Monday, August 23, 2010

Let It Rain - Riding Motorcycles When It's Wet

When I first started riding motorcycles, rain clouds were my kryptonite. At the first sign of a dark cloud in the sky, my super-will to ride began to weaken and I raced home in search of a roof to hide under.

If I happened to get caught in the stuff - which was rare - I HATED it. Scared out of my wits with a death grip on the motorcycle's handlebars, I would swear from that point forward I would only ride on days of 0% humidity and no clouds in the sky.

Then, life happened. Time got more precious, a wife, family commitments, work responsibilities, etc, etc all began to eat into my riding time. So, to ride more, I had to take more chances and ride when weather conditions were less than ideal. Naturally, I got caught in the rain more, and you know what? I still hated it.

Then something clicked. Something happened, like in the movies when the ray of light from the sky shines down upon the main character and the choir sings in the background - except much less dramatic. I had been doing a lot more multi-day motorcycle trips which naturally means you are going to get caught in the rain more. Multi-day motorcycle trips also mean you have to bring more gear with you to accommodate a wide variety of climates. As I was building up my gear supply, I decided to purchase a rain suit.

This brings me to the first tip for riding motorcycles in the rain:

Tip #1 Buy the right gear.
Frankly, if you read no more than this, I'd be happy. When I first got caught in the rain and I slipped that rainsuit on, it was like a whole other world. I was (mostly) dry and even more important, comfortable! Meaning I spent more time concentrating on the road and riding the motorcycle versus thinking about how miserable it is in the rain.
Lot's of people I know (including me) are anti-gear. They either don't see the point, don't want to spend the money, think it looks funny, etc, etc. If you fall into this camp, I'm willing to bet you are spending a lot of time not enjoying riding motorcycles because you are uncomfortable in rain, cold, heat, whatever.

Get the right gear, and you'll find you can enjoy riding a lot more often. Personally, I now enjoy riding in the rain, it's just another thing for me to experience on my motorcycle.
Here's what you'll want to make sure you have on any particular outing/trip:
High quality rainsuit (you get what you pay for, good ones are hard to come by)
Waterproof boots that cover your ankles (so water doesn't seep in from above)
Waterproof gloves, preferably with one of those squeegees on the thumb to clean your visor with.

After you have the right gear, riding motorcycles in the rain is no longer uncomfortable or miserable. Riding in the rain becomes a simple exercise in common sense and knowledge of the conditions around you. That's what we'll focus on for the rest of the article.

Tip #2 The first 15 minutes after it starts raining are the slickest. Pull over and get some coffee.
This simple fact is because vehicles deposit oil, brake fluid, fuel, and lots of other crud on the road over time. When it rains, all of this crud that was built up on the road mixes with the water and sits on top just waiting for your two wheeled ride to hit it.

The best strategy to take? Pull over for gas, a coffee, whatever when it first starts to rain. Can't pull over? Just drive extra careful and slow during the start of any rain shower.

Tip #3 Avoid shiny-smooth surfaces.
What do I mean particularly? Most obvious is anything metal - train tracks, man hole covers, metal grates on bridges, etc. Less obvious is anything painted: lane lines, turn arrows, etc. I guarantee you that trying to stop on one of those giant painted turn arrows at an intersection is going to be much more difficult than plain old asphalt.

Tip #4 Slow Down!
Ok, so this one is pretty self explanatory but, for those of you that have been dropped on your head a few more times than rain, surfaces are slicker than usual - water acts as a lubricant. This means your brakes are less effective, which means its going to take much longer to stop when it's wet than when it's dry. Plus, when it boils down to it would you rather start fish tailing at 20 miles an hour or 40 miles an hour?

No rainsuit is going to keep you dry from peeing on yourself.


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