If it’s a light rain or brief shower – simply reduce your speed and drive carefully (following the tips below) and you will get to your destination safely – although you may be a little uncomfortable. When the rain is heavier, and particularly accompanied by lightening your primary concern is safety. The intensity of the storm, your rain gear (if any) and experience are factors in determining if seeking shelter and waiting out the storm is the better choice.
Evaluate, Make a Decision
When it starts to rain, or you observe dark rain filled storm clouds ahead or nearby – determine your options as soon as possible. Perhaps turning around and heading “home” will do, just don’t speed, thinking you can outrun the rain is a dangerous illusion and is simply a panic reaction.
Since there are so many combinations of scenarios it is best to evaluate based on your skills and experience. In general, the less experience you have rain riding, the less rain gear you have and the higher the intensity of the rain all point to pulling over and waiting it out.
And something else to consider – often a drop in temperature comes with the rain. Combined with the heat-robbing effects of wind and wet, you could slowly lose dexterity resulting in decreased reaction times. Take note too – heavy rain can be physically punishing for lightly or unprotected skin.
If there is active lightening, no matter what other conditions, and your readiness – get off the road. People have been struck by lightning riding motorcycles – it is a complete myth that rubber tires provide electrical insulation.
Wait it Out
You decided to wait out the storm, but where? Under a bridge or overpass can be handy spots. Road-side rest stops may also offer a shelter. Large trees will do short term, but the rain will eventually start trickling through. Remember the shelter is for you, the bike is mostly waterproof, so a coffee shop or dinner will also do.
If you pull over then decide to venture out – wait at minimum 20 minutes. This is because oil and fluids dropped on the roadways raise up and flow with the water. The result is a slick and dangerous mix, give it some time to run off the road surface.
Rain Riding Techniques
It’s just common sense – wet roads are more slippery, so drive cautiously (easy on the brakes and throttle), thinking well ahead, taking the best line (track) based on road conditions. Ride defensively, assume that all car drivers do not see you. Stay calm and do not tense up.
Well before the rain comes, get out and practice with your motorcycle. Know the limits of stopping in the dry. Practice “driving with the throttle”, a technique that avoids fast starts and uses engine rpm to manage controlled and calm deceleration. Use the clutch deliberately, take longer to pull in and out, upshift earlier in the rev band, be less abrupt in all actions. This technique is inherently smooth and suited for rain riding.
As mentioned the first 20 minutes of the rain will allow oils to raise up, so be extra careful. In addition to being easy on the throttle and brakes, try to keep the motorcycle as vertical as possible. This will provide maximum tire contact with the road. On corners instead of the usual lean technique, keep the machine more vertical and hang your body slightly off the side for the proper cornering dynamics. It goes without saying – your tires need to be in good condition, and properly inflated – stay on top of this critical maintenance item.
When approaching irregularities such as manhole covers, grates, steel tracks or plates, and painted areas – cross at as close as possible to 90 degrees and vertical. Do not brake or accelerate on these features. Scan the road ahead, avoid these items if you can, especially while taking corners.
“Tucking in” to avoid heavy rain may seem like a good idea, but you lose visibility of the road ahead. A compromise between sunny day and fully tucked is best to maintain your view forward.
Avoid puddles, there could be a deep pothole or worse hiding under it.
Once again, it can get cold in the rain, and this can be dangerous and can sneak up on you – be aware of your extremities chilling down.
On any moist or wet road surface – never use cruise control.
Adjust your stopping distance to twice that of normal dry conditions. Squeeze the brakes well before you need to use them, this will somewhat dry disc & pads providing better stopping power.
Turn on all lights available, switch to high beam.
Watch for wind gusts, stay aware of the wind’s direction. Take note if it is gusting or a steady pattern and prepare for wind gusts in open areas that transition (valley, exiting a tunnel, etc.). Give yourself room from other vehicles if the wind pushes you off track.
Plan ahead, while checking the immediate road conditions – scan well ahead for traffic conditions that could impact your space. Watch for distant brake lights, or cars moving around something ahead, a possible obstruction such as a stalled car.
Stops and intersections need extra attention. Cars idle at the lights and drip oils, so avoid the center of the lane for this reason. Keep alert for the smell of diesel – there may have been a spill recently, scan the road surface for any rainbow coloring – this is a sign of oils, fluids or diesel fuel and avoid it. When approaching a stop use brakes in a controlled and manner, always favor the rear brake up to your final stopping point.
Remember intersections are killing grounds for motorcycles – be keenly aware of all vehicles in all lanes and all directions. When turning or proceeding through check that the approaching car is stopping and or yielding to your path. Try to have an exit path in mind if a vehicle abruptly moves into your space or begins to skid.
At stop lights, stay right of the lane, hold the clutch in and stay in gear. Check the mirrors for any vehicle approaching too fast and that could potentially skid into your rear. Being ready and in this position, you can quickly move off to the right shoulder and avoid a collision. Even if nothing happens, and the driver recovers, no harm done you are safe.
While cruising, and especially when coming to an intersection scan your mirrors for other vehicles that are following too close. Gently tap your brakes several times to get their attention. If they continue to tailgate try to let them pass at the earliest opportunity. Approaching an intersection with a tailgater behind you, “force” them to brake early by braking early yourself and over a longer distance.
Pick your line far ahead, stay away from the center of the lane. In any weather, I prefer just right of center. Drivers can still see you in their rear and side mirrors, and you have a small buffer space against oncoming traffic that may wander over. You also avoid center lane oil droppings and potentially road debris that ends up in the middle of the road kicked over by the action of car’s tires.
If you are riding with others in the rain – space out your grouping, motorcycles can easily collide with each other. Never ride side by side – you are not in a movie or on parade, you literally risking your life for a “fashion statement”.
Get Prepared – Rain Gear
A quality rain suit is a great investment and will last for years. Make sure it fits well over your standard riding gear. Avoid going oversized, it will be uncomfortable at road speeds and often balloon out or hold pockets of water.
A one-piece rain suit offers the best protection and minimizes potential water entry. A slight negative is that it is a little harder to put on and take off. A two-piece suit offers good rain protection and can be mixed and matched. For example, you may opt for just pants in a mild rain, or while traveling after a major rain storm and there is a lot of road spray.
For either style look for reinforced stress areas, waterproofing on all seams, ventilation options, velcro adjustable cuffs and ankles, a front design with a storm flap to maximize rain protection. Another important feature of any rain suit is its packed downsize. A convenient and showable size will ensure it gets taken along – just in case.
It is recommended that the suit be highly reflective or have reflective stripes or sections. If not, you can wear a reflective vest over top, but this adds another item to remember to bring and store.
Try the suit on with your normal riding gear, check overall fit and freedom of movement provided. Avoid pants that rely on fixed stirrups to seal the ankle area. This design will quickly wear through after minimal walking – leaving no effective way to secure the ankle area. Look for ventilation features – riding through a mix of showers and sunshine will cause overheating without good ventilation.
Avoid the heavy yellow – fisherman’s style – these are just too bulky and inflexible. Although yellow is great for visibility these rubberized suits are not adequate for modern riders.
Eye protection is a must in any weather. In rainy conditions fogging and raindrop/mist build-up can be a problem. There are many proven anti-fog water dispersing coatings available. It is even rumored that a common potato, cut in half and rubbed on will do the same. Another old trick is to spit on the inside of the visor and rub it in. When shopping for a full-faced helmet look for ventilation options, such as vents and partial opening shield for airflow
Rain gloves and gaiters that cover your boots are optional. These would come in handy for long rides in very serious downpours – which you may not experience enough to warrant purchasing.
Always have a small roll or flat of duct tape, handy fix for “wardrobe malfunction”.
Make it a Habit
Check the weather before you leave, and on the road with a mobile app. Be your own forecaster, take a look at the advanced time-lapse weather radar maps. Take your rain gear if there is any chance of bad weather or you are overnighting it.
Always use eye protection, or full-face helmet, wear sturdy water-resistant boots and have decent riding gloves. Take a change of clothes, including briefs & socks…wrap it all waterproof plastic bags – you will thank yourself for this one.
Clouds & Seagulls
Learn the basics of cloud formations, not all clouds are rain clouds.
There are some telltale signs of storms coming too. In my area, the seagulls head inland and congregate in open fields. This is a sure sign of a very major weather event approaching. Often certain tree leaves turn over, and you get an oddly chilly and humid breeze before the storm. Research and become a weather ninja, impress your friends, and above all stay dry.
Summing it Up
Being prepared physically and mentally is key to riding in the rain safely and in relative comfort. If you will be riding any distance in the rain invest in a proper rain suit. When the rain starts or is approaching, evaluate the situation, stay calm and use proven defensive driving techniques to get to your destination safely.