Nothing beats motorcycle riding with the sun shining on your back. A nice warm spring day seems to bring out motorcycles and bugs in equal numbers. Unfortunately, there will be times when the skies open up and riding in the rain becomes unavoidable. Here are some strategies for riding in wet conditions.
First, don’t panic! If you’re caught out unaware, consider slowing down or even stopping. Some showers and thunderstorms pass quickly and by stopping you might be able to avoid the rain entirely. Check the weather forecast, be prepared for the rain with the proper clothing and motorcycle gear, and plan your trip accordingly. If you don’t stop, you should be aware of the additional risks.
Riding in the rain
Riders on their way on I-90 stop off at a dealership to warm up and dry off from the pouring rain. Stopping frequently ensures a safer ride because your senses get time to rest.
The first few minutes after the rain starts can be the most dangerous time to ride. The water mixes with the oil, dirt and road debris creating a slick surface. Motorcycle tires put down a very narrow footprint and once the pavement gets slippery, traction is limited. Try to avoid riding during this initial period. The water will eventually wash away the road grime and the pavement will then just be wet. While traction is still reduced, modern tire technology will still supply up to 80 percent of the grip of dry weather riding. Even so, a rider must exercise restraint and be smooth in the application of all controls. Throttle and clutch control must be smooth — avoid sudden acceleration or braking especially in a curve where traction is already limited. Turns should also be taken more gradually with reduced lean angles and less aggressive cornering. Certain roadway features like railroad tracks, bridge gratings and even painted lines and markings will be very slippery and should be crossed with the motorcycle as upright as possible. Above all, leave extra time and space so you don’t have to take any sudden actions.
A vehicle will hydroplane when water builds up and creates a layer of water between the tires and the road. Hydroplaning results in a complete loss of traction and will cause a skid or a fall and must be avoided at all costs. Normally, hydroplaning will occur when you try to drive through a deep puddle, but it could also occur during periods of heavy rain when the roadway does not have time to drain sufficiently. If you notice these circumstances, slow down and consider stopping if you continue to encounter possible hydroplaning conditions
Riding in the rain gear
When shopping for rain gear, make sure there is reflective material somewhere on it. Don’t buy it if there is none. This passenger has it on her arms and legs.
Reduced visibility makes it hard to see
Riding in the rain has other risks as well. Your ability to see ahead of you is reduced. Rain droplets will hit your shield or goggles and, depending on temperature, they may also fog up, impairing your vision. If you normally ride with a tinted visor, as I do, make sure you bring a clear shield that you can use when the rain starts. You can also treat your shield with an anti-fog product. At the minimum, your shield or goggles should be clean and have a minimum of scratches that impair visibility. Wear gloves that have a rubber wiper on the left hand so you can clear your shield quickly if needed. Do not override your visibility; leave sufficient room and look as far ahead as possible to anticipate hazards.
Reduced visibility prevents others from seeing you
Just as you have difficulty seeing, other drivers will have a hard time seeing you. Now is the best time to use bright and reflective material as part of your riding gear. Consider purchasing a reflective vest. It can be carried with you in a tank bag or saddlebag and taken out when visibility is poor (or at night). Add reflective tape to your saddlebags, travel trunk, rear fender or other spots to help other drivers see you. If you normally drive in the rain or at night, you might also want to add additional lighting like those can be placed on your forks or brake calipers. Motolight is one such company supplying auxiliary lighting kits. These simple additions can make you visible from twice the distance in bad conditions
Riding in the rain group of riders
Sometimes we’re forced to ride in the rain. These riders have a schedule to keep. They’ve rested and warmed up, ready to brave the wet conditions once again.
Rider comfort and hypothermia
Nothing is worse than being cold. The body shuts down blood flow to the extremities first to protect the inner core functions. When body temperature is reduced even more, hypothermia can set in. When that happens your body functions slowly deteriorate. Coordination, judgment and reflexes diminish. A person who has hypothermia can initially appear drunk. Their coordination is lost and their words may be slurred. You don’t want to be driving a motorcycle under these conditions. Being wet in addition to being cold will bring on hypothermia even faster. Proper riding gear is necessary to keep your body warm and dry, especially in early spring when the ambient outside temperature is already cold. Choose and use jackets, gloves and pants that either have waterproof, breathable liners such as Gore-Tex, or bring appropriate rain gear. Remember that riding with non-breathable gear might cause moisture buildup inside the garment which can be uncomfortable, but will still keep you dry and is preferable over being wet and cold. Good riding gear pays for itself in comfort.
While riding in the rain may never be as pleasurable as being out on a bright, warm, sunny day, it can be tolerable if you’re prepared with the right gear and attitude. If you’re aware of the weather, prepared for the rain and cold and outfit you and your motorcycle properly, then riding in the rain doesn’t have to be unpleasant. Practice riding as smoothly as possible, avoid panic and leave yourself enough space and time to avoid any sudden actions so you will be able to ride in wet weather more safely.
George Tranos is a New York State and MSF certified instructor, and a freelance writer