Let’s face it, if motorcyclists could control the weather, rain would never fall on them. Even the most seasoned Iron-Butt rider would choose a cool sunny day over a rainy one any day of the week. However, for most of us, riding in rain is something we have no choice about. Unless we ride only on days where there is 0% chance of rain, we have to be prepared mentally and equipment wise for a possible rain storm.
Many new riders freak out about riding in the rain for no reason. I say this because my MSF course I took tested while in the middle of a spring shower. I was on a street legal dirt bike for this course and still passed it with flying colors, including the braking section which I was most concerned about. I was concerned throughout but the test proved to me that sensible bike riding can be done in wet conditions. The bike and I did fine and so my approach to rain has been to wait out the beginning of a storm and then go about my merry way. However, I do always make a point to:
- Slow down a little.
- Leave more room between me and the vehicle in front of me.
- Wait 20 minutes after it starts raining before riding. The first 20 minutes is the most dangerous, as the oil in the pavement comes to the surface and mixes with the rain to make and especially slippery concoction.
Many motorcyclists buy their bike based on looks and sometimes even fuel efficiency, but don’t consider the extra maintenance costs a bike presents. One of the biggest added costs of motorcycle ownership and the source of so many nervous riders when the roads get wet are tires, specifically worn tires. A broken in but newer tire with proper tread will help alleviate much of the traction issues associated with wet weather riding. Remember though: most motorcycle tires HAVE to be broken in for at least 100, if not many more miles, before they are safe to use in the rain. Tires that are worn down to the wear bars are far more likely to hydroplane in a puddle.
Making sure the lights, front and back, are operational is more important during wet weather than any time. On a clear day, other vehicles can easily see hand signs for turns and stops if the rear lights are dim or not working. However, add in rain to the mix and hand signals are easily lost. Little additions like brighter LED bulbs for running and brake lights, brake light modulators and brighter license plate frames go a long ways to increasing visibility in rainy and wet conditions.
Aside from things to help with visibility, some good clothing decisions can make even a lengthy ride in the rain something that can almost be enjoyed rather than something that is done for the least amount of time possible. Whether your ride is a touring bike or a sport bike, nothing is more miserable than dealing with a rainstorm without any type of rain gear. While jeans are popular for riding, they soak up rain and end up weighing three times as much and even a warm day can become uncomfortably cool when the bike is moving.
A basic necessity that I have always carried is some sort of rain suit. When wearing my solid leather jacket, I don’t worry about keeping my top half dry but still carry waterproof pants. These days, so many mesh jackets come with a built in or zip in rain liner that this would work very well and take up very little space. A pair of rain pants is inexpensive as well and take up very little room that the typical commuter can always find room in a pannier, trunk or tank bag. Even in my sport bike days, I’d be the only one with a tank bag on a blast on the country roads. I was also the only one that had water, a place for my cell phone and was prepared for a rain storm as well. It never slowed me down and on those days were a rain storm hit in the afternoon, the other riders were envious of me.
The final necessity, equipment-wise, is one that most everyone always has, and that is the helmet. For those who don’t wear helmets, I encourage you to change your mind. Nothing makes a ride home worse than rain drops hitting your forehead while going even 35 or 40 miles per hour. Even a “shorty” helmet will help, as will a pair of sunglasses or goggles. The more protection a helmet offers from road rash though, the more it will protect from rain. On full-face helmets though, be prepared for the visor to fog up though. Some anti-fog on the inside or a little spit will help prevent this, as will leaving it open just a little at the bottom. A few drops of rain may sneak in, but you will be able to still see. Remember: With any helmet, rain drops come right off if you turn your head and let the wind pull them off.