Friday, March 5, 2010

Dressing for Cold Weather Riding -- Take Two

Back in November, I wrote about how I keep warm when riding in cold weather. That posting started out like this, with a great photo of a rider in a snowy landscape. It worth seeing again, so here it is, along with the starting sentence.


Found on AdV Rider Forum

doesn't occur [very often] in South Carolina.

All of the gear I described back then does a fine job of keeping my skinny frame warm down to about thirty-five degrees without the aid of electrically heated clothing. I have a pair of heated grips that work well in keeping the palms of my hands warm, but the backs of my hands and my fingers still get very cold at that low temperature even with my non-perforated leather gloves and the Antifreeze liners.

A few months back, I scored a set of vintage Hippo Hands on ebay. These are fleece-lined leatherette covers for the grips, controls, and hands. The company never made a pair especially for my Ninja 650R, so I took a chance that I could make this set work. Mine is probably fifteen or twenty years old.

Here is a picture of the handlebars and controls without the Hippo Hands. You can see the heated grip controller in the center.

I tried installing the Hippo Hands and had some difficulty with the right one providing enough room inside for the front brake master cylinder reservoir. After a bit of maneuvering, this was overcome, and I could snap and Velcro the opening closed over it. A Velcro strap helps close off the gaps around the bars, cables and wiring. The left Hippo Hand went on easily, since there is not much hardware attached to that side of the handlebars.

My little redheaded friend will point out some of the features of the Hippo Hands.

Here is the stiffener along the outer edge that helps them keep their shape. It is probably a flexible plastic rod sewn into the hem.

The slotted opening that allows the Hippo Hand to slip over the controls is secured both with snaps and Velcro to keep the wind out.

The inner part of the slotted opening closes up most of the space around the handlebar, cables, and wiring. It has Velcro on the edges and a Velcro strap that wraps around the bar.

Once I had them in place, I did a quick test ride and found that the wind caused the left Hippo to press down rather firmly on the back of my hand. I had some difficulty bringing my fingers up over the clutch lever. Further, I was afraid that the wind would press on the lever and cause the clutch to slip. The right Hippo seemed fine, because of the stiffening along its edge and the tight fit over the brake master cylinder.

I cogitated on this problem for a few days.

I considered buying a set of plastic hand guards, but they don't make a set especially for the Kawasaki Ninja 650R and the generic ones don't fit very well without moving the brake and clutch levers toward the center to make room for the bar clamps. Anyway, they do cost money.

I also considered bending up some stiff wire to better support them against the wind, but that idea was headed down the path of a significant design-and-build project.

As is usual with me, I think about how to solve a problem for some time, and while doing so, look around for ideas. A walk through a hardware store or a search in industrial and motorcycle catalogs sometimes gives me a kernel of a fix. In this case, I rummaged through my considerable stock of brackets I have salvaged and bought new.

I came up with a pair of 6" long, 1" wide, and 3/16" thick angle brackets that were brand new. I sized them up by eye, then began engineering a solution. By slightly enlarging one of the screw holes, the bracket could be mounted between the bar end and the bar-end weight. I used several flat washers to provide clearance for free movement of the throttle tube, and used a longer socket-head cap screw to reinstall the weight. Washers were also used between the left weight and the angle bracket so that weight would fit properly.

I positioned the angle brackets so they were slightly higher than the levers and tightened up the bar-end screws. I slipped a section of foam pipe insulation over the brackets to prevent chafing of the Hippo Hand interior.

Here is one of the angle brackets.

Not very pretty, but functional, and it will be covered up later.

Here are some pictures of the Hippo Hands as they look when installed.

OK fine, we've heard enough about how you installed them. Now, how do they work, Bucky?

Well, I tried them out this last Saturday on a ride to eastern Georgia. The temperature when I started out was 35 degrees. I wore my lighter gloves, a pair of Shift Carbines, and turned my grip heaters to their medium setting. I could feel a distinct difference, even while the grip heaters were just beginning to supply warmth. My hands weren't becoming chilled nearly as rapidly as they would have with the grips set on high and with my non-perforated leather gloves and Antifreeze liners on.

When the heat from the grips was fully available, my hands were not just comfortable, they were toasty warm.

As the air temperature warmed to the upper fifties over the course of the day, my hands stayed comfortable and my dexterity remained very good. Even at fifty-five degrees, they were not too hot.

The angle brackets held the Hippo Hands away from the brake and clutch levers, and provided space for my hands to reach over the levers for actuation.

One thing you must be comfortable with is not being able to see your hands on the controls. Surprisingly, I found that I was occasionally trying to look at my hands when I manipulated a control. Of course, I could see nothing but the outside of the Hippo Hands. Nevertheless, I succeeded in operating all of the controls over the ride, and had no real trouble.

The openings of the Hippo Hands are large enough so that there is no difficulty sliding your gloved and jacketed hands and arms into and out of them. The openings stay open nicely when your hands are not inside.

In fact, the thought has crossed my mind that an enterprising bird or chipmunk might take up residence in them if I were to leave the bike parked outside for very long. It would certainly be a surprise to stick my hand in there, only to find that I am invading an animal's home. I'll have to watch for that.

And here is a picture from a frosty/foggy morning.

Yes, that is ice, formed while riding through a cold fog.

By the way, there is a company still making Hippo Hands, but it is said to be a successor to the original. The new company doesn't make a set for my Ninja either.


Here are some cheaper alternatives to buying new, but check the fit before you do so. You will probably need hand guards or the like to prevent interference with the clutch and brake levers.

Tucker Rocky Biker's Choice Quadboss Hand Warmers shown here on Redlegsrides' BMW RT.

Oxford Handlebar Delux Muffs.

Tusk Hand Mitts

Rick, on his Keep the Rubber Side Down blog, has a short entry here.


One other thing I did differently on Saturday's ride was to wear a pair of polyester pile bib pants (military surplus, OVERALL, BIB, COLD WEATHER) instead of the Extended Cold Weather System [ECWS] fleeced polypropylene military surplus knit pants under my leathers. The pile is more like wool fleece and provides more insulation, but without the itching and care required of wool. The overall I have was made by The North Face -- apparently they have or had a division that makes military apparel.

They have zippers on the outside of the legs, and a crotch zipper that goes all the way around. I was concerned about the zippers causing trouble, but they do not seem to.

My set of Fieldsheer two-piece leathers is large enough to accommodate all this underneath, and I look like a muscular bloke instead of a 97 pound weakling when I am wearing all of this stuff, too.

For all of you who are too young to know the significance of the 97 pound weakling statement:

Well, I don't look exactly like that with the gear on, mind you. ...and my underdrawers are definitely not like his.

Anyway, the pile pants are nice and warm for temperatures below forty degrees, and the Hippo Hands are a definite improvement for cold weather riding.

Try 'em, you'll like 'em.
See also: Dressing for Cold Weather Riding -- Take Three.



bluekat said...

Hi Bucky,
Interesting write up on the hippo hands. I hate to hear that there isn't much out there for the Ninja...covers or something. I'm not sure if I could do the hippo hands. I think I have to be able to see my hands. I'd like to have some kind of wind-blocking shield though. I think I'd do ok with that and some heated grips.

irondad said...

I'm glad you used your red-haired friend for a tour guide instead of a Disney character. Wouldn't have wanted to think this was a Mickey Mouse project!

I agree with Bluekat. Rode a police bike with Hippo Hands. Loved the warmth. Always felt restrained, for some reason.

Nice write up.