I love the rain, but I have to admit I’m not a big fan of riding a motorcycle in the bad weather conditions. If it is storming out, I tend to go with the four wheel vehicle in my driveway, instead of the 2 wheel option in my garage. However, if you’re in a situation where you have to ride your motorcycle in wet and icy weather, there are some things you should keep in mind before you hit the road.
Appropriate Gear - For me gear is everything. Acquire the proper riding gear to keep your mind on the road. Your biggest concerns should be traction, vision and road conditions and not the numb fingers from riding two hours in the rain with summer gloves. If you’re not suited up for the current weather conditions you’re taking a huge risk. Over time the weather will wear you down if you’re not properly prepared. Cold hands and cold legs overtime will affect your reaction time. Also remember, as your cold-weather ride goes on, you are at risk of hypothermia, so keep your ride as short as possible.
Slower Speeds - Travel at slower speeds than you would on a sunny day. If you’re wondering how fast, take five or ten miles per hour off the speed advisory. The speed advisory signs are designed for ideal weather and surface conditions.
Smooth Changes - Avoid abrupt lane changes, quick braking and heavy throttle. The first time I headed out on a light rainy day I fishtailed going 40mph. I got a little too excited, popped the clutch and gave it to much throttle. Bike did not go down, but a lesson was learned.
Braking – Remember that you have two brakes, and you want to apply pressure evenly to the front and rear brake. The front brake works more efficiently than the rear, and provides 70 to 90 percent of the total braking power. When using the front brake, apply gradual pressure to keep your front wheel from locking up. If the wheel locks up, ease off the front brakes. Locking up the front wheel could cause it to tuck underneath the bike, forcing the motorcycle down.
Stage Braking - Try a technique called ‘staged braking’ in wet and icy conditions. There are 4 stages with this technique. Within each stage the rider must apply gradual pressure to the front brake. Stage one is critical as you want to apply light pressure with the slightest friction between the brake pads. Throughout each stage apply more gradual pressure to avoid the front wheel from locking up. In each stage pay special attention to how you bike reacts.
Ice Patches – In the most extreme of slippery situations, as in riding across a large patch of ice, you want to stay away from using the front brake. Instead, apply the clutch, find a way out of the patch of ice, and coast in neutral until you come to a stop. If you’re able to find a steady patch of asphalt use the stage braking technique.
Rocks - Just as when you’re riding in dry conditions, don’t ride the road’s edge, especially on back roads. Rocks may linger near the side of the road as the steady rain overtime tends to wash rocks from hillsides and mountains in the roadway. I personally hit a decent enough size rock in the middle of the road that my motorcycle bucked me like a horse. These conditions are definitely more frequent during the rainy season.
Acceleration - Only accelerate when you are perfectly perpendicular to the ground (“vertical”). If you feel your rear wheel lose traction while you are accelerating, ease off the throttle until you feel stable again. Remember, use smooth fluid motion and ease into the throttle.
Braking Distance – Give yourself two or three times the stopping distance you normally would to brake at safe stop. Don’t snatch the brakes or apply sudden pressure – apply smooth even pressure. If you keep your brake rotors clean, you will also have a better chance to a smooth stop. If you’re riding in the rain, occasionally press the brake levers to dry off the surfaces on the brakes below.
Standing Water – Be on the alert for standing water ahead of you. If possible avoid riding through standing water for obvious reasons. 1 You might loose control of the bike. 2 Motorcycle may later have a mechanical failure. 3 If you pass through and continue one with no incidents you most likely will be drenched.
Road Wave - Avoid riding to close to the center of a roadway. Vehicles coming in the opposite direction, especially big vehicles can throw up a significant splash that will affect your visibility and, possibly, your position on the motorcycle.
Helmet Cleanliness - Keep the visor of your helmet clean on a regular basis. To keep your visor from fogging up, you can take a bar of Ivory soap and rub it on the lens, and then wipe down with a soft, dry visor-specific cloth. The soap keeps water from bonding to the visor. You can also apply a product like Cat Crap, (Yes Cat Crap…Google it.) Fogtech or Speedo anti-fogger, if you’re riding in temperatures above zero Fahrenheit.
Rain Trails – Watch out for rain trails that large trucks and semis leave. Tailing behind a semi that just entered the freeway can leave you temporarily blinded.
Rain at Night – Be extra cautious on rainy nights as those raindrops streaming across your face shield can distort the light and impair your vision. They do have some amazing gloves with a squidgy built on the index finger, but it’s definitely not the same effect as a windshield wiper.
Metal Surfaces - Avoid metal surfaces if possible. Manhole covers, railroad tracks and bridge gratings, can be dangerous to turn on in wet or icy conditions.Road Texture – As you would in dry conditions pay special attention to surface textures in the roadway. Commercial and residential roads tend to be a little slicker with smooth concrete and or compressed asphalt surfaces. Also watch out for the sealed up cracks in the asphalt. These cracks running through the roadway like veins tend to be a darker shade of black than the asphalt.
Painted Lines in the Roadway - Slow down when entering an intersection with painted lines such as a pedestrian crosswalk. Pay special attention if you’re making a left or right hand turn. Keep your speed slow and steady throughout the turn with smooth fluid like motion.
Oil - Keep an eye out for oil in the roadways. If you see little rainbow like pools on the wet pavement try to steer clear of this hazard. Pay special attention if you ride in the first rain. Oil and debris will accumulate over time leaving a slicker roadway. When coming to a stop at an intersection try not to use the certain of the lane as most of the oil pools in this area.
Leaves - In Oregon we have these huge maple tress that drop big leaves. If you come across similar trees or a roadway covered with leaves, slow down and pay special attention to your cornering.
Weather Report - Check the weather report before you head out on a ride. Depending on where you live the weather may be a little unpredictable. Even if the weather is clear, I would recommend carrying the appropriate gear just in case a storm arises.
In all situations try to remain calm. It takes thousands of miles to fully understand how your bike reacts in certain weather conditions. I’m always learning something new each year I ride and I always keep an open mind to new techniques.
If you have any additional tips please feel free to share.
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