Opinion: Riders on the storm

No motorcyclist likes riding in the rain, but it’ll probably happen sometime. When it does, you want to be prepared.

This is why I took the bike out for an hour’s ride the other day in the pouring rain, even though the car was available – I think it’s important to practise bad weather riding skills when you’re in no rush to get someplace. As well, I wanted to try out the waterproof Frogg Toggs jacket and pants I’d bought at the bike show. The bike was looking a little grubby from road dust and needed a wash anyway.

The rain began just as I filled up at the local gas station, and I set out smugly onto the highway, knowing I was fully dressed for the weather. The rain increased and started to come down pretty hard, yet still I was smug – right until the moment my crotch started feeling damp. I looked down to see a huge hole in the waterproof pants where they’d touched the hot exhaust at the gas station. Water – cold water – was pouring onto my jeans as if it came from a tap. The pants had been on sale because they were XL, but they were so baggy on me that they flapped in the wind, and against the pipe. Already, the chrome was covered in a thick layer of crusty black Frogg Togg.

Next, my visor began to fog. The rain was so hard now that traffic was slowing to half-speed, and visibility was very poor indeed, especially in the spray of the large trucks. I considered turning back, to put on my tried and tested (and heavier) waterproof gear, but the rain eased a little and besides, my pants were already soaked.

There are a couple of new concerns on a wet road. One is visibility: both for others to see you, and your own. A single red light at the rear is no longer enough among all the other dancing red lights of traffic. Do you have reflective materials on your clothing or helmet to make yourself stand out? If not, consider packing a workman’s safety vest for bad weather to be sure of others seeing you. My Frogg Toggs light jacket has reflective piping, but my waterproof leather jacket does not. Riding in the rain and suddenly feeling very vulnerable reminded me to keep the jacket in my pannier, to be available whenever I’m caught out by bad weather. It also reminded me to fit the pinlock inner visor to the visor of my new Shoei Neotec II, which is a bit fiddly to install but keeps the screen clear. Alternatively, you can clean your visor regularly with dish soap – it seems to help.

The other concern is traction, and maintaining control on a slippery road. Remember that the surface will be even more greasy after a long period of dry weather, from the accumulation of dust. If possible, try to ride in the tire tracks of the vehicle ahead of you, which will be slightly drier and grippier than the untouched pavement. Practise braking whenever it’s safe to do so, even if you have ABS to help avoid locking the wheels; it’s one thing to lock the rear, but seizing the front can be disastrous. And there’s no better time than while riding in rain to accept you really do need to replace your worn-out tires. A half-bald tire will aquaplane on any wet surface and provide no grip at all.

If I was writing now about driving a car in wet weather, I’d advise to slow right down, to increase potential reaction time and keep everything nice and steady. On a motorcycle, though, you don’t want to slow below the speed of traffic if you can avoid doing so, because you don’t want other cars riding your ass. Don’t ride faster than your comfort zone, but do try to ride at the speed of the slowest vehicles, at least until you’re sure of your grip on the road.

You don’t think of any of this on a nice dry day, but it hits you in a hurry when the rain begins. If you’ve not yet ridden in the rain this year, then get out and do so. You can check the condition of your rain gear, and the condition of your wet weather riding skills. Better now, when you’re prepared, than when you’re caught out and in no mood for a refresher.

Oh, and the Frogg Toggs? I stopped in on the ride at my local bike shop to buy a new pair of much better fitting, light waterproof pants. I peeled off the burnt-through pants in the parking lot and went inside, where the woman behind the counter looked horrified at the giant wet stain on the crotch of my jeans. “No no – it’s not what you think!” I told her, but I’m not sure she believed me.

Do you have advice for riding in the rain? Leave a comment below.

7 thoughts on “Opinion: Riders on the storm”

  1. RE Brett G’s comment above; some m/c gloves have a built in squeegee, and yes, lifting your hand off the left grip gets a bit tiresome. Still haven’t used my pin lock visor yet, but looking forward to getting used to that on the Neotec. Keep using Rain-X or Plexus or whatever, on your visor. Depending on how your bike is set up in terms of windscreen angle, OR just the angle at which your head hits the wind, you may able to just bow your head slowly once in a while, and the droplets will run off the visor from the force of the wind.

  2. For me, vision and visor water accumulation is the most significant and dangerous problem associated with riding in the rain. I use a small “thumb” wiper blade (purchased from the internet) that I slip over my thumb during periods of rain (I always carry this little device in my riding jacket) . I do not like this solution, because I am constantly lifting my left hand off the handlebars to wipe my visor. I’ve tried Rain-X (and every other product) to keep my visor clear, but this is the best solution I have been able to find to-date. I would welcome any other solutions/suggestions?

  3. I’ll have to politely disagree about riding in the tire tracks on the road…

    In my, unfortunate experience of driving in heavy rain the tire tracks are not where you want to be. For a few reasons.

    First the asphalt is slightly compressed on any road that isn’t brand new and water accumulates there, increasing the hydro plane potential.

    As you can see here:
    https://creativemarket.com/kirill4mula/1147969-Wet-road-highway-with-mist-splash

    Second issue is that the tire tracks in a lane are more polished than off the tracks.
    http://img.globalscm-group.com/ichainnel/90/903052_1_b.jpg
    You want to be on the roughest part of the road to increase traction.

    The best spot would be the gravel shoulder if your bike is appropriate. If you watch rally cars on pavement in the rain they’ll run with two tires in the gravel. Unfortunately that advice can’t really be universally applied.

    Furthermore, the polished tire tracks have more rubber down on them, if you watch any racing series that runs on asphalt they fastest line through the corner in the rain is not the same as in the dry, the unused portion of the track is rougher and doesn’t have the rubber on it that the dry line does.

    Finally if your following another vehicle in poor visibility your tail light is more likely to be confused with the car in front if you are directly in line with their lights. Personally I prefer to run close to the center line so I can see what is coming and can anticipate. I get the risk in that, as I’m closer to oncoming traffic, but I can see to make an overtake. Then i’m not stuck behind someone in their spray, where you cant see jack…

  4. Invest in the best rain gear that you can… don’t cheap out, you’ll regret it. You’ve invested a lot into your bike, now invest in good gear. It took me a while to find good gear that I trust: A-star SMX-S waterproof boots, BMW waterproof gloves, and Rev-It 2-piece rain suit (very versatile).

    The biggest, most basic thing to remember is NOT to put your gloves over your rain suit arms… instead, put rain suit arms over the cuff of your gloves. Otherwise, if the gloves are over the rain suit arms, when you stop the water will run down your arms into your gloves… and your gloves will get soaked inside. Same with boots… never put the boots over top of your rain pants.

  5. Recently returned from a 3 week vay-kay in the Philippines. Motorcycles and other two (and three) wheeled transportation are EVERYWHERE! Those folk know all about riding in the rain; and by rain, I mean deluge variety downpours!

  6. It seems every trip I take the sky opens up for a deluge. I rode for two days heading to southern Ontario and it rained all day for both days. The same all the way back. My Aerostich has kept me completely dry, provided I make sure my pants are not sticking out the bottom acting like wicks and I’m wearing my goretex Alpinestars boots. I have yet to find gloves that don’t get damp inside and electric jacket and pant liners can make a trip much more comfortable.
    Visibility is always an issue and even the pinlock is not the best when spray from trucks is everywhere.

    1. Every time I take a road trip, even if it’s in the hottest, driest summer on record, will inevitably end up involving at least one day of riding in cold, hard, driving rain all day. With a good rain suit, waterproof boots, and glove covers I can at least stay dry, but it’s not my idea of fun.

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