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.