5 Rules to Keep You Safe
Motorcycle riders should take precautions when dealing with any adverse weather conditions. You should always ask yourself, “Is it going to rain today?”. Some motorcyclists don’t even attempt to ride in bad conditions and keep the bikes safe and cozy in the garage on those wet days. Other times you could be on a motorcycle road trip and the weather catches up to you. You either to have to pull over out of the rain or keep pushing through.
Motorcycles are smaller and less visible to other cars. They also have less contact points on the road which decreases traction even in the best of conditions. On top of all this, there are distracted drivers all around us and they are often times even more distracted in rainy conditions.
It is important that you are aware of the proper gear and riding techniques to wear implement in rainy or low visibility conditions. Don’t ruin a nice weekend ride or a longer vacation on your motorcycle because you weren’t prepared for something inevitable like adverse weather and rain. If you’re one to not let the weather stop you or you just inevitably get caught in it, we’ve outlined some tips and tricks to help you stay safe, visible, and comfortable.
Rule #1: Wear or Pack the right Rain Gear
Staying dry, warm, and visible is the name of the game here. A waterproof rain suit is the most important item to have regarding rain gear. It can accommodate all three of the needs listed above. It keeps you dry, which in turn keeps you warm, and is usually made out of high vis or reflective material.
In addition to a waterproof outer shell there are gloves and boots that are better suited for rainy days to help keep the hands and feet dry and warm. Cold hands and/or can make riding dangerous and uncomfortable as your fingers and toes will be cold and tense.
As stated above, staying dry also means staying warmer in the rain. Some items of clothing, when wet, do nothing to insulate the body and it’s almost as if you have nothing on at all. Wetness by itself won’t necessarily hurt you, but the cold will.
Moving away from the body, let’s segue into your vision. An anti-fog visor and clear face shield are important when riding with a full face helmet, which is recommended on rainy days. Many modern helmets have ventilation that will aid in keeping your visor clear. Aside from ventilation there is visor treatment products out there that you rub onto your visor and it coats it to help eliminate fog. A wet visor that has fogged up is hard to see out of and for obvious reasons could be very dangerous, so best to try and prevent it before it starts. The problem is even worse at night because of glare from any lights around you bouncing off of a wet visor.
For the purpose of this article we’re assuming the weather is bad and visibility is low on top of the fact that people are already distracted enough from smart phones and the radio while driving. It is important to make sure you can be seen. High vis and reflected material is often used in purpose specific rain gear, like that made for motorcycle riding. A bright yellow or orange jacket accented with reflective lines can help you be seen on a dark wet day or night.
Finally, whatever gear you decide to go with, make sure it is comfortable, can pack on your bike well when not in use, and doesn’t restrict your movement too much. Bulky items that restrict hand movement and head movement are what you need to stay away from. If you need to react quickly these items can make the difference between a wreck and a save.
Rule #2: Adjust Riding Style For Adverse Weather Conditions
When the road is wet and traction is limited coupled with low visibility you must change the way you ride your motorcycle. Moisture on the road significantly reduces traction for your motorcycle regardless of how good of shape your tires are in. The oil on the road is also brought up to the surface making the road even more slick than just with the moisture alone.
Due to limited traction, give yourself more time and space to stop. Use your brakes gradually and smoothly and start stopping earlier. Double your follow distance from cars and other riders as well so that abrupt braking isn’t necessary.
The same principle applies for the throttle. Make throttle adjustments more gradually and smoothly. Give yourself more time to get up to speed. Losing control in low traction scenarios usually doesn’t end well and being in a hurry can ultimately slow you down a whole lot. No use racing around in the rain.
You also will have to use less lean angle, which means a decrease of speed in turns. Having your front or rear tire wash out abruptly in a turn is something very difficult to recover from. Once the slide starts it is usually finished before you even have a chance to react.
You risk losing control in all of these scenarios if you are used to pushing your bike in dry conditions and then expecting it to handle the same way in wet conditions. Start slowly and build some confidence but never expect the bike to perform the same way when the conditions are this different. Remember to stay smooth on the throttle and brakes.
Rule #3: Know the Danger Zones
I’m not talking about Kenny Loggins’ 1986 hit. What I am referring to as “Danger Zones” are places in the roadway that tend to be more slippery than other places and are where accidents happen at a greater rate.
Intersections are the main places that accidents occur. For starters, people are braking and accelerating, so there’s that obstacle to overcome, but secondly, this is where most oil from cars collects. Cars braking and stopping in the same 200’ consistently over time builds up oil on the road in these spots. When rain occurs and gets the pavement wet the oil rises to the top of the moisture and can cause the pavement to be slick as glass.
Some other areas that we would consider danger zones are railroad crossings, sealer pavement, manhole covers, the middle of a lane, and patches of standing water. Again, this is common areas for oil or excessive water to accumulate from passenger vehicles. Manhole covers, tracks, and sealer pavement, on the other hand, can be slick as ice when wet.
To make matters worse, using your vision to spot the exact slippery areas that are caused by an oily road is next to impossible. It all looks like the same wet pavement. Knowing where the slippery stuff is instead of relying on your vision to spot it is what you need to remember. Ultimately you want to see the driest and/or cleanest line that you can free of debris and oil and standing water.
Finally, when stopped at a red light or anytime you have to stop abruptly, keep an eye out in your side mirrors for cars coming up behind you. A driver might not have been as aware of you stopping abruptly and could have to slam on their brakes and possibly rear ending you. If you see a car approaching ahead of time your chances of accelerating to the side of the vehicle in front of you and avoiding a crash greatly increases.
Rule #4: Inspect your Motorcycle
What little traction you have in your two touch points should be in decent shape or you could be skating on thin ice. Tire pressure also plays a crucial part in making sure you are getting the most traction that you can from the only two tires that you have.
Friction creates heat which increases traction. Tires take longer to warm up in the rain and sometimes never do. It is important to keep this at the top of your mind as you’re riding. Your tires will not perform like normal under such adverse conditions!
You also want to make sure you have sufficient brake pads left and your brakes are in the proper working order. For Harley Davidson motorcycles we recommend a brake flush every two years to prevent any braking issues within the hydraulic system. This is a hard thing to inspect, but it is important to at least be conscious of it and properly maintain your bike.
Lighting is huge in poor visibility scenarios like rainstorms or in the dark. Make sure you have brake lights, turn signals, and headlights all properly functioning to not only allow you to see better but more importantly to let other people know that you are there.
Finally, bike leaks can drip down underneath your bike as you ride and get on the back tire. Take a look at the bottom of your engine before heading out on a wet day especially and see if there is any fresh oil, or any oil spots on the ground underneath your bike. If it is leaking somewhere and making it to the floor underneath your bike you know it's doing the same thing as you ride. So even if you avoid the oily spots in the road, if your bike is working like an oil dispenser right in front of your rear tire it won’t make a difference. You’ll have minimal traction and run the risk of losing control.
Rule #5: Plan an Alternative Route
So you’ve followed all of the above rules and you are about to head out for a ride on your motorcycle and there’s a chance of rain on the proposed route that you would like to take. How big is the cell? Is there a way to bypass the weather that won’t interfere with the quality of ride that you are going on? Would any parts of your route prove difficult or impossible under adverse weather conditions?
If you answered yes to any of these questions it is important to have an alternative route and a decision point to take that route if by chance when you get to this decision point weather has deteriorated.
If an alternative route isn’t an option at least investigate the route you are going on and try and research where good places are to stop along the route. If the weather gets too bad or lightning starts to pop up then it is best you pull over and wait it out at one of these preselected locations.
Remember, motorcycles are all about having a good time, so it is important you can accomplish this while at the same time staying comfortable and most importantly, safe. If you are lacking in any one of the areas mentioned above and find yourself in a situation where you are riding in the rain it is best you keep these rules in mind and do your best to abide by them. The rules are relatively easy to follow while the consequences are rather severe. From one rider to another, stay safe and have fun!