If there was any doubt that this has been a rainy summer, a couple of weeks ago I was riding on the 401 and got pulled over for not having enough life jackets on board.
When the sky is blue, the wind is slight and the temperatures are comfortable, there’s nothing better than a day-long motorcycle ride. But, in Canada, conditions are rarely ideal and in this year’s monsoon summer, if you’re not riding in the rain, you’re not riding.
Nobody really enjoys riding in the rain, but your motorcycle isn’t made of sugar and neither are you. With a little planning, you can make your rain-riding experience slightly less unpleasant and a lot safer.
Being cold, wet and uncomfortable doth not make for a pleasant afternoon, so the first step is to get decent raingear.
There are hundreds of choices for a rainsuit, ranging from cheapie plastic ponchos to crafted, one-piece touring suits that cost hundreds of dollars. I have a set with bib-style pants and an overjacket. It’s still waterproof after more than 10 years, but it doesn’t breathe all that well, so if it’s warm, it turns into a portable sauna.
It’s important that the suit folds up into a small, portable package so you’ll take it with you. Having a breathable, waterproof rainsuit hanging in the garage while you’re out in a downpour makes no sense.
Some newer rainsuits incorporate an integral hoodie that pulls up before you put on your helmet to keep icy cold rivulets from running down the back of your neck.
I absolutely detest so-called waterproof riding gloves. They all seem to have some rinky-dink liner that bunches up and gives me a lousy feel on the controls. The best wet-weather gloves I’ve found are neoprene fishermen’s gloves, available at outdoor stores everywhere. They’re flexible and warm, give good feel on the bars and truly are waterproof.
Boots are also important as nobody wants two icy footbaths on the end of each leg. I’ve got a pair of Alpinestar touring boots that are aces. I’ve never felt a drop enter them; they’re flexible on the pegs and light. Plus, they’re breathable; they don’t simmer my feet in their own juices.
Once you’re keeping dry, what about the ride itself?
The main thing is to be smooth on the controls: easy on the gas and easy off as you want to eliminate any sudden input to the chassis and controls. Obviously, your braking distances will be longer (even with ABS), so leave lots of room and plan your stops well in advance.
Relax on the bike! Sitting with your back straight and arms stiff is a recipe for channeling unwanted inputs back through the controls. If the bike moves around a bit over a slick spot, don’t tighten up and panic, just stay loose, and it will usually sort itself out.
Some things to watch out for:
If it’s just started raining, the lane centre is as slippery as crocodile snot due to oily scum dropped by four-wheeled traffic (also referred to as “oily scum). If it’s been raining for a while, you’ll see standing water puddling in the four-wheeled tire tracks, which can cause aquaplaning in some circumstances. Sometimes a puddle will hide a good-sized pothole and that could be disastrous.
When turning, accelerating or braking, avoid any painted lines or symbols on the road as they are like ice. Slow down more than usual and try to keep the bike as straight as possible. Hitting the brakes while crossing one of those painted “right turn only” arrows can put you on your head really quickly.
Manhole covers, streetcar or railroad tracks are right behind painted surfaces for slickness. Avoid them if possible, and when you have to cross them, do so at right angles and stay off the brakes.
When rain drops are falling, my high beams go on. Anything I can do to make myself more visible to the inattentive clods in the cars is a good thing.
I usually throw a couple of sandwich baggies into my tailbag or fanny pack and if it starts to rain, my wallet and phone go into the baggies.
If cars have their windshield wipers on “high” and are pushing bow waves, it’s probably best to stop in a safe spot and wait it out. You’re less visible to the cars and probably not seeing much yourself, as your body heat reacts with the colder air circulating inside your helmet and fogs your visor and/or glasses.
Even when the rain stops, you’ll still have issues with the spray from cars and large trucks. Try to maintain a longer-than-normal following distance until it dries out a bit.
So, don’t abandon ship! Take it easy and, after a few rain rides, congratulate yourself on adding another set of skills to your riding resumé.
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