Riding Right: Riding in the Rain

Strategies for riding in wet conditions

By George Tranos

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.

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First, dont panic! If youre 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 dont stop, you should be aware of the additional risks.

riding in the rain bikes parked
Never a pretty sight. Motorcycles getting drenched.

Slick roads
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 dont 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 motorcycles
Should you or shouldnt you? Heading out on your motorcycle in the rain should be a calculated decision based on current and future weather conditions. This is WRN contributor Sash Walker test riding the 2015 Indian Scout for a review on WRN.

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 motorcycles fog
This is an example of reduced visibility, where fog and heavy mist limit how far one can see.

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.

Riding in the rain motorcycles
Sometimes we’re forced to ride in the rain when we have a schedule to keep, but wearing proper rain gear and being mentally alert will help you get to your destination safely.

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.  

About the Author
George Tranos is a New York State and MSF certified instructor, and a freelance writer

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17 thoughts on Riding Right: Riding in the Rain

  1. Some good advice in here for sure but a bike that is properly fitted to the rider is a major factor. I also know that many people buy a bike for the name on the tank. But as with all new technology, there are options. My Motto Guzzi California has levels of traction control. I also have a program setting for rain which removes torque from the throttle. It makes for a confident, controlled ride in all conditions, even light snow. Time for people to decide if the name is worth the risk or if the ride is what they want.

  2. For those that don’t already have foul weather gear, take the time to shop at local marine supply stores for rain suits. There’s a ton of reasonably priced gear that will keep you both dry and warm that won’t gouge your wallet because it’s “motorcycle gear.” Last year I bought (for less than $100) a two-piece, hi-viz suit with reflective strips that allows me to ride in the worse of storms for four to five hours in a hoodie and jeans perfectly comfortable.

  3. Here is a wonderful little trick I use while riding in the desert. When it’s 100 degrees and hotter I buy a large bag of ice from the local convenience market, place it between the windshield and the triple tree and as it melts I ride in what feels like air conditioning. Try it and you’ll never ride in the desert without it again. By the way, a large bag of ice only lasts about four hours. Give it a go.

    1. Sounds like a great idea, Joe! I would just caution readers to be sure that the bag of ice is secured so as to not interfere with the bike’s steering.

  4. I always choose wet/dry wheels for my enduro motorcycles. Absolutely love riding in the rain and the extra confidence and stability in knowing my treads are deep enough to handle the wet makes it almost the same as riding on dry roads.Only difference is breaking distance and of course slowing down in corners. Also, I’m often the only rider around for ages but I love it because I’m an all weather type rider!

  5. I’m at the 2015 Sturgis Rally and have been caught in the rain twice while riding. If it is possible to pull over and wait it out that’s good. If not I try and stay alert, slow down, and ride at a speed that I feel comfortable riding in. I try to watch out for me and my surroundings and go at a pace that is good for me even if I don’t ride as fast as the others in my group. I try to get there safely. That is important. Hoping for sunny skies the rest of the rally. Having a great time!

  6. Love all the good, helpful advice. Keep doing what you’re doing.

  7. Sturgis Biker Belle Ride 2014 — that was the most rain I have ridden in. Everything was soaked but everyone kept good spirits. One hint that I used was to hug my knees as close to the frame as possible. This causes you to “feel” your ride better. I had a new rider with me and we just slowed down, let her gain confidence and enjoyed the experience of a first.

    1. The first two photos in this article were taken during that event so, yes, we know what you mean about the rain that day. Kudos to you and your friend for powering through it!

  8. On a trip from Florida to Michigan, I was caught in rain three miles from my hotel. It was getting dark, raining, and I was finding my hotel, and on the interstate no less! I didn’t stop to get rain gear on because I was so close. Thankfully the traffic wasn’t heavy and drivers had slowed down, but I also liked that they seemed to give me space. I was quite proud of myself because I handled it well and made it safely to a great hotel, but I plan my hotel stops better since.

  9. I’ve also found that keeping a rainguard spray on my visor and windscreen helps a ton. I use Raincoat Pro by MotoSolutions, but they’re not the only brand out there. Keeps my view clear and reduces the sparkly-light refraction effect from oncoming headlights. Much safer than taking a hand off the controls to wipe your visor!

  10. I’ve been caught in the rain once. It was a light rain and I enjoyed it. Is there a glove that helps clear the water from the helmet shield?

    1. I have a pair of gloves from Firstgear that have a rubber strip on the left thumb that works as a “windshield wiper” when it’s raining. Works somewhat. You might look into gloves from Firstgear and check for the ones that have that feature. It’s better than not having it.

  11. Could not have been more timely! Terrific advice. Thank you.

  12. Thanks for all the nice hints. I will be looking at rain gear more carefully now before purchasing.

  13. Wished there had been something like this available to me the first time I got caught traveling in the rain. Would have been a much easier ride with at least some idea of what to expect.

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