By Reg Kittrelle
[Safety Tips for Motorcycle Riding in the Rain was originally published in American Rider magazine]
The best advice you’ll hear regarding riding in the rain is don’t do it. Bad weather and wet roads raise motorcycle riding to a whole nother level of complexity and—let’s not pussyfoot around it—danger. Now, having said that, there is another side to this. That is, riding in the rain can be an enjoyable, rewarding experience. While you might not actively seek out this kind of fun, you can’t always be sure that a trip that starts with sunny skies will end that way. So, like it or not, let’s deal with riding in the rain. The keys to doing it safely and enjoyably are in the management of three highly variable factors: traction, visibility, and comfort.
One of the most overlooked improvements in the world of motorcycles over the years is the performance and quality of the tires on which we depend. Today’s touring tires are marvels at accommodating all the various surface, high-mileage, intense-heat, and wet-road conditions that we’re continually up against. Despite all this, they still can’t give you the same degree of traction and confidence on a wet road as they can on a dry one. How you deal with this difference will determine your success in the wet.
Rule number one is, simply, slow down. Generally, your braking distance is increased in the wet. A lower speed will help offset this, plus it reduces your lean angle in turns, which is where wet-road problems often pop up.
Which leads to rule number two: keep it upright. Now don’t get silly on me here. I’m not saying that you slow to the point where turns are taken at a parade pace, but keep in mind the more upright you are, the more weight that is applied perpendicular to mother road, thus increasing the amount of traction available to you. Avoid last-second turns, unnecessary swerves and rude imitations of bad road racers as these will do nothing but impress the EMT with your stupidity.
Rule number three in wrestling with the wet is, read the road. The worst rains of the season are the first ones. As the oily scum has yet to have been washed off, the surface can be particularly treacherous, all the more so at stop signs, tollbooths and in parking lots as these locations are often large drip pans for leaky cars. Subsequent rains serve to wash the surface a bit affording improved traction, but rules number one and number two still apply.
Watch carefully for standing water, those nasty pools that can lead to hydroplaning, which occurs when a layer of water sandwiches between your front tire and the road, resulting in zero traction. Reducing your speed reduces this possibility. (Are we noticing a thread here? Slower is better in the wet.) Rain also has the bad habit of spreading gravel and dirt around where you least enjoy it; watch for this stuff, particularly in rural areas. The best strategy is to assume that every turn is dirty, and ride accordingly.
If the rain you’re riding in is overpowering the windshield wipers of passing cars and causing bow waves to form, stop, as the only view you’ll have is a very distorted one through a sheet of water. Get safely off the road and wait it out. The “enjoyable, rewarding experience” I wrote of earlier does not apply here as these conditionsare just too dangerous on a motorcycle. The most common visibility problem is one of a fogged faceshield and/or glasses. The cause of this is, simply, the difference in temperature between the outside air and the inside of your helmet. Your body is a 98-degree heater. Ride in, say, 45-degree weather and that 53-degree difference can mean instant fog. Usually this problem is at its worst when you first start off because the air is still. Get moving and the airflow will usually dissipate the fog. However, that time between still and moving can be dangerous. Combat this problem by using any of the various anti-fog solutions on the market (be sure to also treat the lenses of your glasses), leaving your faceshield slightly open until you’re moving, and waiting till the last moment to put on your helmet.
Once the rain has stopped it doesn’t always mean that the problems have disappeared. Wheel spray from cars and trucks can make it seem to be raining as hard as ever. Continue to keep your distance from other vehicles, and watch for those large puddles that offer up mini-tsunamis.
Anything that distracts you is potentially dangerous. In rain conditions that distraction often takes the form of a trickle of cold water that leaks past your collar, chilling your whole body. Make sure that your rain gear fits properly and is in good shape. Cold is a huge distraction and, carried to its extreme, can cause hypothermia that dulls the senses and slows your reaction time. Finding the right combination of rain gear, including a warm jacket and proper pants, boots and gloves can be a hit-or-miss process that requires a bit of experience. Finding out that you’ve made a wardrobe mistake when the rain starts to fall is not fun. Road test your full cold/wet weather gear for fit and comfort in the sun. Part of this test is to have someone turn the hose on you (from above, simulating rain) to check for clothing leaks. The sweat you work up will be worth it.
Properly managing these three factors allows you to concentrate on the road and appreciate the fact that you’ve added another skill set to your riding. That’s when it really becomes an enjoyable, rewarding experience.
1.Choose a rainsuit that incorporates a breathable membrane such as Gore-Tex, Reissa, Hipora or similar material.
2. Pack your rainsuit on top, not at the bottom of your saddlebag.
3. Watch windshield wipers of oncoming cars to see if it’s raining ahead.
4. Put your rain gear on before the rain starts.
5. Wear bright colors for increased visibility to others.
6. Transfer wallet, keys, and other essentials to waterproof outside pockets.
7. Your windshield should be low enough to look over, not just through.
8. Use four-way flashers in heavy rain or fog.
9. Increase your following distance, and watch for tailgaters.
10. Avoid standing water as it can hide potholes and debris.
11. Check tire pressures periodically. Underinflated tires are more likely to hydroplane.
12. Tap rear brake in advance of normal braking distance to alert followers.
13. Gently apply brakes periodically to wipe rotors of water/mud/debris.
14. Watch out for painted lines, arrows, etc. as they can be particularly slippery.
15. After the ride, don’t pack your rain gear away until after it’s dry.