Riding Motorcycles in the Rain | 8 Tips
For the average motorcyclist, riding in the Northeast is not a 12-month thing. Most riders have their motorcycles in winter storage by November 1, and don’t bring them out until April or May. I’m not one of those.
I ride 12 months out of the year, regardless of single-digit temperatures. I’ve also had to take advantage of the occasional tow due to snowstorms (thanks AMA for the roadside assistance!). Though winter places limitations on riders here in the Northeast, the other thing that keeps many riders from enjoying their motorcycles is rain.
I average around 25,000 miles a year, so I do much 0f my riding in the rain. Over the years, I’ve dedicated serious training to riding a bike in the rain; it’s all part of my studies for a motorcycle safety book I plan on launching (hopefully!) next year.
There’s a certain romance that arrives with riding in the rain, especially at speed, but we’ll save that for another article. My longest stretch in the rain arrived during a return trip home from Clarksdale, Mississippi, when I took a solo trip to the birthplace of Delta Blues. I spent about 12 hours in downpours and began taking mental notes to help others enjoy riding in the rain as much as I do. Those mental notes eventually turned into teachable techniques.
Next time it rains and you are burning for a ride, feed into that sensation. But first, make these tips as essential as gas.
1. It’s All About the Gear
Comfort is a major factor for safe riding. Here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we do quite a bit of apparel testing, so we can quickly separate the good from the not-so-good. There were days I turned around within a minute of a ride due to something being uncomfortable, which distracts us from riding.
While riding motorcycles in the rain, comfort is all about waterproof gear, especially for your feet and hands.
When touring, I bring usually four pairs with me for varied conditions, including two pair of my ultimate rain gloves—Racer Elevate and Alpinestars Polar Gore-Tex.
Waterproof boots are essential, with the Tour Master Solution WP boots as an excellent choice for touring and light sport duty, as are Joe Rocket Meteor FX boots with a DryTech membrane.
Also, don’t cheap out on a waterproof suit. I’ve worn my share of them in my early 20s, and learned to rely on quality ones, such as the Rain Suit from Fly Racing.
Being visible, with hi-viz and reflective materials, along with brighter colors, are key for ultimate visibility.
The last piece to remember is where all the riding begins—vision. Make sure you have a clear anti-fog faceshield. Pinlock faceshields are the ultimate for anti-fogging—much better than coatings that can sometimes scratch off.
2. Cover Brakes/Open Following Distance
Let’s do some simple math. If you’re traveling at 60 mph, your motorcycle will have to start coming to a stop while moving at 88 feet per second. Under perfect conditions, a skilled rider can come to a full stop in around 5.4 seconds; that includes a one-second delay before hitting your brakes.
Imagine two fingers were already covering that brake. Now, you’ve just saved yourself around a second, and can stop 88 feet sooner. Covering your brake lever can mean the difference between life and death.
Also, lengthen your following distance. I typically ride 4-6 seconds behind cars; while riding motorcycles in the rain, I open that to 8-10 seconds. This leaves you much more time if an emergency braking/swerving action is needed.
3. Watch for Extra Slippery Spots
Rain makes the asphalt slick, and some areas are much dangerous than others—painted lines, tar snakes, manhole covers, metal bridges, and metal bridge expansions.
Also, never stop in the middle of the lane. That rainbow of colors caused by oil or diesel residue is much slicker than anything else on the road. I’ve witnessed two riders drop their bikes at stops—one for using too much front brake in the middle of the lane, and another who was to the right of the lane, but put his left foot down on the slippery stuff and lost his balance.
4. Railroad Crossings
These are extremely slick during rain, and railroad tracks deserve their own focus. When approaching wet railroad tracks while riding motorcycles in the rain, take them on as close to perpendicular as safely possible, as it is less likely the tires will slide on the steel.
5. Use More Body English
Body position is a hot topic for sportbike and adventure riders, and it should also be stressed for those on cruisers—especially when it’s raining. Using body lean to help keep the bike upright with more rubber on the ground increases traction. When leaning off the bike, do so in a smooth transition so you don’t upset the chassis.
A great rule of thumb for rain riding on any type of bike is to “stick your head in the mirrors”. The average human head weighs about ten pounds without a helmet. This extra weight can assist you through turns, allowing the bike to remain more upright.
Practice this in the dry first—your visual perspective changes, so train yourself to ride comfortably with your head in the mirror. Keep in mind that you might not want to try this if you’re riding a bike with huge apes.
And for those off-road on big ADV bikes, when things get extremely slick stand on those pegs and get that central mass as low as possible. You’ll have more control and traction.
6. Smooth Control
We mentioned smooth transitions if using body positioning to keep the bike upright. Smoothness is also needed for all aspects of riding—most importantly the brakes.
Don’t grab the brake lever sharply, and use the rear brake in combination with the front. For cruisers, I rely on 50/50 braking technique in the rain; for all others, about 80 front/20 rear in the rain. Using the rear brake also helps stabilize the chassis, which is a must for the ultimate safe riding in the rain.
Also, take some lessons from racers. Ease the front brakes on to set up the suspension before hard braking. This will keep the chassis stable under braking, allowing you to stop much quicker.
7. Seek Dry Lines
If the rain stops, and you see a line drying (usually car tracks), utilize it.
8. Good Tires/Correct PSI
Make sure your tires are not worn and have correct pressure. I religiously check my tire pressure before every ride, rain or not. I’ve recently made it a practice to do so with whoever comes riding with me. One time I found a rear tire underinflated by 15 psi, and that was on the bike of a seasoned rider—sorry, Dad, had to tell!
Also, remember that tires take longer to warm up in the rain, and don’t swerve to warm them up. That technique does nothing for warming tires, even on dry surfaces. Stop and go riding is the ultimate technique to warm up tires, and can help put some heat in them quicker in the rain.
ADV guys on dual-sport tires—I run a Continental TKC 80 on my Suzuki V-Strom 1000—need to be extra careful at speed in corners. I’ve tested my TKCs at triple-digit speeds in wet corners, and one upset of the chassis could have easily sent me flying. Slow down, and ride as smooth as possible.
Three things continually evolve that provide more motorcycle safety in the rain: tire technology, traction control and ABS. Motorcycle-tire technology is unbelievable nowadays; just last year I was testing the new Metzeler M7 RR in Spain, getting knees down at Almeria Circuit during downpours. And they are street tires, not a rain tire for racing, which are beyond impressive.
Considering today’s tire technology, and that most modern machinery has ABS and some sort of traction control, the only things holding riders back from enjoying motorcycles during rain is themselves. These tips will assist in safe rain riding, and even if it’s not a romantic thing and you don’t intentionally get out there when its wet, still learn them; every rider eventually encounters wet conditions.