To a novice motorcyclist, riding in the rain can be a very scary thought.
Isn’t it dangerous?
Won’t I get soaked?
But to an experienced rider, being on the road when the weather turns wet can seem like no big deal. It’s all about understanding the adjustments you need to make to keep the fun going.
Let’s start the discussion by acknowledging a simple fact: If you’re not dressed properly, riding in the rain can be a miserable experience.
Getting soaked on your motorcycle can make you cold and uncomfortable, which not only dampens the fun but can also distract you from staying safe — at a time when being sharp is extra important.
To help you remain dry and alert, a good rain suit (pants and a jacket) and waterproof gloves will provide basic protection from the elements for your upper and lower body.
These days you can choose from a wide variety of styles and materials — bearing a wide range of price tags. A one-piece suit provides better coverage because there’s no “seam” between your pants and jacket. But a two-piece suit offers excellent flexibility.
You’ll often find that just your jacket or your pants is all the coverage you need. Higher priced rain gear will often offer greater breathability, which can make a big difference when it’s wet and warm.
High visibility clothing is especially important in the rain, and most rain suits are designed with that in mind, with bright colors or reflective highlights. Throwing on your rain jacket is an excellent way to enhance visibility at night, in any weather.
Waterproof, all-weather riding boots are a great option any time, as they eliminate the need to stop and change your boots when it gets wet.
Waterproof gaiters, which slip over your boots, are also great to keep on hand. In a pinch, slipping a plastic bag over your sock, inside your boot, is a great way to keep your feet dry, if not your boots! Another Hack: stuff your boots with newspaper overnight to help dry them out from the inside.
Again, staying comfortable is the key. How far you go in “rainproofing” yourself may depend on the circumstances. If you’re on your way home and it starts raining, you may not mind your jeans getting a little wet if it’s warm out. In that sense, a little water never hurt anybody, and you can always change into dry clothes when you get home.
Once you’re appropriately outfitted and focused on the road, the first rule of riding in the rain is to slow down. Assume that your braking distance and ability to maneuver will be compromised and adjust your speed accordingly. Also, increase your following distance and make sure that you have space around you for evasive maneuvers if necessary.
Make all of your steering, throttle, and braking inputs more gradual. Ease on and off the throttle. Apply the brake more gently. Slow down more when approaching a corner and take the turn gradually, decreasing your lean angle and keeping the bike more upright than usual.
Accelerate slowly and steadily, stop as gradually as possible, and turn your motorcycle with extra care, at a slower speed than usual. Doing all of this will help you keep your tires in contact with the road surface.
Remember, the key to motorcycle riding in the rain is maintaining traction to avoid hydroplaning. Wet, slippery roads cause more potential problems for a two-wheeled vehicle than they do a four-wheeled one.
The good news is that today’s motorcycle tires are modern marvels when it comes to traction. They’re much better at maintaining a good grip with the road than their older counterparts were. With a few common-sense precautions, they’ll keep you upright in the rain.
Keep in mind that it’s the rubber, not the tread, that provides the grip. The tread’s job is to channel water away from the rubber, giving it a better opportunity to stick to the road. When you skid on a wet surface, it’s because a thin layer of water has come between your tire and the road.
One way this can happen is through hydroplaning. When you ride through standing water, your tire can ride up on the water’s surface like a water ski, losing contact with the pavement. This is much more likely to happen with worn tires.
If you see standing water on the road ahead, avoid it if you can. Otherwise, roll gently off the throttle, safely reduce your speed, keep your bike as upright as possible, and avoid making any throttle or brake inputs as you ride through the puddle.
After that, it’s all about paying extra attention to the basics. Sharpen your focus on “S.E.E.” – Search, Evaluate, Execute.
Your ability to react swiftly to potential obstacles diminishes in the rain, so it becomes even more important to anticipate them. In the end, it just comes down to being extra careful. And in the rain, that means paying close attention to a few specific situations.
Not all road surfaces are created equal – especially in the rain. As you ride, keep your eyes open for surfaces that can become ultra-slick when wet, such as:
When riding on these or any other slick surfaces, keep the bike as upright as possible and avoid making any steering, throttle, or braking inputs. At railroad crossings, make a point of crossing the tracks at as close to 90 degrees as possible.
Another potential trouble spot is at a stop light or stop sign. Any spot where cars stop and wait is more likely to have oil on the ground, especially in the center of the lane.
Keep this in mind as you come to a stop, and be careful where you put your foot down, making sure it’s not going to slip. Again, keep your bike as upright as possible.
Remember that the worst time to ride a motorcycle in the rain is during the first few minutes of a rainstorm. Oil and dirt that accumulate on the roadway while it’s dry tend to “float away” when the rain starts, making the road especially slick for a short time.
It’s never a bad idea to take a little break when a rainstorm first hits or delay your departure to avoid being on the road at its slipperiest.
Finally, when it comes to riding in the rain, know your limits (and comfort level) and always put safety ahead of your pride.
It’s always okay to wait, and don’t be pressured into thinking otherwise. A smart rider builds a little extra time into the ride schedule to account for possible bad weather. Don’t plan on covering the maximum number of miles every day unless you’re also planning to ride on in bad weather.
Build-in some flexibility, as it’s always better to have a Plan B available if necessary.