Cold-Weather Gear for Winter Riding

Cold-weather gear to wear under your regular gear.

River Road face helmet

This Thermal-Lined Balaclava from River Road is 90 percent polyester and 10 percent spandex. $13.95;

Photo courtesy River Road Gear

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When the weather starts to cool, our thoughts turn to how to extend the riding season as long as possible. If you already ride in a full set of motorcycle gear (helmet, jacket, riding pants, gloves, boots, etc.), then you’re already partway there. If you regularly ride in a good one- or two-piece touring suit like an Aerostich Roadcrafter, a Joe Rocket Survivor or Firstgear Kathmandu, then all you need are a few extra layers underneath (and maybe an electric vest), and you’ll be warm and ready to ride as long as the road surfaces are passable. Here’s our short list of recommended layers:

1. As the temps start to fall, we always opt for a full face helmet. Some people wear them year-round, and that’s never a bad idea for safety’s sake, but there’s no questioning the superior warmth full face helmets provide over three-quarter or half helmets in cold weather. And below 50F or so, the addition of a good balaclava to your outfit can make the difference between an unpleasant ride and a comfortable one. Simple, affordable and easy to pack, we suggest buying one and keeping it in your tank bag year-round. This Thermal-Lined Balaclava from River Road is 90 percent polyester and 10 percent spandex. The thermal lining protects the face and neck from wind, providing warmth, and gives your ears another layer of insulation, too. Get one. They’re one of the most under-appreciated, inexpensive and forgotten-about pieces of riding gear out there. Price: $13.95.

2. There are many ways to keep your hands warm when riding, but one of the simplest is to slip on a pair of silk glove liners underneath your favorite pair of non-ventilated riding gloves. Silk liners provide a nice extra layer of insulation without adding bulk, and just like the balaclava, they’re easy to pack: Put a pair in your tank bag and you’ll always be prepared for those cold mornings and evenings. We ordered these black 100 percent silk knit liners, which feature an elastic wrist cuff, from Tour Master. We ordered a size large, our normal glove size, and they fit perfectly under our favorite pair of Aerostich Elkskin Roper gloves. Price: $14.99.

3. It’s easy to think that the colder it is outside, the bigger and heavier a jacket you need to keep your insides warm. But there are better ways to keep warm without feeling like little Ralphie from A Christmas Story. Layers, layers, layers. Start with the basics. A cheap set of cotton or cotton/polyester long underwear from your local department store is better than nothing, but fabric technology has come a long way over the years, giving us options that are thinner, lighter and warmer. This TPG Cold Weather Basegear top and bottom set from Firstgear is made of multiple fabric layers. The top features an outer nylon shell with a wind- and water-resistant front panel to keep you warm and dry, plus a waterproof, breathable middle membrane sandwiched in a fleece lining for warmth. The bottoms feature wind- and water-resistant front panels on the legs, with a double fabric combination to wick moisture away and circulate body heat. Sold separately. Price: $69.95 each.

4. What should you put on over your base layers? A comfortable shirt and jeans are a good start, followed by another insulating layer. For a shirt, we like the Full Blast Layer Pullover from Joe Rocket. This shirt has a soft shell made of polyester and elastane (think spandex) for added warmth and breathability, along with a tall collar to block out the wind. The offset neck zipper keeps you from having too many thick zippers stacked at the front of your neck, and the back is longer than the front so you can tuck it in for extra warmth. The long sleeves each feature a thumb hole to keep them in place, and the over-lock stitching of the panels is on the outside for greater comfort. Price: $69.99.

5. A pair of fleece pants over your jeans provides another thin, insulating layer without adding too much bulk. These Aerostich TLTec Wind Blocker Fleece Pants are made of Aerostich’s TLTec 100 fleece, which is a warm, soft and comfortable all-purpose two-sided fleece that features a thinner micro velour outer face with a moisture-wicking mesh back side. This is the thinnest, most packable of Aerostich’s three different levels of fleece gear. They feature YKK two-way zippers running down the outside of the pant legs for ventilation and convenience, making them quicker to put on than changing into long underwear if temps suddenly change while you’re on the road. Price: $120. A matching TLTec Wind Blocker Fleece Sweater is also available ($120).

6. Don’t forget about your feet. Unless you ride a BMW boxer (BMW clearly designed the boxer engine to provide the faithful with warm toes year-round!), good socks are vital. These Thermal Tech Socks from Alpinestars use a knit fabric designed specifically for riding. They use a warming, breathable and moisture-wicking fabric, and the sole of the socks is combined with Nostatex fibers to provide antibacterial properties and to dissipate heat evenly throughout the sole to provide overall comfort. Price: $19.95. MC

Get electric: Why a heated vest may be all you need

Beyond basic warm clothing are a variety of electric clothing options, not to mention heated motorcycle grips and seats designed to keep a rider warm in the saddle. But where to start? We say an electric vest, and the Aerostich Kanetsu AirVantage is the vest we’ve been wearing (and recommending) for years. It’s a simple theory, but one that works. With the AirVantage vest, your core stays warmer, helping your body circulate warmer blood to your extremities. I got my AirVantage in the fall of 2005, and it’s still the one piece of gear that buys me weeks of riding time in both the fall and the spring every year. The AirVantage vest uses air panels to transfer heat from the vest’s heating elements to the rider’s body. Simply inflate the air panels, plug in the vest, and go. If you get too warm, deflate the vest for a cooler ride, or unplug it. And the air panels insulate quite well on their own. For really cold riding, I wear long johns, street clothes and my Kanetsu vest underneath my one-piece Aerostich Roadcrafter. This setup keeps me perfectly warm behind the fairing of my Laverda, letting me make my 60-mile round-trip daily commute in comfort even when the temps drop down to the 30s. Price: $247. — Richard Backus