Even if you’re one of those “fair weather” riders, it’s bound to happen sometime. Rain. If you don’t do it regularly, riding in the rain can be a stressful, not to mention uncomfortable, experience. So we’ve thrown together ten simple tips to help you stay safe when things get wet.
Tip # 1 – Smooth and steady
The first thing to remember when water starts to fall from the sky is to keep things smooth and steady: your throttle hand, braking and chassis/steering inputs. Because of the reduced traction, it’s easier to spin the rear wheel when accelerating, or lock up the brakes (front and rear). Make your steering inputs gently and smoothly, keeping your bike’s chassis and tires working together to maintain even contact and maximize traction.
Tip # 2 – The pavement is most slippery when it first starts to rain
This is especially true if it hasn’t rained in a while. Vehicles leave an oily residue on the road surface—a mixture of exhaust, engine and transmission oil and (worst of all) radiator fluid—that floats atop the water until it’s sufficiently washed away. So at the first drops, be at your most cautious and be aware of the potential for even more reduced traction.
At intersections, stop in either the right or left car tire track rather than the middle of the lane. Cars leave even more oily droppings while sitting at traffic lights, and if you put your foot down on top of that patch it could slip, taking you and your bike down.
Tip # 3 – Get all your braking and downshifting done before turning
While always good practice, this is most important whenever traction is reduced. If approaching an intersection to turn, allow yourself extra time to smoothly slow the bike (using both front and rear brakes) and downshift to your turning speed before you initiate the turn. That way you only have to worry about modulating your throttle as you turn and accelerate away.
Tip # 4 – When turning, stay a gear higher than normal
You might want to run in a higher gear at all times in the rain, but when cornering it’s a really good idea. A higher gear reduces the torque being delivered to the rear wheel, reducing the chance of a spin and making it easier to follow Tip # 1: being smooth and steady. For example, if you’re normally in second gear when you turn right at an intersection, when riding in the rain use third gear instead.
Tip # 5 – Painted lines are a potential danger zone
Depending on the amount of silica or reflective compound used in the paint, those white and yellow lines, pedestrian crossings and arrows can become almost as slick as ice when they’re wet. If you feel the bike wiggle and slip under you, for example when changing lanes, stay relaxed and let the bike regain its balance. (See Tip # 6.)
Tip # 6 – Stay relaxed!
It’s hard to do when you’re new, but try not to tense up when the rain starts. If the bike does wiggle a bit, your tense arms and wrists will just pass that wiggle right back down to the chassis, increasing your chance for a spill. Instead, let the bars wiggle and stay smooth and steady, gently rolling off the throttle if necessary (but for goodness’ sake, not chopping it off). Remember that a running bike in motion wants to stay in motion, not fall over.
Tip # 7 – Good tires can make all the difference
Tires that are not overly worn, with a functional tread pattern that goes to the edges of the tire, will provide better traction than you probably think. Have you ever watched professional racers riding in the rain? They lean over far enough to drag their knees—not that we’re recommending that! It’s just to illustrate that today’s tires are very good at gripping in the wet, and many touring-oriented tires (like the Michelin Road 5) even incorporate high-tech siping that’s designed to evacuate water from the contact patch.
The worst wet-weather tires? Those that are overly worn or bald, and knobby tires, such as those on a dirt-oriented ADV bike.
Tip # 8 – Give yourself extra space
It should go without saying, but allow yourself extra time and space to stop. Just like in a car, motorcycles can’t stop as quickly on wet roads as they can on dry.
Tip # 9 – Watch for standing water
Hydroplaning in a car is bad enough, but hydroplaning on a bike is a recipe for disaster. Not only will you lose control, you’ll likely end up sliding along the ground. On freeways, avoid the far left lane as it often hides dangerous standing water, especially on roads with concrete medians. Sections of road under overpasses can also hold standing water. On city streets, it’s the curb lane to avoid. Watch vehicles ahead of you for extra spray so you know what areas to avoid and where to slow down.
Try to ride in the tire tracks of the cars, rather than right down the middle of your lane. Not only is there less oil, the cars help to evacuate water from those sections.
Tip # 10 – Gear up!
Riding in the rain is a lot more palatable if you’re wearing the right gear. On day rides, carry a rain suit you can quickly pull on over your normal riding apparel. Or buy apparel that is waterproof or incorporates a rainproof layer. Gloves are the tricky part…truly waterproof gloves are tough to come by. You could try wearing latex gloves inside your regular gloves, or buy a large pair of thicker rubber gloves to wear on the outside. The best solution is a pair of waterproof “lobster” glove covers…check out Aerostich for examples.
Great article, with some great advice.
Though, in regard to point number 7, professional racers use special rain tires when racing in the rain, not “off the shelf” street tires and certainly not race slicks. Even with rain tires, I watched a superbike race this weekend which took place in the wet and racers were going down like it was its own sport!
Stay safe out there!
Good article! Might suggest that hesitant riders choose a rainy day when they’re in their “home riding area” and go out and practice. Don’t wait until caught out on a ride. Take the initiative to practice. Also they can dress in comfort of home, and if there’s any leaks in riding gear, can come home to a hot shower or bath.
Good article and comments. Thanks for the tips, especially the higher gear for turns. I know experience is the best but I’d like to stay vertical.
In addition to # 5, asphalt snakes where road repair has been performed can be slippery when dry. Add water and it’s even worse.