Riding in the Rain: Get Visible
One key to being seen in the rain is visibility. Here are some simple steps you can take to be more visible when you ride in the rain.
#1: Bright Colors
Like many bikers, I love black and leather. But when it comes to riding in the rain, I want to be seen at all costs. After all, decreased visibility is one of the main contributors to accidents (rain or not!).
The BEST idea is to get a bright-colored motorcycle. (In fact, some police departments and emergency services are going all-out in that regard)
But the reality is, most of us are NOT like this guy; we don’t want a neon green or bumble-bee yellow bike. I’ve never once chosen my motorcycle (in over 30 years) by the color, but rather by an intuitive desire, and I’d be willing to bet you’ve done the same.
So, the next best thing? Wear bright clothing. Take a tip from the construction industry: they wear yellow or orange to stay visible when working in a high traffic area. So why wouldn’t you do the same?
If you don’t want a neon-colored riding jacket, then wear a reflective vest.
I love my red/white/blue reflective vest, but a yellow or orange vest is even better. They don’t have to LOOK like a construction vest, either - nowadays you can get very stylish vests.
#2: Extra lights
“Fog lights” aka auxiliary driving lights typically come in two varieties: lights that project a somewhat short but wide light pattern (a 30 to 35 degree spread is common) and lights that project a longer and narrower light pattern (20 degrees). Either type added to the front of your bike will make you more visible to traffic.
This article from Webbikeworld does a good job of breaking down which type of light is best for you.
#3: Ride Defensively
Altering your position in the lane can make you more visible by creating an abnormal driving pattern (and light pattern) that car drivers are more likely to notice. A gradual shifting to the right and left also gives you more opportunity to spot upcoming traffic situations.
Stay away from cars whenever possible, especially their blind spot. Many riders won’t turn their head before making a lane change, especially if they’re also trying to see through a rainy windshield. If you must pass, do it quickly and get into a situation where you’re better seen by all cars on the road.
Use your brake light as a blinker by tapping on the brakes several times in quick succession. This can catch the attention of a driver behind you and/or - heaven forbid - a tailgater (which this guy is apparently expecting)!
- Tracey Cramer
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
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
How to Mount a Camera on a Motorcycle: HelmetCAM, Suction & Fixed Mounts
Now that you’ve thought about what you’re planning to video and how you’d like to do it (see previous post), here are some thoughts about ways to mount the camera.
We’re aware that Helmet CAMs are all the rage. We even own a GoPro ourselves. But we’re not fans of the helmet-mounted camera and here’s why.
- You can't change the angle of the shot. Wherever you are looking, that's what you're getting. If you look down at your gauges, so does your video. If you look behind you to check traffic, guess where the HelmetCam goes?
- You can’t easily adjust the camera. I once lost an entire sequence because I thought it was powered on when it wasn’t (I couldn’t see it up on my head!)
- Depending on the camera you may not have a good zoom function; you might find your target turned into a speck on the horizon.
Apparently we’re not the only ones who feel this way:
“Mounting a video camera on a motorcycle helmet is difficult. Modern helmets have all sorts of wacky curves, put there for either styling or aerodynamic purposes. The larger the camera the more difficult it is to mount on a helmet.” ~ WebBikeWorld Review
Camera Suction-Cup Mounts
These usually stick to the bike's tank or windscreen. Again I’ll be blunt: we're not fans of using suction cups on motorcycles - period. (And if you worked here, and heard how many customers had their phone, GPS, etc fall off their bike, we think you'd feel the same.)
The potential for the suction to become loose and disengage with all that road vibration is just too great. And there are better ways to get the shot you’re after.
Fixed Camera Mounts
A reviewer on WebBikeWorld noted: “In mounting a video camera on a motorcycle, the mount becomes very important and must have a wide range (degrees of freedom) of movement to compensate for the crazy angle at which the camera will be mounted. But after the camera is lined up, the mount must lock down solid to hold the camera steady.”
We noticed the same things as we experimented with taking video ourselves. In addition to the above, they were also terribly ugly and/or too shaky. In fact, vibration is the #1 problem cited by most riders (especially given the shape of our roads these days).
So we designed our own motorcycle camera mount. Thanks to our patented ‘third generation’ design, the Swivel-CAM motorcycle camera mount solves some key problems:
- Rotation: 360-rotation and Ultra-Swivel at top and bottom to give you a huge range of positioning and angle-ability
- Aesthetics: Ultra-slim rod gives it a streamlined look
- Heights: Available in different height options
- Universal: Works with any camera with tripod threading – even popular action cameras like the GoPro
- Vibration: Anti-vibration features are built in
Does it really work? Check out the video below, taken with our GoPro and the Swivel-CAM motorcycle camera mount!
- Tracey Cramer
Shooting Video While Riding a Motorcycle
Many riders have discovered the possibility of re-living their grand "adventure vacations" through video. The problem is, after a minute or two, an unchanging view from the saddle becomes… well… boring. If you want to make your video as exciting as your motorcycle ride, here are some things to consider. Your answers to these questions can also help you decide what equipment to get.
What and Where
What – specifically - do you want to video? Will it be mostly scenery alongside the road? I’ve pointed my camera to the roadside to catch onlookers during the Patriot Ride and action along Main Street in Sturgis.
Maybe you want to video your buddies either ahead of you (I’ve got some cool footage of a long snake of bikes through a big curve) or behind you.
The answers to these questions lead us to the next set of questions: what angle do you intend to shoot from?
- Mainly straight ahead?
- Off to the side or beside you?
- Behind you?
Windshield: Through it or Around It?
There are pros and cons to both. Shooting through a windshield cuts down on wind noise immensely (a video is barely tolerable with that kind of wind noise). If you’re going to edit your video you can drop out wind noise. A disadvantage of shooting through the windshield is that you may get reflection from the sun on the curve of the shield.
If you want to shoot around bikes with fairings or large windshields, you’ll need to look for a longer-reaching mount or one that attaches away from the center of the motorcycle (such as the Swivel-CAM).
Watch for a future post on the different styles of motorcycle camera mounts!
- Tracey Cramer
Four Tips for Choosing a Video Camera for your Motorcycle
In other posts, we've talked about things to consider before you shoot video, and compared different styles of camera mounts.
Now let's talk about the camera. We’re not going to try to recommend a camera; we’re simply not experts in this field and they change too quickly anyway. But here’s what we’ve learned in 6+ years of shooting video while riding a motorcycle.
- Quality matters. Cheaper cameras will be susceptible to every vibration, and - let's face it - you can't eliminate vibration entirely when you're on a motorcycle (even if you're using the best Motorcycle Camera Mount on the planet). So get a quality camera. Depending on how you're mounting it, the size and weight of the camera matter as well; generally, the smaller/lighter, the better.
- Learn how to use your camera. Make sure you know when it is and is not recording. (On some cameras it's hard to tell, especially if it's a HelmetCam stuck to your head where you can't see it. I once lost a key sequence because I thought the low-battery light meant the camera was recording.)
- Practice. Pick a time when traffic is light on your favorite short twisty road. If you can get a friend to help, all the better - you'll find you can use the extra help. Don't be surprised if it takes an entire afternoon to get comfortable with all your motorcycle video taking options.
- Speaking of the ROAD ... The quality of your video (or photos) is directly proportional to the quality of the road. If you're on a road that looks like this one (like most of the roads near our home!), getting good video is a challenge no matter what kind of camera or mount you choose (but starting with the Swivel-CAM Motorcycle Camera Mount is a good bet)!
- Tracey Cramer