Ride Like a Rebel

But prepare like a boy scout

As I rode through Kinmount, Ontario, yesterday, I saw a lot of riders with vests and bare arms. It stands to reason; it was almost noon and the temperature had risen to 70ºF (21ºC). I was wearing jeans under a pair of protective mesh riding pants and a T-shirt and fleece under a mesh armoured riding jacket and windbreaker. I had stopped to take a break and remove some layers.

Why was I all bundled up while these other riders were not? Simple. I left home at 7:00 a.m. It was 59ºF (15ºC), and I would be taking the multi-lane highway out of Toronto at 100 km/h “ish” out of Toronto. The speed on a motorcycle creates a wind chill effect, and I had to dress for it.

For our purposes, I used the wind chill formula from the National Weather Service. It was the only one from a bona fide source. Unfortunately, the formula only works up to 50ºF (10ºC). The charts below are based on this formula. Lest you’re thinking that you don’t usually ride when the temperature is below 50ºF, the same principle applies to temperatures above, until you get into very warm temperatures where the wind can heat you up, not cool you down. But that isn’t what we’re talking about this time. When I left home, traveling at 100 km/h would make 59ºF (15ºC) feel like less than 50ºF (10ºC)—a reasonable assumption if I extrapolate from the chart.

Now, imagine that you left the house when it was 75ºF (24ºC) and you dressed in a vest with bare arms like the riders I saw. If you run late and have to ride home after the sun has set and the temperature drops back to 59ºF plus wind chill—less than 50ºF—then you’ll be in for a chilly ride, not to mention, potentially dangerous. If it starts to rain, things will go from bad to worse. Rain is cooler than the air temperature and brings the temperature down even further. You get the idea. Even when it looks like it’s a perfect day for riding, if you’re going out for an all-day ride, it makes sense to take additional gear.

I like to ride in Northern Ontario. On my last trip, I remember having the temperature go down to close to freezing at night, even though the days were beautiful for riding. Also, while riding throughout the day, the temperature can vary depending on lake effects, wind, elevation changes, and riding out of one weather system into a new one. Northern Ontario is a rider’s paradise with its winding roads, scenic views, wild animals, waterfalls, and the thrill of nature’s unpredictability. But it’s also an environment where you need to be prepared for anything.

I recall a ride to Ouimet Canyon east of Thunder Bay. The day started sunny and crisp, perfect for riding. By mid-afternoon, clouds had rolled in, and the temperature began to drop. The wind picked up, and soon enough, it started to drizzle. Without the extra layers I packed, that ride would have quickly changed from memorable to miserable.

When dropping temperatures meet rain and wind chill, we can be at risk of hypothermia. Hypothermia can set in when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, which can happen at temperatures well above freezing if you’re cold and wet. This is a real concern for motorcyclists, who are constantly battling the elements at speeds that contribute to wind chill. The unpredictability of weather isn’t just about comfort; it’s about safety. Proper gear is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. But it won’t do you any good if you don’t have it with you.

When planning a long ride, consider the geographical and meteorological challenges you might face. Northern Ontario, with its vast forests, numerous lakes, and rolling hills, can see dramatic temperature swings. In the higher elevations of the Canadian Shield, you might encounter frost in the morning and warm sunshine by noon. Close to large lakes like Lake Superior, sudden fog or a quick rain shower can chill you to the bone. And, of course, the wind is a constant companion, sometimes helpful, often challenging. But this doesn’t just apply to Northern Ontario; I faced the same thing when I rode through the Rockies. I’ve faced it on multi-day rides and I’ve faced it on single-day rides. I’ve faced it on the east coast and on the west coast. Volatile weather can happen anywhere. Be prepared.

Layering is key to staying comfortable and safe. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to keep sweat off your skin. Add a thermal layer for warmth and a windproof and waterproof outer layer to protect against the elements. Don’t forget your extremities—good gloves and socks are essential. I always carry a pair of warmer waterproof gloves.

Lastly, always have a contingency plan. Know where the nearest gas stations, rest stops, and shelters are along your route. Share your travel plans with someone so they know where you’re supposed to be at any given time. If the weather takes a turn for the worse, don’t be afraid to call it a day early even if you were planning on making it back home or to a motel some miles away. I remember riding across the prairies. I was riding in a light rain and getting battered by the trailing winds of a hurricane further south. Instead of the gusts blowing the bike upright, it pushed my bike along the wet pavement. That was a bit of a thrill. There was little I could do but hope that the gust stopped before I was blown off the road. Even though it was only noon, I stopped for the day and started again the next day when the rain had gone and the winds had died down. No ride is worth risking your safety.

Riding is about the journey, not just the destination. Part of that journey is learning to adapt and prepare for whatever the weatherman throws your way. Embrace the unpredictability, but do so with a plan. As I rode back through Kinmount, the sun was setting, and the temperature was dropping. I was glad for every layer I had brought with me. The other riders I had seen earlier, still in their vests and bare arms, might have been regretting their choices as the evening chill set in.

So next time you head out for a ride, think ahead. Plan for the changes in weather, pack that extra layer, and enjoy the ride knowing you’re prepared for anything. Riding is an adventure, and like any good adventure, the key is to be ready for whatever comes your way. So remember, ride like a rebel, but prepare like a Boy Scout.

Ride safe and be seen. Hope to see you out on the road sometime soon.

– John Lewis

John Lewis

John is a passionate moto-traveller and motorcycle enthusiast who enjoys sharing stories that inform, inspire, and entertain. Specialising in motorcycle touring, safety, travel, or just about anything motorcycle-related, John’s insights, travels, and experiences have been featured in national magazines such as Motorcycle Mojo and The Motorcycle Times, as well as on various blogs and websites. When he is not riding or writing, he works as the service manager at a boutique motorcycle shop where he’s always ready to share a story or helpful tip.

One comment

  1. John Brennand

    When I got my V-Strom I added, among other things, an Admore tail light. I started riding with a group of riders scattered across the Lower Mainland of BC and parts of Washington state. One of them was a former bike racer who passed on his opinion about riding with or without full gear. It boiled down to an acronym he used as a signature on a lot of his emails: ATG/ATT. All The Gear, All The Time. As he said, he lived about two blocks away from the nearest gas station but even there he would not ride without helmet, jacket, gloves, pants, and boots. This agreed with the way the instructor in my safety course put it, “When I see guys riding in shorts, t-shirts and sneakers I always wonder where they got the abrasion proof skin.”
    I may feel like a roast on the grill in the middle of summer, but I have had enough close calls and injuries to take the risk. And as is most often the case, it isn’t even because we did something wrong – it was the cage driver.
    P.S. I’ve had many people ask me about my Adore taillight, including a guy who jumped out of his van at a red light (I wondered if he was pi**ed off at me for something!) wanting to know how he could get one.

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