidents.

You should consider several aspects of winter weather in addition to temperature before you get on your motorcycle.

  • Sudden body temperature drops. You are likely to sweat under your motorcycle gear even in cold weather. The moisture on your body can get cold fast, leading to a whole-body temperature drop. Motorcyclists can develop hypothermia under these conditions.
  • Wind chill factor. As a motorcyclist, you know the wind can whip you around on your bike. When the wind chill is already high, getting on a motorcycle will often only make it worse. Wind chill can turn a fun ride deadly in low temperatures.
  • Frostbite. You can get sudden frostbite while on a motorcycle. It occurs when your body loses heat. It most often affects the uncovered extremities, especially your fingers and nose. Your toes can also be frostbite targets in some situations as well.

Unfortunately, if you are bitterly cold, you are likely to become distracted on your motorcycle. Distraction due to intense cold can lead to severe motorcycle accidents.

In fact, some fall weather might not be particularly safe for bikers, either. Some northern parts of Michigan will see snow during the fall, so motorcyclists need to check the forecasts before taking any extended trips.

Do People Ride Motorcycles During the Winter?

Yes. You certainly can ride your motorcycle in the winter. The temperature, wind chill, and snowfall will determine whether it is safe to ride during the winter months. In addition, your experience on the bike will also dictate whether riding your motorcycle in the winter is a good idea.

What Are the Safety Precautions a Motorcyclist Should Take When Riding in Michigan Snow?

Motorcycle riding can be dangerous no matter what season it might be. However, winter riding includes a few more hazards that motorcyclists should consider. Specifically, visibility is a problem at any time, but it is even worse in a snowstorm or other winter weather.

Below are seven safety precautions and riding tips you should consider before you hit the road during the winter.

1.  Slow Down

Winter weather driving calls for decreased speed no matter what kind of vehicle you are driving, but it is especially important to slow down on a motorcycle. Reducing your speed gives you more time to respond to road hazards and the traffic in front of you. Although it may feel like you can turn or stop on a dime, hitting black ice or even sliding a little bit can be devastating for someone on a motorcycle.

Snow and ice reduce traction in the winter. Reducing your speed gives you a better chance to find traction and stop in time to avoid a collision.

2.  Increase Following Distance

Because it is harder to stop in the winter, the following distance should increase, so you have more time to slow down and stop in case of an emergency or sudden stop. The normal rule in good conditions is about two or three seconds of space. Increasing the distance to four or five seconds in the winter might be a good idea.

On a cold motorcycle, your reaction times might be slower, too. That means that you should not only increase your distance between those ahead of you but also keep an eye out for tailgaters. If someone is following too close behind you, consider motioning them around or pulling over.

3.  Adjust for Road Conditions

Road surface hazards, like snow and ice, increase dramatically in the winter. Even morning frost can be dangerous. Accumulating sand or salt can be a problem for a motorcyclist in Michigan as well. Potholes are often more likely to develop in the winter because of road salt, sand, snowplows, and temperature changes.

To increase your overall safety, try to avoid any area with snow or ice. Realistically, however, if you are going to ride in the winter, that is not always possible. Just reduce speed and remain aware of the conditions around you. Avoid potholes if possible.

4.  Wear Bright Clothing

The gear you wear can have a huge impact on your safety in the winter. You should not only consider the cold but think about visibility as well. Visibility declines sharply in winter weather or snowstorms, so having bright or reflective gear can be very helpful in those situations.

Many people simply do not expect to see motorcyclists in the winter, so they are even less likely to be on the lookout for them. Do what you can to be seen — avoid dark clothing as that can make you blend into the winter scenes around you.

5.  Use Winter Tires

Various types of snow tires for vehicles are pretty easy to come by in Michigan. However, that is not necessarily the case for motorcycles. Companies make winter tires for traction control on icy roads, but they can be difficult to obtain in the United States.

Keep in mind that studded tires for ice racing are not street worthy and should only be used off-road. Instead, find winter tires rated to be sticky below 40 degrees. However, even though these tires are effective below 40 degrees, they tend to be less effective than the average tire and wear out quickly.

6.  Install a Windshield 

A windshield can be very helpful for keeping the cold wind at bay while you are on your bike. If you do not have a touring motorcycle (which generally comes with a windshield), there are still plenty of aftermarket windshield options available.

7.  Use a Thermometer 

You might also consider adding a handlebar-mounted thermometer to your bike for cold-weather motorcycle riding. Keeping an eye on the cold air temperature will help you gauge your risk for hypothermia or frostbite.

What Winter Weather Impacts Should a Rider Take Under Consideration in Michigan?

Preparation is key when it comes to winter weather driving. Check the weather wherever you are going before you go. Below are just a few additional items to consider before you hit the road.

  • Distractions. In winter weather, other drivers will be more distracted than they are normally. Practice defensive driving and assume that a driver does not see you in most circumstances. Your distraction levels might increase as well. Being cold and looking out for ice and snow might decrease your level of attention when it comes to vehicles around you.
  • Wind. Do not underestimate how cold the wind can be on a motorcycle during the winter. Because of the speed you travel, you can end up with frostbite even in warmer weather. Consider an example: Image in its 40 degrees out. If you are traveling 65 miles per hour, that ends up being a wind chill factor of 24 degrees. Your skin exposed to 24-degree temperatures can develop frostbite.
  • Hypothermia. When your body temperature drops below 95 degrees, you are at risk of developing hypothermia. You may be surprised how quickly this can happen on a motorcycle during winter. Look for early signs, such as uncontrollable shivering, numbness, tingling, burning, or itching sensations. Stop and get warm if you think you may be developing hypothermia.
  • Frostbite. Frostbite can be especially concerning when your core temperature drops. Your body will rush to conserve heat for your organs, taking that heat from your fingers and toes. If that happens, frostbite can result. Operating your brakes and throttle can be very difficult when you do not have feeling in your fingers and toes.

What Gear Do You Need to Wear to Ride in the Snow?

Wearing the right gear can mean the difference between a fun winter ride and a dangerous situation. Ultimately, temperature and conditions will play a large part in the winter gear you should use. If you are going to do some winter motorcycle riding, be sure you have the following riding gear.

Full-Face Helmet

Wearing a helmet is always a good idea (and sometimes legally required in Michigan). However, having a full-face helmet has another benefit — it will keep the wind off your face while you ride. It will also help with visibility and provide protection from snow and other precipitation. Some have helpful visors that can help with reflective snow as well.

Good winter weather helmets also come with vents that can be closed. These vents let out heat when necessary but keep out the cold while you are riding.

Warm Base Layer

Layering up properly is critical if you plan to take your bike out in the snow. Insulating layers will help keep up your core temperature. Even a full-riding suit might require a layer or two as a base.

Wool can be a good option, but some prefer moisture-wicking fabrics that trap body heat instead. One is not necessarily better than the other, so experiment to determine your preference.

Heated Gear

Heated gear can be extremely helpful. It not only keeps you safe but also makes the entire ride more enjoyable. Heated jackets and gloves keep your core temperature up and help prevent frostbite. Keeping your fingers warm can also help increase your reaction time as well.

Although heated gear can be more expensive, if you plan to do extensive winter weather riding, it might be worth the investment. If you want to make a larger investment in heated gear, a heated seat might be a good option to deal with cold temperatures.

Neck Protection

The neck is sometimes overlooked when it comes to motorcycle gear. A full helmet is helpful for your head, and a jacket works great for the shoulder and chest down, but the neck is sometimes left exposed to the elements.

A neck gaiter or balaclava can be a good option. It will not only keep your neck warm but also prevent heat from your helmet or jacket from escaping. Having a windproof option can make your ride much more comfortable.

Gloves

It goes without saying that motorcyclists need gloves to ride in the snow. However, the importance of having suitable gloves cannot be overstated. You need your fingers and hands to operate your bike, and having cold, stiff hands will slow your reaction time. Significant wind chill can lead to quick frostbite on your fingers if you are not careful as well.

Leather work gloves or fleece-lined gloves can be a good option. You can also layer more heavy-duty gloves on top to provide extra crash protection in addition to more warmth.  

What is the Best Time of Day to Ride a Motorcycle in the Snow in Michigan?

If you are going to ride in the snow, it is best to start your trip early. While it may be colder in the morning, you are more likely to encounter “virgin snow” if you ride in the morning. Virgin snow is snow that has not been touched by footprints or other vehicles. This snow is not yet compacted, so it provides slightly more grip than compacted snow.

If you encounter compacted snow (snow with tire marks), try to use the untouched areas. The center or side of the road is often the best place to find fresh snow that will provide better traction. Compacted snow is slippery, which can lead to control issues.

Avoid nighttime riding if you can. Traveling in the dark is dangerous when there is no snow, but it can be even worse in the snow. Visibility decreases, making motorcycle accidents that much more likely.

Which Weather Condition Has Caused the Most Crashes Nationwide?

Most motorcyclists simply decline to get on their bikes in the winter. It is cold and uncomfortable and not the safest option available. As a result, snowy conditions are actually not the weather condition that leads to the most accidents. Instead, most accidents occur on clear or cloudy days — exactly when you would expect most motorcyclists to want to be on their bikes.

If more motorcyclists traveled during the winter, you would likely see a spike in collisions and crashes. This is particularly likely in Michigan because we see triple the amount of snow than the average state in the United States.

Is Driving in the Snow Ultimately Safe?

Ultimately, driving in snow and ice on your motorcycle is one of the least safe weather conditions. Snow creates a serious road hazard, and even the most experienced motorcyclist may not be able to handle it well. It can be unpredictable and inconsistent, causing serious accidents.

The best time to ride a motorcycle is when the weather is great — clear conditions that allow for no road hazards and good visibility. However, if you ride a motorcycle in the snow, use the tips above to make your travels safer.

What Happens If I Get Into a Motorcycle Accident in the Snow?

If you get into an accident in the snow in Michigan, you should take the same steps as if you were in any other type of accident. Be sure to get medical attention right away and call the police to report the accident. Taking photos of the crash and getting witness contact information can also be very helpful.

Michigan’s cold weather can be very dangerous after an accident. If possible, get yourself to a warm place while you wait for the police to arrive. If you get in someone else’s car to warm up, avoid talking about the accident — do not admit fault or tell anyone that you are fine.

Be sure to seek medical attention even if you do not think you are seriously injured. The adrenaline of the situation can mask pain and anxiety.

How Accident Attorneys Earn You More Compensation

A Michigan motorcycle accident attorney can help you assert your legal rights after a motorcycle accident. They will assist with gathering information and records from medical treatment, talking to witnesses, and much more. At Matz Injury Law, we do the leg work for you after an accident so you can focus on healing and recovery.

Is Your Life Worth Riding a Motorcycle in the Snow?

If you can avoid riding your motorcycle in the snow, do it. The risk of a motorcycle crash outweighs the benefits. Do not put your life in danger for a thrill!

Turn to Matz Injury Law for help after a motorcycle accident. Contact us online or call  1-866-22Not33 to learn more about how we can help or schedule a free consultation.

Written By Steven Matz

Steven J. Matz is a founding shareholder of Matz Injury Law. The firm’s concentration is on personal injury litigation, with an emphasis on traumatic brain injury. Mr. Matz earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with high distinction and highest honors in 1974 from the University of Michigan and a Juris Doctor degree in 1977 from The George Washington University National Law Center. Mr. Matz lectures and publishes in a number of areas, including ethics, marketing, trial tactics, and head injury. Mr. Matz has served on the Michigan Association for Justice Executive Board and currently serves the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board as a Hearing Panel Chairman and Master. He is also a member of the State Bar Committee for Character and Fitness.
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