Safety: How To Ride a Motorcycle In The Rain

How To -

By

rain-top

Scared of riding in the wet stuff? There’s no need; with a little know-how and a little preparation, riding in the rain can be just as safe and just as fun as riding on a nice, sunny day. Here’s how to ride a motorcycle in the rain.

The heavens have opened and it’s pouring. You can’t see very far down the road thanks to the spray coming off other vehicles. Your visor is misting up and you’re not entirely sure how you and your bike are going to handle the rain. Slow down a bit. Relax. Pay attention. After all, it’s only water.

The Right Equipment
Riding in the rain for a long period of time? You’re going to get wet. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on rain gear or what exaggerated claims the manufacturer makes, it’s just going to happen. Period. But, there are steps you can take to stay comfortable, warm, mostly dry and, most importantly, safe.

The thing is, that when it rains, you’re going to get cold. And getting cold will decrease your ability to concentrate and your ability to control the motorcycle. So, riding in the rain shouldn’t simply be an effort at gritting your teeth and sticking with it, you need to prepare.

The first thing to consider is likely visor fogging. With moisture in the air, every helmet we’ve ever tested has fogged up. Well, with the exception of Icon helmets, which are designed in rainy Portland and somehow gifted with magical anti-fog properties. Your more expensive helmet can be, too, simply by fitting a Pinlock, Fog City or similar insert. These really do work perfectly so, even though it’s dry today, go ahead and order one and install it in your clear visor. You’ll thank us when you’re caught in a storm.

Also on the subject of vision: ditch the dark visor for a clear one, and if you’re regularly riding in the wet, consider a yellow (clear yellow, not gold iridium) shield. These increase contrast and therefore vision in bad conditions. Endurance racers swear by them.

Every helmet maker ever will tell you not to apply Rain-X or something similar to your visor. However, we’ve been doing it for years with no ill effects. It causes water to quickly bead up and run off, aiding vision. It’s said to reduce the effective life of your shield, but we’re replacing our clear visors once a year anyway due to scratches and whatnot. So it’s definitely worth considering if you’re regularly riding in wet road conditions.

The next thing to consider is your hands. They are the first things to get cold, and you need their fine control to delicately operate the controls. If your hands go numb, you aren’t able to ride safely. Period. So keep them warm and dry. Look for a pair of gloves with a name brand waterproof membrane like Gore-Tex or eVent. Because you want to retain control, gloves get bonus points for laminating that membrane to the outer shell, thereby eliminating one layer of stuff moving around between you and the levers. Gore-Tex X-TRAFIT has just such a lamination process and is used on the latest waterproof gloves from Alpinestars and Dainese.

Now you want to consider your bike’s riding position. If your arms sit level on the bars (such as on an ADV or Standard bike) or sit higher (as on a Cruiser) you’ll want gauntlets that go over your jacket, then cinch tight. If you’re riding a Sport Bike, Sport Tourer or performance Naked and your arms slope down, you’ll want gloves that fit under your jacket, so rain running down your sleeves doesn’t enter your gloves.

In a pinch, a pair of nitrile shop gloves or those cheesy plastic mitts gas stations give out at the Diesel pumps will help keep you dry and warm. Heck, even Marigolds have been known to help; that’s what Barry Sheene would wear under his leather race gauntlets.

That same name-brand waterproof membrane advice goes for your jacket and pants or suit. Make sure zippers come with rain flaps so moisture doesn’t pass right through and look for a neck and cluffs that cinch tightly to keep out the water. One-piece suits like the Aerostich Roadcrafter do a better job of keeping you dry than two-pieces, simply because the rain can’t sneak in around your lower back. A regular application of NikWax or Scotch Guard can help keep out the water, too.

Then there’s the tricky subject of boots. For some reason, manufacturers have yet to find a way to make a decent pair of waterproof motorcycle boots that also provide good feel and safety. Part of the reason is probably that boots sit in the spray coming off the front tire, so are essentially being powerwashed the entire time you’re riding. Look for boots that include a waterproof gusset in the entry flap that goes nearly as high as the boot itself, keep that name brand membrane in mind and regularly apply a silicone boot spray or similar around the sole/body stitching and any other hardware and you might get away with only damp feet. Wear wool socks, they’ll keep you warm even when they get wet. And they will get wet.

Which brings us to the subject of what you wear under all that. Because rain is, absolutely, no argument, going to get inside your outer layer, your inner layer(s) also need to work to keep your warm and dry. A good ol’ fleece jacket works well at that, as do wool sweaters. You’ll also want a balaclava or scarf that doesn’t soak up water to protect your neck. Seal Skinz socks do a great job of keeping your feet dry, even in ventilated race boots.

And, on top of all that, consider the reduced vision everyone on the road is sharing. Wear bright, reflective items to help drivers see you through the spray.

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  • John

    It is NEVER just as safe to ride in the rain, nor is it ever just as safe to ride at night., You can minimize the risk, but implying you can make it as safe with a little thought is false. The moment something happens and you need to turn fast, you’ll realize just how less safe a wet highway is.

  • Lee Scuppers

    The Pinlock antifog insert works perfectly. Get one, if your visor is compatible. Shame about my glasses fogging up anyhow…

    • appliance5000

      This is really supposed to work – I’m going to try it:
      Clarity Defog It

    • runnermatt

      My glasses fog up too. Usually I end up having to leave my helmet’s chin vent open.

  • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

    In the rain more than ever, it’s important to keep your tires in the two tracks where car tires usually travel. Between them is where the oil has been dripping out of all their engines. Be especially careful not to cross that center part of the lane just after bumps or rises in the road, as that’s when that oil most often shakes loose from the cars (which is why when dry, these spots are always stained with oil). Slippery dippery.

    • MichaelEhrgott

      THIS

    • Matthew Mason

      This man has a beard…I trust his advice

  • Generic42

    Speaking of when not to cross and the floods in Colorado (where I am) here’s how you lose your bike and almost your life

    http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=aa4_1380175682

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Holy Crap!

    • UrbanMoto

      Guy rides up to edge of raging flood, sits and looks at it a bit, and decides it’s a good idea to ride directly into it. WTF?

    • http://www.mises.org/ Core

      *Cracks up* oh man… I WANT to feel sorry for him, I really do… Hopefully he has more money than intelligence.

  • Mark D

    Hi-Viz stuff really pops in the rain and fog. If you’re going to get rain gear to go over your regular gear, no harm in getting it in bright colors. I’ve used Frogg Toggs gear to pretty good effect. It kept me dry enough to ride out an August Kansas thunderstorm in the morning, change gloves when it stopped, and be comfortable the rest of the day.

    I also try to be a bit more mindful of using brakes when slowing down, not just gliding and downshifting. A little pressure on the read brake does the trick, and you might even want to pump the brakes slightly (only enough to engage your brake lights) to draw more attention to yourself.

    • jonoabq

      Hyperlights work extremely well if you want a flashing rear brake light and you don’t have to do anything (like pumping your brakes) that might cause you problems in the rain. Easy install, inexpensive.

  • Guzzto

    painted lines, manhole covers,tram lines, metal plates for water mains, those are scary. For some reason the council seems to put them all half way around a bend in the middle of the optimum line. Good to know where these are if it’s your daily commute (I only take one route if it’s wet as I pretty much have these hazards memorized) probably easier if your commutes not too long.

  • Piglet2010

    Do not ride in the rain on old, hard tires (do not ask me how I know this).

    • runnermatt

      If I ask does it turn into story time?

      • Piglet2010

        I know where the water hose is at Blackhawk Farms Raceway, since I used it to clean the mud, grass, and leaves off my Ninjette after sliding off the track in Turn 4.

        I had bought the bike used a few days before, and had not ridden it in the wet until getting to the track. I dropped the tire pressures down to 20 psi, and finished the day without crashing again.

  • Piglet2010

    Some places are best avoided on a motorcycle in the rain, such as urban freeways when the traffic is just light enough to pack the road full, but is still moving 5 to 10 mph over the speed limit (I drove in such conditions on the Tri-State Tollway, and could barely see the other vehicles due to the spray).

  • Yaw Anokwa

    Tip 1: Even if you are a fair weather rider, practice riding in the rain so you know what it’s like when you get caught out in the rain.

    Tip 2: Don’t ride during thunderstorms. Cars and motorcycles behave very differently when struck by lightning, and in the case of motorcycles, you will most certainly die. http://www.msgroup.org/Tip.aspx?Num=098 has tips on what to do if you ride into a thunderstorm.

    • Mykola

      Found that website a while ago when I first started riding; Couldn’t again recently when a sibling started riding. There’s a treasure trove of mindful riding techniques there.

  • Guest

    test

  • runnermatt

    This is the best article I’ve read about riding in the rain. Most others simply say slow down, be smooth with your control inputs, and avoid the paint and manhole covers.

    Here are my tips:

    1). When braking don’t pull the clutch in except to stop and shift. This provides the benefit of engine braking and because the engine is still turning over and powering the rear wheel it will prevent the rear wheel from locking up. This works regardless of whether your bike has ABS or not.

    2). Different road surfaces can have vastly different levels of traction. Concrete and pavement are probably the two that most readily come to mind, but there are many. Such as grooved concrete, metal grating on bridges, wooden bridges (VERY slick when I encountered them while mountain biking), and the many, many different types of pavement/asphalt. When I was in Okinawa the roads were paved using limestone gravel instead of what we use in the U.S. When wet those roads were as slick as lightly snow covered roads here in Virginia, so much so that in certain corners and intersections they would put down a different type of pavement that was higher traction in the braking and cornering zones.

    3). Drivers will react to rain differently depending on how often an a region has seen rain. Friends of mine that have lived in SoCal said that the drivers there react to rain the same way Virginia drivers react to snow. I’ve even noticed that drivers tend to drive quite differently if it hasn’t rained during the commute for a couple of months.

  • jonoabq

    1. Quality Roo gloves for wet days along with heated grips. 100% Roo has very little stretch (Held is my favorite), don’t mind getting wet, and with the heated grips you get warmth (if needed) and the tactile feedback you need from the close fitting Roo makes riding in the wet feel less sketchy.
    2. Heated bib (Aerostich) for keeping your core warm (again, if needed).
    3. Think slow/smooth control inputs, and you’ll be able to keep about 90% of your normal speed just about everywhere (modern rubber is awesome, pony up the extra cash for quality tires).
    4. More lighting never hurts.
    5. Enjoy, embrace the rain, you’ll have a lot of roads to yourself as most of your favorite roads will be empty.

  • Kr Tong

    Only other tip I could think of : You can make your bike easier to modulate.

    Cut out material in your rear brake pad. Buy rotors with holes/less material. Replace the return spring with a heavier spring.

    Buy a power commander and remap the jerky fueling issues you’ve got going on.

  • Linda

    Thanks for writing this and for posting real-world riding information! I really appreciate what you are doing here.
    I’m in Portland and do some rain riding on freeways and in the city so any tips help. I’m on double alert as my area get very foggy in the mornings. These riding tips are great AND I see a high-vis oversuit in my near future…

  • KevinB

    Never had an issue with my SMX-5′s in the rain. They’ve kept my feet dry on quite a few long, rainy rides. Aerostiches are pretty good, but water puddles in the crotch and you’ll end up with wet junkgooch. The only suit I’ve had that’s actually waterproof is the Rev’it Infinity, but it’s a pretty serious investment and probably not worth it if you’re only riding 3k a year like most.

  • El Isbani

    #relevanttopic

  • Rob

    Wes, that advice from Ron Haslam- “low gear, high revs”, has confused me before when you mentioned it. I did a little research- It seems this Haslam, an Englishman, is a former racer and he now runs a Race School at Donnington Park. At Donnington they race in the rain. If you have booked a trackday, you will ride in the rain, or not, they keep your money just the same. To be fair, you did couch this as advice on on Racing in the Wet, as such it pertains more to Racers and Track Day participants that to commuters or tourers riding in the rain. When the desire is to accelerate rapidly in the wet, it’s safer to keep the revs up and be ready to upshift than to have to roll on a bunch of throttle to get to the power. It makes sense in that context.
    The rest of the column was about riding safer in the rain though, not riding faster in the rain; in that context it makes no sense. “Slow and steady, at 11k”- really? How about using low revs to go slow? The throttle response is softer and transitions from neutral throttle to drive are smoother. You may be slower, but it’s probably safer and you won’t sound like a nutter.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Yeah, I mean you don’t need to keep your revs within 1k of the redline the second the sky clouds up. But, in corners and whatnot, use a lower gear, not a higher one. The fueling will be smoother and you’ll need less throttle to accelerate. That increases control and results in less wheelspin.

  • Nathan Kašpar Pisa

    “Slow down a bit. Relax. Pay attention. After all, it’s only water.”

    Thank you for this Wes. Out here in Los Angeles everytime it rains it’s as if everyone is completely dumbfounded by this foreign thing coming from the sky.

  • http://www.mises.org/ Core

    “Late at night, in a rare Los Angeles rain storm, I once had a driver
    plow through a red light at 50+ mph with all four of his (completely
    bald) tires locked, missing me and my bike by maybe half an inch.
    Because I was sitting on the lane marker rather than in my lane, I lived
    to write this article.” I just wanted to say thanks for the good article.

  • Catherine Beck

    I often have trouble when riding in heavy rain. Besides the slick streets, the vision is also impaired at that time. Thanks a lot for this article. it’s really help

  • enzomedici

    For new riders in desert climates like here in Las Vegas, riding in the rain can be insanely dangerous. Since it rarely rains the oil builds up for months and months on the roads. When it does finally rain, all of that oil mixes with the rain means slippery roads. Basic corners become death traps so you really need to take it easy when it rains the desert.

  • William Connor

    I can’t believe I am questioning this, but the advice from Ron Haslam does not sound like good advice for the street. More power with wheel slip will cause the revs to rise faster in a lower gear, much like acceleration is faster in a lower gear. One gear higher means that even though the throttle is turned further you a running less rpm and the engine will not shoot to redline nearly as fast. In a race environment you would want the scenario Mr. Haslam mentioned to maximize acceleration and control at the absolute limit.

  • silentim

    why not wearing rain coat? preferable 2 piece rain coat? it always readily available under my seat just in case.

  • DailyBikerDan

    So many good tips! Thanks for sharing Wes. *scurries off to find Seal Skinz*