29th October 2019

Winter riding: better on a classic?

An old British or European bike can be the ideal companion for winter riding, meaning you can enjoy your hobby all year round. There are several inherent reasons why a such a machine is more suited to the colder months than a modern bike.

Wind chill factor increases massively with speed. However good your riding gear, you’ll be colder at 60mph than 40. Classic bikes are much more fun than modern bikes at low speeds because they have so much character, meaning you can enjoy trundling along more sedately and avoid the icy slipstream. You’ll probably have more internal heating too, if it’s taken several kicks to start the bike in full riding gear.

Road conditions are also more uncertain in winter. Mud from farm vehicles, fallen leaves and wet or icy patches all threaten tyre adhesion if too much throttle or brake is applied. While the latest bikes may have traction control and anti-lock brakes, most British machines made before 1960 have these characteristics built-in, whether by intention or not.

How so? Well, with a low revving engine and typically no more than 30bhp you’d have to be very clumsy with the throttle to break traction. Likewise, the cable operated drum brakes of the period are very unlikely to lock, even during extreme use, because modern tyres grip so much better than those of 60+ years ago.

But won’t the salt corrode your precious classic? Any unrestored machine will, by now have already acquired considerable ‘patina’ (or corrosion as some would call it) and is unlikely to deteriorate noticeably. A restored machine probably benefits from thick new paint and stainless-steel fittings such as spokes and fasteners which are much more resistant to road salt than the originals.

Whether your machine is restored or not, modern corrosion inhibitors are your salvation. Aerosol sprays such as ACF50 can be directed into the most inaccessible corners and resist washing off by water. They can be re-applied every month or two after cleaning the bike, then removed in time for summer using proprietary cleansers, generally revealing completely untarnished metalwork.

Internal corrosion can occur when engines and transmissions don’t get hot enough to vapourise any condensation, which then forms a milky emulsion with the oil. Primary drive casings are particularly prone to this. The best solution is to ride far enough in one go to heat up the entire driveline and replace the oil at the beginning and end of winter; it doesn’t usually take much.

With short days, grey skies and the chance of fog, visibility when riding is especially important in winter. This is one area where, at first glance, modern bikes are better than oldies but thankfully their lighting technology can now be applied to your classic. LED bulb conversions are available that endow even the feeblest 6V dynamo system with a brilliant and piercing light, allowing you to ride in safety.

Maybe you’d like to share your own experiences of winter riding? Feel free to comment below.

You're quite right, my Guzzi V50 fitted with three disc brakes won't lose grip for sure, as front one is operated via cable - operated master cylinder under the fuel tank, and is not up for the task even when trying to hold bike stationary on traffic lights:)

Adamigo, 31/10/2019

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