Motorcycle Basics - Riding in the Rain

Whether a casual rider who squeezes in saddle time where they can or a biker using their motorcycle to commute, all should expect bad weather to blow into any road trip at some point among those miles.

It’s a biker-truth, between the trips that take a rider far from home and Mother Nature’s strange sense of humor, the odds are every biker will face increment weather of some sort. As with any facet of riding, having the knowledge and confidence to manage unexpected or sudden events is half the secret to cruising through with relative ease.

This is one in a series of articles taking riders through the skillsets needed to ride through a variety of severe weather situations. It also explains what is going on around the rider and their motorcycle in each case as we all know it’s easier to manage a situation if with an understanding of what’s actually happening.

This article focuses on riding through rain and while it may seem easily done, we would ask everyone to read on.

First, a few basic tips.

Always check the weather. Right up to pulling out of the driveway, riders should check the weather along the route, regardless of how formally planned it is. Even if no specific route is planned, knowing where any possible unwanted weather is expected allows bikers to ride around those areas.

Taking a quick glance at a weather map while fueling up or during a stop is always a good habit to have as well.

It should be common biker-sense riders are prepared by carrying some type of rain gear strapped or stored on the motorcycle. As readers will see, half the battle to riding through most types of increment weather is staying warm and dry. While this is fairly common advice, often overlooked is the additional thought of taking spare shirts, whether long sleeved apparel or just another t-shirt.

Aside from changing into something dry, the high wind experienced at the most moderate riding speeds can quickly stretch out that favorite biker t-shirt. The only thing worse than riding through a storm is finding that favorite rally commemorative tee is ruined when finally arriving home.

Wrapping up the basic tips, the final solution to managing any adverse weather is to simply stop. A biker can enjoy the upper-hand over Mother Nature by finding a safe location, put the kickstand down and wait it out. Even if the area doesn’t offer protection from the elements, standing in the rain away from a hazardous and possibly deadly road is a much better choice than trying to ‘push-through’.

When riding in the rain what’s going on? Most obvious answer is the motorcycle and its rider are getting drenched, but a closer look exposes a variety of conspiracies to make life tough on the biker.

The first of which is a drop in body temperature. The molecules in water are closer together than those found in air, allowing any rain on a biker’s skin or clothes to quickly transfer the heat from the body to the cooler wind whistling by. Whether from exposed skin or wet clothing, the body’s heat will essentially bleed off much quicker than it would without everything being wet. The cooler the air temperature and quicker the wind, the more noticeable the drop in the body’s core temperature will be felt.

Although it may feel like it, the rain isn’t only falling on the rider and motorcycle but also on the road. Even if draining off as it lands, the more rain on a road’s surface increases an opportunity for aquaplaning or hydroplaning. This term is used to describe when water builds between the wheels of the bike and the road surface. It leads to the loss of control and in extreme situations, turns the motorcycle into a sled. Hydroplaning is dangerous in four-wheeled vehicles and downright scary on a motorcycle with only two.

Even with light rain, visibility is reduced. The heaver the storm, the more visibility is limited. Not only does limited visibility make it harder for the biker to see where they’re riding, it also makes it difficult for other road users to see the biker. Study after study shows drivers simply don’t see or overlook motorcyclists in the best of conditions, imagine what happens in a downpour?

Now we’ve clarified what is happening to and around a biker caught in the rain, how is the situation best managed?

Obviously if available, riders should change into rain gear sooner than later allowing them to stay dry, retain body heat and more importantly, focus to manage the situation. Any rider who’s been caught in a storm knows of the elation when it’s initially left behind only to face uncomfortable, damp miles as they wait for the wet clothes to dry off!

What it feels like to ride through the rain, no matter how light, will depend on what is being ridden and worn. From the riding position itself to whether the motorcycle enjoys any type of windscreen or fairings will impact on the ease or discomfort faced. This extends to not only what helmet is being worn, but to boots gloves and apparel as well.

The most immediate need when facing this riding condition is keeping distractions to a minimum and the vision clear. Raindrops hitting the face at even lower speeds can feel like needles with those wearing full face helmets avoiding this particular discomfort. Bikers without full-faced helmets should consider bandannas or anything to cover their face to help with this distraction.

In one way however, motorcyclists have a much better view of the road than other vehicle operators, unencumbered by roofs and the ‘cages’ housing cars and truck drivers. Having said that, overall visibility will be reduced so bikers should ride at a speed which gives room to stop in the distance seen. Along with the extra space allowed for reaction time in the less than favorable conditions, control of the motorcycle should be smooth.

Without gripping too tightly, the motorcycle should be eased to where it needs to be with brakes and the throttle operated gently. Acceleration and braking should be done outside of turning to maintain control of the motorcycle and avoid the previously mentioned aquaplaning. This requires riders to plan ahead of any maneuvers to determine when to accelerate or brake. Using engine braking, or downshifting, for corners and junctions will reduce the risk of skidding.

Maintaining slower speeds and extra space will help avoid road hazards as well as potholes and puddles. The last two are filled with water leaving riders unable to judge their true depth with deadly consequences if determined incorrectly.

Everyday surfaces can become deadly with a layer of water. It’s well known the first rain after a long dry period brings up and floats all the engine oil collected on the road. Add ot this, the following can become slick with rain; White and yellow lines painted on the highway, slick concrete surfaces, manhole covers, railroad tracks and the sheets of heavy metal used to patch highway construction.

Many may have read this article with the mental image of day time, albeit overcast and dark for the given examples. Unfortunately, storms happen at night as well and only multiplies all the issues and concerns outlined so far. If this is the case, pulling over and waiting out the storm is even more important and if on a long road trip, consider getting a hotel room for the night.

This last consideration should be applied if any of the challenges faced while riding in the rain become too much. Lower body temperature, cold hands, minimal visibility and the first sight of lightning are all signs a rider should pull over and wait it out. Better to arrive at your destination late than not at all.

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