No matter how prepared you are or how much you try to avoid riding in it, in the end: Rain happens. You need not fear it, or run for cover at the first sight of little dark clouds. But you should respect how rain changes the game and adjust your riding accordingly. While it’s no fun riding through the wet sometimes you just get stuck in it. The best thing to do is slow down, pay attention and be safe.
Any time you find yourself riding in questionable road conditions, the first thing you can do to improve your chances of arriving to your destination safely is to slow down and create more cushion between you and any surrounding vehicles or obstacles. Riding fundamentals really come into play during challenging riding conditions as rain riding tends to amplify any mistakes. Stay calm, be alert and try to look as far ahead as possible.
When braking in wet conditions, use both brakes but apply lighter pressure to the front brake than you normally would in the dry. Ease into it, slowing down without being abrupt is important in the dry but critical in the wet. When wheels and roads get wet and scary it’s easier to lock up the wheel if you aren’t making a conscious effort to be smooth. If you grab a handful of front brake when the street is slick it almost always leads to you and your bike going down.
Give yourself more distance to slow down, apply your brakes well before entering corners and turn-in more slowly and deliberately. This is not the time for aggressive riding. This isn’t to say you should creep along so slow you can barely keep the bike vertical and cause car traffic to run up behind you, but when traction goes liquid, caution should be your first concern.
Any time we talk about cornering we have to discuss tires. Motorcycle tires are often a forgotten part of any bike. Since your safety depends on them, it’s a good habit to check your tires frequently for wear, proper inflation and any defects or damage. A tire in proper riding condition will help you survive the ride when the elements are against you. For those of us who like big, fat rear tires, remember the broader the contact patch increases your chance to hydroplane. Knuckles go white when water floats your rubber and you feel your front end getting lighter and harder to steer while the rear end fishtails. If this happens, try not to brake or make any dramatic changes, but you should back off the throttle a little and ride it out.
The best defense to hydroplaning is to see it coming. If you are approaching a deep puddle and can recognize it in advance, safely slow down to allow the weight of your bike to keep the tires in contact with the road. Most tires these days are designed to dissipate water through the rain grooves or tread. Some tires are better than others and there are some tires that are not well suited for rain at all. Like we mentioned earlier, wide tires are prone to hydroplane more so than a thinner tire. Sport bikes generally run a 180-to-190 series tire with very little tread so if you ride a sport bike, ride with extreme caution in the rain. Cruisers these days have wide rear tires too. If you have a big one on back, take it easy. On the flip side of the coin you can do yourself a favor and know the area you plan to ride in. If you live in a wet weather climate you should equip your bike with tires that offer good wet weather performance.
Read our All Season Tire Guide to see our favorite sport touring tires for wet conditions.
That lack of traction associated with a wet street applies to acceleration as well as braking. Moisture allows the road grime and oil to rise to the surface of the street which can amplify the slippery nature of an already wet surface. This is especially true at intersections. Stay off to the center of the lane and ease on the throttle when pulling away from the stop light. Out on the open road, the rule is the same. Be easy on the gas, accelerate smoothly and don’t be ham-fisted. This is a real concern on the higher-horsepower bikes.
It might be best to avoid riding in the rain if you can. If you cannot avoid it and its obvious you’re going to get doused, then pull over and put your raingear on before you get wet. Wind chill factors increase exponentially when you’re wet, so do all you can to stay dry. Cheap Tricks: It’s also a good idea to line your saddlebags with heavy-duty trash bags so all your other gear doesn’t get soaked.
Don’t screw around with lightning. You might figure your rubber tires will insulate you from electric shocks traveling through the ground, or ground you if zapped with a direct hit, but you would be wrong. Water is an excellent conductor and if you’re virtually dipped in it, bad things happen when electricity fill the air. Reports of motorcyclists getting killed by lightning are rare, but it does happen. Don’t risk your wellbeing if lightning becomes a factor. Find a safe place to take refuge and wait it out.
Motorcyclists usually don’t find much joy in getting soaked. In most cases our dyed leather jackets and gloves will stain our skin and it is not pleasant at all to be swimming in our boots either. But if you’re prepared, use some common sense and sound riding techniques, you’ll get home with yet another crazy story to tell. Then again, if it’s too bad out there, then let discretion be the better part of valor. Pull over, dry off, grab a coffee or a bowl of soup and embrace your watery fate as just another part of the adventurous biker lifestyle.
For more information on riding in the rain, check out our Rain Gear Buyers Guide.
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