Riding in the Rain!

Published by Liane Langlois on

It's not all that bad.

By: R. Bruce Thomas

For many people, the only thing worse than experiencing PMS (Parked Motorcycle Syndrome) during the winter months is riding in the rain in the summer, so let's fix that this time out.

Close your eyes. Imagine it’s not February. Imagine it's a sunny summer day and you’re riding your motorcycle. Imagine someone is whispering in your ear telling you to open your eyes so you can continue reading.

Don't you feel better already? I know I always feel better, even if it is just an imaginary ride. Even if it isn't a sunny day.

If you travel by motorcycle you quickly learn that you can't control the weather and if you are going to realize your travel plans you have to be prepared. The first thing is to plan your trip and make sure your tires have enough rubber to go the distance you have planned. Most people aren't going to do a big trip that wears out a set of tires so replace your tires before you depart if they're getting worn. There's no point in spending vacation time finding a shop and getting new tires installed.

Most modern tires have treads that are designed to evacuate the water so you still have good traction when the road is wet. As riders, we can help. Since riding is a dynamic environment there are no hard and fast rules but here are a few things to consider when you are riding.

Learn to read the road and adjust your riding to match the conditions because you'd hate to miss a day of riding in Scotland (or insert your dream destination here) over a little precipitation

Avoid the tire tracks as they often have depressions holding puddles. You can't tell how deep these puddles may be and the extra water could overwhelm your tire treads leading to hydroplaning and loss of control.

Avoid riding in the middle of the lane as this is where most of the grease and oil and grime that falls off vehicles accumulates. A hard rain may clean some of this off but it's difficult to tell if that has happened when the entire road surface glistens with moisture.

If the forecast calls for rain during the day make sure you are prepared and put your rain gear on before the moisture falls. There's no fun in riding wet or having to deal with drying out your clothes at the end of the day. If you're riding when the rain starts it is sometimes beneficial to pull over for five or ten minutes to let the rain wash some of the grime off the road. This can be a good time to don your rain gear if you haven't already. And find a good place to pull over, like a gas station or car wash, where you have some shelter. Car washes, of the single bay/spray wand kind, usually aren't busy when it's raining. The absolute worst place to stop is under an overpass where fast traffic will be going by and drivers are dealing with poor visibility and perhaps fogged windshields.

Pay attention to the other lanes so you know if traffic will blast you with water from puddles they drive through. Riding in the right side of your lane puts distance between yourself and others and can lessen the impact of wind blasts and splashes from oncoming and even same direction traffic. Avoid the painted road lines as they can be very slippery when wet. Allow more space between you and other vehicles on the road.

Use your lights. On a two lane road ride as much to the right of the lane as you can. Hug the white line and turn on your high beams. Your lane position will give some extra space if oncoming traffic pulls out to pass another vehicle, and your lights should help increase your visibility. If passing same direction traffic you should once again have your high beams on. If you've got driving lights, turn them on as well. All of your lights will help make you visible through the road spray coming off the vehicle you are passing (especially big trucks) so the driver has a better chance of seeing that he is being passed. And don't dawdle while passing. If you get to a section of road where traffic has slowed down (think frog stranglers in Florida where the interstate often comes to a crawl) turn on your four-way flashers and watch your mirrors. Stagger your position in the lane so you aren't directly behind another vehicle, thus allowing an escape route from traffic approaching from the rear.

Get yourself an electric vest or jacket liner. These units come with wiring to get power off the bike. I've had temperatures drop 15-20 degrees when riding into a rain storm and that just isn't comfortable. Staying warm and dry makes riding safer and it is far more enjoyable than being wet and shivering.

If you don't have a GPS with weather information load up a weather radar app on your phone so you can see how big or vicious a storm might be. It is much better to make an informed decision to re-route, take a break, or ride on, when you know where a storm is and where it is going. See the pictures below for the info and peace of mind that comes from weather data.

With the right gear and practice you will soon find that riding in the rain isn't a big deal. It sure beats not riding in the winter!



This screenshot from my GPS shows the weather I'm headed for - time is 15:10. The precipitation intensity increases from Dark Green to Light Green to Yellow to Red. I can see the heavy red downpour in the distance but the map tells me the road turns before I get to the worst of it.

Time of this weather map is 15:20. The GPS cycles thru weather pix on the 10's so I can see the 15:10, 15:20, 15:30 and 15:3x weather picture for about 10 seconds each. Once it hits 15:40 the 15:10 image gets dropped. Some heavier yellow rain is now showing up.


Time is 15:30. I can see that the big red storm appears to be staying south of the Interstate.



Time 15:44. Big Red hasn't moved much in the last 14 minutes. I can see that the Light Green and Yellow rain should be less than 20 miles judging by the 8-mile scale in the bottom right corner.


Time 16:00. Storm is clearly headed eastbound as the closest flag in front of me is now in the clear. Big Red still south. More rain ahead as I will pass Plano.



Time 16:08. Almost done. The dark green here was mostly clouds with little precipitation reaching the ground. Being able to see the intensity and location/direction of this huge red system let me continue my ride confidently and safely.

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