If you’ve ever ridden a motorcycle in cooler temperatures, you know that higher wind speeds makes you feel even cooler. But just how much cooler? To find out, check out and download the wind chill chart.
The often-misunderstood wind chill temperature is a measure of the combined cooling effect of wind and temperature. As wind increases (up to a certain point), heat is carried away from the body at a faster rate, driving down the skin temperature which can cause frostbite, and eventually the internal body temperature which can cause hypothermia and eventually death.
But what does that really mean to you as a motorcycle rider? Let’s look at an example. On an average winter day in Ohio, you might experience a temperature around 20 degrees with a wind of 15 miles per hour. That equals a wind chill of -4 degrees, 24 degrees lower than the actual temperature. You can take a look at our chart to see more examples of how cold it really feels with different temperature and wind speed combinations.
That’s why it is so important for you to pay attention to what is happening to your body when you ride in cold weather. It can make the difference between an enjoyable ride and a life-changing event.
Dangers of frostbite and hypothermia
When temperatures drop to freezing, the blood vessels close to your exposed skin start to narrow or constrict in an attempt to keep the core of the body warm. When it is very cold, or exposure to cold is prolonged, blood flow to some parts of the body, for example the fingers and hands, can drop to dangerously low levels – lack of oxygen-rich blood to the affected areas can lead to frostbite.
Frostbite is the crystallization of tissue fluid caused by exposure to cold temperatures below freezing. This results in blood clots in blood vessels, reducing the flow of oxygen to tissues. The most common areas affected by frostbite are the face, nose, ears, hands and feet. The symptoms include redness and pain in the early stages, followed by a waxy white appearance, numbness and the skin may feel stiff and even brittle.
Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F. Hypothermia occurs as your body temperature passes below 95 F.
When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and other organs can’t work correctly. Left untreated, hypothermia can eventually lead to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and to death.
Avoiding frostbite and hypothermia
One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself from frostbite or hypothermia when you are riding your motorcycle is to dress appropriately. We wrote last month about how to dress so that you can expand your riding season into the winter. But the key idea is to keep your skin covered, and to keep it covered in as many layers as possible.
Don’t forget that even though it might not feel very cold when you walk out the door in the morning, the extra chill factor created by the wind can make a cold ride become a dangerous one very quickly.
If you are going to ride your bike this winter, make sure to plan ahead. Know what the temperature and wind chill will be so you can dress appropriately and limit the amount of time you are outside if necessary.