I was commuting an hour home back to Philly yesterday and that's when it happened. I watched a drop of rain fly into my helmet visor. I don't enjoy riding in the rain at all. Riding a motorcycle has its own inherent risks and doing so in the rain triples those risks.
I realized that I had spent that hour in the rain considering all the things I needed to do to get home safely and thought that it would be helpful to share some tips to my favorite community so that you all might be safer out there this riding season.
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Step 1: Maintain Clear Vision
As opposed to driving in a car, everything that gets rained on will stay rained on. There are no windshield wipers to help you and your first obstruction will be on your visor, inches from your face, when it gets covered in droplets.
Visor Treatment - I have used products like Rain-X on my visor. It helps to prevent raindrops from splattering and lets them role off with ease. When it comes time to wipe your visor you should wait until you have some clear straight road ahead of you. Wiping may cause momentary streaking on your visor and could blind you to an upcoming obstruction. It may be safer to deal with the rain droplets and wait to wipe until the moment is right.
Side Mirrors - Using mirrors is essential to having a safe ride. That said, when they start to get wet the visibility is reduced to about 30%. This makes changing lanes and preparing for rear moving threats much more difficult than a dry ride. Triple check before you make a maneuver and turn your head far over your shoulder as visibility through your visor is probably more clear than mirrors.
Pace Another Vehicle - Similar to following a car for night riding (better headlights), pacing another car can be a great asset in the rain. When lines on the road and oncoming obstructions get blurry, the car in front of you will have a better chance of driving safely because they have greater visibility. Following them will make taking turns much easier and their brake lights are an easy indicator that you need to slow down.
Step 2: Be Visible!!!
Being seen is almost as important as being able to see while riding in the rain. While a little bump in a car might cause a dent or scratch, a bump on a motorcycle can be fatal. These are a few tips to help in being as visible as possible to other motorists.
Wear visible clothing - I have a leather jacket that I used to wear when riding but the more I see people looking down at their phones while driving the more I've developed an interest in dressing for safety. Wearing a florescent color can be a great aid in being visible. Clothing with reflective strips is even better!
Pump That Brake Handle - Don't actually pump your brakes in the rain. That could cause your to slide. Instead, lightly pump the brake handle. A following car can only see a very small brake light. Pumping the brake handle will create a flashing effect that will increase your visibility when slowing down.
Bonus: Use an Underglow - I am not personally a fan of adding flashy components to a bike but an underglow could be considered a huge safety addition to your bike. An LED kit for under your bike is fairly inexpensive (Under $50 Amazon) and the amount of visibility you gain is priceless in the rain.
Step 3: Riding Tips
When rain hits the ground riding conditions can drastically change. These are a few things I've noticed when riding that have helped to keep the wheels on the ground.
Slow Acceleration - When the road is slick with rain, try to accelerate slowly. Rapid acceleration could cause your rear tire to slip and when it catches it could either spin your bike sideways or unexpectedly throw you forward.
Slow Deceleration - In dry conditions I would stand up on my brakes if I needed to stop quickly. This could be deadly in the rain. Rapid breaking could cause you to slide or cause your bike to drop without warning after losing traction. Engine breaking is the ideal way to slow down in the rain. It allows your tires to move freely while slowing down which greatly reduces your chance of losing control. When you do use your brakes, apply pressure slowly to avoid locking up the tires. If there is an obstruction directly ahead it is better to try to maneuver your bike away than slamming on your brakes.
Watch Your Feet - When taking off or slowing down we use our feet to stabilize our bikes. Rain on the road might cause your shoes to have little to no traction at all. Don't count on them for control. You could lose control when stopping. Worse off, your foot could slip and get sprained, twisted or broken.
Restrict Your Lean - Leaning into a turn is a natural part of riding. The greatest amount of tread is in the center of your tire (although every tire tread is different). Restrict your lean while riding to a minimal amount in the rain to maintain the greatest amount of control. Overleaning could cause you to lay your bike on its side.
Step 4: Slick Surfaces
Something worth noting is that, while the road is obviously more slick when it rains, there are a few hazards that can make your ride particularly dangerous.
Road Paint - On almost every road you ride on there will be some type of painted surface. The paint is designed for visibility and not necessarily with 2-wheel riders in mind. When rained on this paint can get slippery. Try to avoid drifting onto lane markings and if you come to a stop on paint take care to take off slowly to avoid your rear tire slipping.
Manhole Covers - There are occasional metal installations that you will come across in your ride. This can include manhole covers and storm grates. They will become slippery when rained on. Be especially careful when passing over them.
Pegs & Controls - Aside from road hazards, parts of your bike will take special attention as well. Take special care when manipulating controls on your bike. Your foot pegs & brake pedal can become slippery. If your foot slips you could lose control of your bike or you could seriously injure your foot or ankle.
Handgrips, clutch levers and brake levers are my biggest fears when I ride in the rain. First off, a hand slipping from the handlebars could throw your weight off and could lead to a catastrophic accident. Slipping from wither control lever could have the same effect with very different additional threats. To miss the clutch means a minimal threat. You probably won't damage anything and you'll continue riding like nothing happened. Missing a brake lever, however, is much more serious. That could be the difference between stopping behind a braking car or riding into crossing traffic.
Step 5: Get Home Safe
Here's a picture of my bike packed up for a day of riding. She hasn't been down yet and I plan to keep it that way!
I hope following these tips can help you all to get home safe. That's the most important thing at the end of every ride.