Now that summer is over and winter is more or less on top of us you might be thinking that it's time to put away your dirt-bike for the winter. But, believe it or not, this is the best time to ride ; at least until the snow get too deep. Many people think of dirt-bike riding as being a summer sport. But in reality, at least in Central Washington, riding in the late fall, early winter can be some of the best riding conditions you will find. For the most part, riding in the mountains is finished by mid-November due to snow accumulation. But there are still lots of places to ride in "the desert". The great thing about this time of year is the terrain has some moisture in it so those sandy sections actually have great traction. The daytime temperatures are relatively low so you don't over-heat. Believe it or not, once you get going riding in 30 degree weather is quite comfortable.
The real key to enjoying yourself while riding in the winter is dressing appropriately. One of the common mistakes I see people make is over dressing for the ride. When you are standing around waiting for that one person to get his or her boots on at the staging area and it's 30 degrees with a breeze, it makes perfect sense to wear your winter parka. But once you get moving your winter jacket suddenly becomes a mini-sauna. Here are some tips and maybe some Christmas list ideas to keep you comfortable.
First and foremost, the number one thing you need to remember is NO COTTON! That includes socks and underwear. Cotton is great when it's dry, but once you start moving and sweating it quickly transforms from warm and soft to cold and sticky and puts you on the road to hypothermia. There are many alternatives to cotton that are still warm, can breathe and will wick the moisture away so you stay warm even when they are a little damp.
Starting with the feet; personally my feet tend to get cold. So, the best solution I have found is two pairs of socks. The first pair is usually thin, like a summer sock, that is some sort of synthetic material. Over that I wear a heavier boot type sock. The thinner sock will help wick moisture away from your skin, while the heavy sock provides the insulation that you need. The combination of the two will keep your feet reasonably warm all day, even when everyone wants to stand around talking about their feelings.
Next, moving on up the body, the legs. Again, this is one of those things that it is really easy to over dress and end up too hot. I recommend your regular riding pants. But under those pants go wither either a pair of tights (like yoga pants, yeah I know super sexy) or if it is really cold a pair of heavier thermal underwear (long johns). If you do go the long-john route steer clear of the cheap cotton variety. I have found that thin tights work just fine in just about any temperature. Just like with the socks, the thin nylon tights wick moisture off the skin and offer a small amount of insulation, while at the same time your regular pants are offering the bulk of the insulation against the cold. Remember, dirt-bike riding is an active sport. Bulky clothes are great when you are sitting around the fire, but not when you are trying to navigate a rocky single track canyon.
Next on our list is your torso. Just like before, a thin base layer is where you should start. There are lots of work-out type under shirts that work just fine. Start with one of these next to the skin, then your jersey. If it's really cold out I have an insulated jersey that I will use. Normally the combination of the base layer, the jersey and my chest protector are enough to keep me nice and cozy. But if those are still not quite enough I also carry a light-weight wind breaker type jacket. Something small enough that it fits in my pack. Just keeping the wind from blowing through the mesh of your jersey is usually enough to stay nice and warm.
For your neck and head there are a few options. If you start early enough you can grow a cave-man beard and wa-la have natural insulation. But, that's not an option for everyone. So I recommend a thin balaclava under your helmet (one of those Ninja masks). There are several varieties of balaclava's out there. Personally I stay with the very light-weight kind. They are generally enough to keep the wind off the skin but don't over-heat your noggin in the process.
Last, but not least are your hands. The hands are probably one of the hardest things to get warm when you are riding. I have tried using a variety of techniques to overcome this problem , including heavy snow gloves. But I have found that thick gloves are very uncomfortable and tend to impede the handlebar controls. So, what I have found that works for me is to to carry two sets of gloves. I start off with a pair of Fox Polar Paws. These are actual dirt-bike gloves but they are thicker on the back of the hand, but the palm side is normal thickness so they don't feel as bulky. For some, that may be all you need. Personally I don't like the bulky feeling on my hands. So, once I am warmed up a bit, I put the Polar Paws away an switch to my regular gloves. When there is stop of some sort, if my hands are getting cold I just put them in front of the exhaust while the bike is running or even hold onto the muffler if it is not. Normally, while I am riding, the combination of my own body heat and the little bit of wind-break from my hand guards is enough to keep my hands comfortable. Also, by switching out, I have a dry pair of gloves in my pack if I need them. Another technique that works reasonably well if you don't want to spend the money is go and get yourself a pair of those knit gloves that look really small but stretch to fit your hand and then wear those inside your normal gloves. I have also talked to people that wear latex gloves under their regular gloves, but that's a little too hot and steamy for my taste.
Having said all that about how to dress, keep in mind that riding in the winter has it's own set of problems. So always be prepared. You should carry an emergency blanket in your pack, some way to make a fire and maybe a couple of hand-warmer packets. You never know when you may find yourself in a bad situation and having to hang-out in the cold for a while.
If you are looking for someone to ride with in sunny Central Washington check out this Facebook group: