I admit, this site is largely dedicated to summer. It's all about thinking of the places you want to ride and experience - in the glorious heat of a sun-drenched summer's day.
So the M3 to Basingstoke in the last week of January is a bit of change of pace.
But actually, I kind of enjoyed my ride. Okay, it was a British motorway so two-thirds of the other vehicles were at least one lane to the right of where they were supposed to be – plus of course it was a motorway, so not exactly thrilling riding. But even so, it was good be out on a decent-length ride again, rather than usual 70-mile jaunt between my girlfriend's house and my flat.
Winter riding is all about kit, though. Good Gore-Tex outer, puffy down insulating layer, then a heated layer, then a jumper and a shirt in case the heated layer got too fierce, then a base-layer. Thank god I've lost a load of weight – I think it's commonly called the divorce diet – or I'd have looked (even more) like the Michelin man with all that lot on.
Your hands and feet are most vulnerable, though. There's a limit to the number of layers you put on there. I have a set of Gerbing heated gloves that plug into the sleeves of my heated jacket liner, always keeping my hands just right - not hot and sweaty, never cold. Because they're 12v, powered from the bike battery, they never run out of charge the way battery-pack kit does - you know: it starts nice and warm but after a few hours it gets... gradually... less... warm.... until... you.... aren't... even... sure... if... it's... still... working.
I have battery-operated kit for my feet. A set of heated innersoles, which BMW sent me for my very first bike launch in February 2003. I now refer to them as the Kevin Ash Memorial Inner Soles, as they gave the old fella so much pleasure when I first met him. You see, I had no idea what I was doing. I rode to Stansted, got off the bike and tried to walk through security with all my kit on (I soon learnt – from the late, great Kev Ash himself – that you get changed into normal clothes to fly).
Inevitably, when I came to go through the security arch I beeped like a fiend. I had to take my gear off and pass it through the scanner, one piece at a time. Security found this interesting. Especially the boots. Which had the inner soles fitted, with a wire coming out of each one to the battery pack, clipped to the back of the boot. This was only 18 months or so after the arrest of Richard Reid, the shoe bomber...
All the experienced journalists stood on the other side of security, putting shoes back on and threading belts back into jeans, watching the show. I was surrounded by security men, patted down, wiped with explosive-detecting swabs, introduced to a nice doggy... I think I was lucky not to get a cavity search. It was possibly one of the funniest thing Kev had ever seen – he would remind me of it more or less every time we went on a launch together for the next decade, splitting his sides at the memory. Now of course, I can't get the things out without remembering him (he died on the launch of the liquid-cooled GS in 2013).
Mind you, I still think I had the last laugh back in 2003. When we came back from the launch (I got through the airport without the clown show, this time) I put the boots back on and set the inner soles to full power. It must have been close to midnight, frost crunching underfoot as I padded around, strapping my gear to the back of an F650GS. By the time I'd got from Stansted to Watford, I was utterly frozen. Apart from my feet, which were toasty warm.
So for my long ride to Basingstoke, I dragged out the Kevin Ash Memorial Inner Soles and crammed them into the Daytonas. Clipped the battery packs on, turned them on… and found one hadn't been plugged into the charger properly. One hot foot, one cold. Hmmm. I opted for a warm right foot, to allow some feel for the back brake if I needed to do any low-speed manoeuvring. Plus I'd already clipped that battery to the right boot.
Of course, I realise that I've lied horribly here: hands and feet aren't the most exposed bits of the body – as you very well know. Really, it's your face. All that Baltic air, blasting through vents and sneaking past the thickest Polar Buff into even a well-sealed lid… freezing the tears on your cheeks and the drip on the end of your reddened nose… Skin gets turned to some kind of ice-tanned leather that feels likely to crack if you move your lips to quickly. And don't lick your lips – even if your tongue doesn't freeze to them, they'll be chapped down to raw, bleeding flaps in an instant.
Or that's how it feels, anyway. What the world needs now is the heated crash helmet (that doesn't fog the visor). Over to you, helmet designers...
I'm really missing summer now.
But actually not so much that I don't want to get the bike out and go for another good ride (once the threat of actual snow has receded somewhat). I think it's time to head north next – Newcastle or maybe even Scotland. And this time I'll charge both the inner sole batteries.