There are three main points to remember in riding in the winter, which are really no different from using a swift and manoeuvrable vehicle at any other time: follow the road guidelines or laws, adjust your riding to the weather conditions, and dress brightly in dark weather.
First of all, before taking to the road, buy some decent clothing in a bright fluorescent/reflective colour that will make you stand out against the tarmac in fog, snow or at night.
A helmet is mandatory on UK roads of course, and it must satisfy either British Standard 6658: 1985 or ECE Regulation 22.05 standards. Make sure that it fits correctly before purchasing, as an incorrectly-sized helmet could be disastrous in an accident. It might be an idea to consult a specialist retailer.
Protective gloves, boots, jacket and trousers must be a priority – wear several layers including full leg and sleeve covering to give extra protection in a fall. Jeans will offer no protection from the scrape of tarmac, and neither will they keep you warm if you have to stop in freezing conditions.
Once on the road, braking on corners needs to be moderated – in an ideal world it would be avoided altogether. Once the traction of the front tyre is lost the likelihood is that the bike will fail to remain upright and the possibility of disaster increases. Of course car and van drivers will face their own driving difficulties, which could make it more difficult to take evasive action should you slide or wobble towards them.
It’s better then to leave early and take your time. Keep your distance from other vehicles, and if you hear someone speeding towards you from behind do not be afraid to pull over and let them pass. Other drivers should be more wary, but sadly some still continue to drive with stupidity, so use your experience and anticipatory skills to adapt. Looking over your shoulder for manoeuvres is a good idea, but be careful with your balance when doing so.
In icy/snowy conditions a good rule of thumb is to stick to the fresh snow or grit on the side of the roads, as it is a more ‘angular’ surface and hence provides more grip for tyres. The compacted snow can be lethal as it becomes smoothed under car tyres, so avoid the ‘dual lanes’ of crushed snow if possible.
Lazymotorbike believes that snow and ice in combination with freezing mist really is a recipe for disaster, and only attempt riding in these conditions as a last resort. Mist can cling to your visor so carry a piece of chamois leather in your pocket. Some gloves have a similar surface built into them, to be used for wiping.
Keep a careful eye on your mirrors for vehicles approaching from nowhere, and overtaking at speed.
If you are riding home in the early afternoon the sun may be very low, creating a dangerous , poor-visibility environment – especially if you are heading towards the light. Turn your headlights on.
Alternatively, if you are travelling in pitch-black roads you’ll see vehicles from some distance away, but you may be faced with few road markings or street lights, additional unlit hazards, and untreated surfaces if you’re taking the back roads. It’s clearly better to stick to main roads, taking breaks if necessary on a long journey – here are more tips for riding in winter courtesy of Michelin.
In conclusion, it’s impossible to be 100% safe on a motorbike, as it is in a car. But with vigilance and concentration, and a well-maintained vehicle, your odds dramatically improve no matter the conditions.