Riding in the Rain: Traction & Tactics
In the article It’s All About the Gear, I talked about a number of ideas for finding the right gear and clothing to keep you safer and more comfortable.
In this article I’m going to talk about skills and tactics that can help you be safer and more confident when riding in the rain.
Possibly one of the most overlooked improvements in the world of motorcycles relates to tires. Today’s touring tires are marvels at accommodating all the road conditions we’re continually up against. Even so, they can’t give you the same degree of traction and confidence on a wet road as they can on a dry one. And they certainly can’t help you if there’s no traction left on them! Be sure to change your tires out when they start to wear. Tires are like so many things in life: you get what you pay for. It’s just not worth skimping on tires when it could be life or limb on the line.
And, having said that, don’t forget the rest of the puzzle: keep your tires at the correct PSI! Even if it means an extra couple of minutes before you ride off into the proverbial sunset. Underinflated tires are more prone to hydroplaning on wet or rainy surfaces (NOT a good thing)!
Speed and Distance
This seems obvious, but let’s do some simple math to help drive home my point.
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.
Tip: Try keeping two fingers on your front brake lever. If you can do that, you’ll save about a second - aka about 88 feet of stopping space!
Now, looking at the numbers, you can see why it’s also a good idea to increase your following distance when riding in the rain. This gives you more time to react to any unfortunate incidences that may unfold ahead of you.
Another advantage of a slower speed is that it reduces your angle in turns (which is where problems are often encountered). Which leads nicely to my next point…
Keep it Upright
I know sometimes we want to hunch up when we’re getting pummeled with rain. But the more upright you are on the motorcycle, the more weight is applied perpendicular to the road, which increases your traction.
Avoid last-second turns and unnecessary swerves, and when braking, never apply only the front brakes because it can cause your front wheel to slip. (If your rear wheel slips, you can control/recover, but if your front starts skidding, you’re in trouble.)
Tip: Don’t “grab” the brake lever suddenly, but instead, ease the front brakes on to set up the suspension before hard braking. And use the rear brake in combination with the front (something I’m constantly having to work on) at a 60 rear / 40 front ratio if possible. Using the rear brake helps stabilize the chassis, which is a VGT (Very Good Thing).
Read the Road
The worst rains of the season are the first ones. Oily scum has yet to wash off (and, here in Minnesota, the road salt), making the surface particularly treacherous. Rain also has the bad habit of spreading gravel and dirt around; so be on the lookout for this, particularly in rural areas (a BIG issue where we live!).
I think it’s safe to say that most of us would rather NOT hydroplane on a motorcycle (which occurs when a layer of water gets sandwiched between your tire and the road, resulting in zero traction) so avoid standing water or puddles whenever possible.
Slippery surfaces that you might not even notice in a car can be problematic for a motorcyclist. The unstable nature of a two-wheeled bike and the smaller, lighter size mean that sliding on the road can easily result in a crash. Slick surfaces are even more dangerous when the biker is turning. The list of potentially slippery objects/surfaces is long but includes:
- Crosswalk Lines
- Any painted surfaces
- Anti-freeze or oil
And, last but not least: reduce your speed. (Are we noticing a theme here? Slower is better in the rain!)
- Tracey Cramer
Riding in the Rain: How to Protect Yourself (and Enjoy the Ride)
I’m not going to tell you “don’t ride in the rain.” (That would be very hypocritical!) While most riders don’t purposely choose to ride in the rain, you can’t be sure that a trip that starts with sunny skies will end that way. Heck, in Minnesota the weather can change by the moment!
But let’s be honest: rain makes riding a motorcycle more complex and yes, dangerous. But there are things you can do to increase your safety and make riding in the rain an enjoyable, rewarding experience.
In this article, I’ll address Comfort.
Let me be really straightforward: Anything that distracts you when you’re riding is potentially dangerous. In rainy weather that could be a trickle of cold water that leaks down your neck, chilling your whole body.
So it’s important to take some time (and spend some money) to get proper waterproof clothing and gear.
In rainy weather, there’s no way to get around the most common-sense item: a full-face helmet. You can keep your half-helmet or 'beanie' helmet for sunnier weather, but make the investment in a full-face helmet if you expect to ride in the rain. Our advice: get one with good venting.
For those who argue that their full-face helmet fogs up in the rain or cold, we have a solution for that (and it's less than $20): get yourself an Anti-Fog insert. Problem solved.
Today’s riding gloves are amazing, and we recommend you have at least two pair with you while riding, a lighter weight and a ‘workhorse’ rainproof pair. Still, there are drawbacks to gloves. The biggest one (in my opinion) is that gloves add bulk, which can make it more difficult to grip and definitely more difficult to shift gears.
So, recently I’ve been experimenting with Hand Guards. These are basically a "fairing" for each hand that allows you to adjust the area of protection for each hand.
One of the better ones we've found is the WingShields by Brukus, which are made of a tough polycarbonate which makes them extremely difficult to break, yet light (and clear, which we like). You clamp them to the handlebar or mirror stem and align the curved shield ahead of your hands.
Not only will they protect you from rain, but airflow over your hands will be reduced, making your gripping area warmer.
Get yourself a quality rainsuit, preferably one that incorporates a breathable membrane such as Gore-Tex or similar material. Don’t ‘cheap out’ on this!
Keep your rainsuit with you (I’ve been guilty of violating this one because I like the “naked” bike look); and pack it on top, not at the bottom, of your saddlebag. Or better yet, put it on before you ride.
Use a windshield. Nothing else is more effective at protecting your body, and yet there is much confusion about correct windshield height. Your windshield should be low enough to look over, not just through. Read more about windshield height here.
Legs & Feet
I’ve found it takes some experimentation to find the right pair of waterproof boots, but they really make a difference if you get caught in the rain.
I hate to say it, but I wear a men’s boot. It’s changing, but for a very long time the only options for women’s boots didn’t have nearly the traction and waterproof qualities of mens (so they think all we care about is fashion, not safety!?).
Another great idea is the Desert Dawgs Rain Guards/Wind Deflectors. These soft lowers slip onto your engine guard bar like a glove on a hand and will keep rain off your legs and feet.
Most riders say they experience significant rain protection; many of our customers swear by their Dawgs (some going so far as to claim they saved their life during a downpour or even snow). Read more and watch the video here.
- Make sure your rain gear fits properly and is in good shape.
- Choose bright colors for increased visibility.
- Transfer wallet, keys, and other essentials to waterproof outside pockets.
- Watch windshield wipers of oncoming cars to see if it’s raining ahead.
- Put on all your waterproof gear and have someone turn the hose on you to check for leaks!
- Tracey Cramer
Motorcycle Travel, Part II: Planning
Have you picked a destination you want to ride your motorcycle to? Great! Now have some fun planning it!
See cool stuff
The roads are not the only reason for the trip. Make sure to plan fun and interesting destinations along your route. That could mean a beach, a mountain range, a forest, a city, a monument, a desert, an amusement park, an ocean (or, heck, some relatives or friends!). The list is endless.
Don’t get lost
You’ll enjoy your trip more if you’re not stressed about finding a place to sleep, or wondering how far you can go on a tank of gas.
Get a GPS or a navigation app on your smart phone (See our blog post about GPS vs. Phone) and plug in your route. That way you can simply follow along and not have to worry about getting lost.
Some minor adjustments to your GPS can make you more comfortable (such as turning the screen brightness all the way up). And, of course, you want to make sure your phone or GPS is securely mounted (hint: use a Leader mount!).
Look for out-of-the-way “local” places to eat (they often have the best food and atmosphere).
How about taking a tour of America’s weirdest food? Ever tried Scrapple in Pennsylvania? The name is as it implies. Scrapes of the pig! (Could it be good??)
Wisconsin - up in our neck of the words! - is famous for fried cheese curds. (These are amazing!)
Geoduck anyone? The leathery siphon protruding from the six-inch shell of this odd-looking deep-water clam can reach up to three feet in length. Served like sashimi and sauteed in butter. (Not sure about this one...)
Try to plan your day’s travel so you end up at a location where lodging is available. In peak times of the year lodging can be hard to come by so you may want to make reservations in advance. Knowing where you are going and where you will stop helps make the trip less stressful.
Think about where you want to stay. Do you prefer a big hotel or something smaller? I love a good B&B (bed-and-breakfast); they’re often quaint or quirky, and the food is usually fantastic. Plus they have their fingers on the pulse of what is happening locally and are a great source for things to do in the area.
Every state (and many municipalities) has dedicated tourism websites that can be helpful in identifying destinations and lodging.
- Tracey Cramer
Minimize Helmet Buffeting and Wind Noise with the Right Windshield
Windshields get the wind off your body, chest and head, funneling it around you and protecting you from rain, insects, grit and small rocks. A good windshield will create an effective pocket of wind protection, minimize helmet buffeting and reduce wind noise.
The height of your windshield determines the area of protection.
As I learned while working with Memphis Shades, the rule of thumb is that the top of the windshield should come to nose level when you’re sitting upright on the seat (or between upper lip and nose). This creates a ‘slipstream’ effect to push air up and over your head; it also allows you to look over the windshield if you need to (which I do when it’s raining hard!).
That said, I personally find that having a windshield on the tall side gives me a little more protection from wind in particular.
Rain can affect visibility (and so can sun glare), so get a high-quality windshield with good optical qualities (ask for DOT-certified clarity) and anti-scratch properties such as windshields made of Lexan polycarbonate. It may cost a little more but like so many things in life, you get what you pay for!
- If you can, visit windshield manufacturer’s booths at rallies or trade events and ‘try on’ different windshields.
- Remember that the ‘height’ of the windshield will start about an inch above the headlight on most motorcycles.
- Many riders like ‘quick detach’ or ‘quick release’ windshields so they can be removed in warmer weather.
- Tracey Cramer
Motorcycle Travel, Part III: Comfort & Convenience
Here at Leader we’re all about comfort and convenience! So now that we’ve covered planning tips (see articles "Dreaming" and "Planning"), it’s time to start thinking about the ‘little things’ that will make your trip so much more enjoyable.
Packing is super important on a bike because you have such limited space. You don't want to look like this guy!
Think about the weather where you are traveling and realize the temperature may swing from high to low in the span of a day.
Layer clothing whenever possible, and make sure you have the essentials: jeans, underwear, extra socks, long-sleeve shirt and your favorite T-shirts. Another must: rain gear and good-quality leather chaps.
Know the helmet laws in the states in which you’re traveling. Don’t get caught without one in a helmet-law state! (No fun to get a ticket on your dream trip.) Check out this site for a map of the states where helmets are required.
Don’t try to do too much
If you’re not used to riding long distances, don’t force yourself to stay in the saddle for hundreds of miles. Plan stops along the way: for hydration, a bathroom break, or just to walk around and get the blood flowing (and give your rear a break). Plan the total number of hours or miles to be comfortable for you and you’ll have a much more enjoyable trip.
Invest in a set of Desert Dawgs for rain and wind protection; a butt cushion (or custom seat if your budget allows); or some music… anything for comfort and convenience.
NOW you’re ready to go! Or are you? We’ve got a few MORE tips for you in this article, such as recording memories, taking precautions and preparing your bike.
- Tracey Cramer
Motorcycle Travel, Part IV: Memories and Maintenance
Okay, you’ve picked your destination, planned your route, and found some fun places to visit along the way. You know which states to wear a helmet in and your bags are packed. What are you forgetting?
Many wonderful memories are going to be made during this trip. Have you thought about how you’re going to save them? Your own brain, you say? Well, if you're like me things don’t stick in the old noggin like they used to. What’s the solution?
Make a video!
Now that you’re finally taking your dream trip, there’s nothing cooler than recording it in both picture and video. The scenery and shots are amazing!
Must have for this trip is a video camera! Naturally, we have what you need: the Swivel-CAM, a perfect mount for shooting video:
- A clean, streamlined design
- Ultra-Swivel for unlimited angle-ability
- 360-degree rotational swivel at top
- Built-in anti-vibration
One last thing to think about
Have you taken your bike for a “wellness” check? The two of you are going to be spending a lot of time together on this trip.
Make sure your motorcycle is roadworthy and reliable before setting out. Ensure all equipment is working and can withstand the rigors of the road. The tires should have plenty of rubber and be properly inflated, the oil and other fluids should be clean and topped off, and all lighting should be working.
If your bike has a chain drive, the chain should be properly tensioned and lubricated, and if belt driven, the belt should be inspected for wear and properly tensioned. Make sure all nuts and fastening hardware are tight.
Make sure someone knows where you are going and all of your contact information and insurance information is up-to-date.
Now with all of this proper planning it is time to go! You are prepared, packed, organized, and it is time to hit the road. You can do it knowing you are prepared and are going to make memories that will last a life time! Enjoy!
- Tracey Cramer