Keeping off the cold with handlebar muffs

9th January 2009 – 10.32 am

The first frost of Winter happened back in late-Autumn last year, quite an early frost, and it was the perfect time to use the heated hand-grips on my motorbike. At least, it would have been the perfect time to use them if they actually still worked. I rode in to work with only one grip heating up, which then failed a few days later. I only bought the heated grips a year previously and I expected them to last longer. Sadly, the garage that supplied and fitted them is out of business so I can't go back to complain.

With Winter creeping up and promising more bitterly cold weather I needed to find a new solution to trying to keep my hands from freezing on my commute. As effective as the heated grips were I was not going to get a new pair fitted every year. It is quite possible that I got an unreliable set but I'd rather find a solution that I can be more confident will work for more than one season. When I bought the heated grips I was told that handlebar muffs may be a good option as well. A friend had recommended the grips so I went for that option initially, but now I'll investigate muffs.

I buy some handlebar muffs and fit them myself, using the nylon straps, velcro and buckles to secure them in place. The first thing I notice is how the straps don't really locate the muffs sufficiently, letting them slide about a little too much. It is simple enough to get my sewing kit out and stitch another seam that holds the straps better in place after my first test-ride, when the muffs let in too much cold air from not being wrapped around the handlebars tightly enough. With the muffs securely held to the handlebars and I am getting the full cold weather protection all I need now is the weather to test them.

To be honest, I would prefer that we don't have another frost and I won't need to test the muffs. The Winter's first frost was early enough that it almost looks like I will get my wish but, sure enough, the weather gets colder as we move in to December. Before that, I find another benefit of the muffs, their being waterproof. Biking gloves are meant to be waterproof themselves, but throw enough water on them and they can get soaked through, which is rather unpleasant. The muffs, however, don't suffer from needing to be flexible and are an extra layer between my hands and the rain. Being able to get off the bike at the end of a rainy journey with dry gloves seems quite the luxury and is certainly a good reason to get the muffs in itself.

I still need to find out how well they work in cold weather. And it is difficult to tell. My hands still get cold, but I haven't found any way to stop that from happening completely, and I think my hands are mostly getting cold from gripping the freezing handlebars and clutch lever, which have the whole night to get as cold as possible. I cannot be sure how much of an effect the muffs are having. At least, not until today.

It seems like a normal cold morning out of my window when I get up. The roads look a little damp and there is some mist hanging in the air, but there is no frost on the cars or grass so I think it will be fine to ride the motorbike in to work. It turns out that the mist is heavier than it first appeared. The fine droplets gather in such great numbers on my crash helmet's visor as to obscure my vision but without coalescing in to larger droplets that would roll off without intervention. I have to wipe my visor occasionally just so that I can see where I am going, otherwise my view is impaired both by the mist itself and the mist collected on my visor.

The mist on the motorway may be denser, or it may just be that travelling at 70 mph collects the droplets that much faster than at suburban speeds. Either way, my visor fogs up externally within a matter of seconds. Without exaggerating, I have to wipe my visor every two or three seconds or all I can see is a few hazy tail lights through a matt grey translucent screen. It gets to the point where I cannot be bothered to take my hand out of the muff, wipe my visor and put it back, instead I let my arm rest on the fuel tank as I ride so that I can wipe my visor regularly without too much fuss.

Another benefit to resting my arm on the fuel tank is that I get to feel the freezing air blow across my gloved but un-muffed hand at motorway speeds. My goodness, but there is a massive difference! I can feel my hand freezing even more quickly outside of the muff than when it was snugly ensconced inside. Despite not being able to feel my fingers by the time I reach the junction to leave the motorway, at least I have been able to keep my visor clear and also find out that the handlebar muffs are quite effective at keeping my hands warmer than they would be without.

I also notice that when I try to give my visor a more thorough wipe, rather than just a quick swipe with a finger, the mist I haven't wiped off has frozen. When I get in to work I am a little surprised to see that the mist that settled on my jacket and backpack has also frozen, small chunks of ice falling off me as I walk to my desk. Maybe this was another day I should have taken the car in to work.

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