"Remember to Use Yellow Glasses to See better in Rain or on Cloudy Days"
Reprinted from Road Runner Magazine's On-line Touring Tips
Many, if not most, of us consider riding in the rain a necessary inconvenience when we’re caught out in it while going from point A to point B. The experience is frequently made more burdensome because of: inadequate riding gear, reduced vision of scenery and road hazards, loss of traction, increased navigational challenges, and fogged glasses and face shield—just to name a few. Often we discover too late that we forgot to pack defogger, rain mittens, Rain-X, or some other item critical to reducing the discomfort and increased risk of riding in the rain.
It’s my contention, however, that riding in the rain is often less pleasant than it really has to be, partially because we avoid doing it unless forced to ride in the wet. But like most of motorcycling’s other acquired skills, practice almost always leads to a better riding experience. In that vein, here are my top ten tips for improving your rain proficiency and, yes, even enjoyment:
Expect Rain: Even if the sun is out, and there’s not a cloud in the sky before leaving home, expect the possibility of rain during any ride that lasts more than a couple of hours. That means riders should almost always pack rain gear. And, by the way, most textile riding gear that says it’s rain resistant, or even waterproof, usually isn’t in a long, soaking rainfall.
Trust Your Tires: One of the biggest phobias of inexperienced riders, once pavement becomes wet, is that their tires will rapidly lose traction. The soft rubber composition of motorcycle tires (especially compared to car tires) means that most of them retain about 80-percent of their traction on wet pavement. The presence of oil, antifreeze, or any one of a number of other chemical substances on rain-slick roads, however, can significantly compromise traction. If wet asphalt appears to have a reflective sheen, these chemicals may be present. One way to evaluate a road surface is to lightly drag the sole of one riding boot to determine if pavement is actually slippery.
Avoid Plastic Strips on Pavement: Pedestrian crossings and some other road markings are actually white plastic strips adhered to the concrete. These strips become slippery when wet. The same is true for metal road surface coverings, tar snakes, wooden planks at railroad crossings, and other similar road materials not made of asphalt or concrete. If these hazards cannot be avoided, then ride over them at a right angle, at moderate speed, with the bike perpendicular to the road surface.
Treat Your Face Shield: Recently I was caught in the rain without any treatment for my face shield. The rain accumulated in drops, diminishing my ability to see down the road in what, already, was a low light situation. On a face shield treated with Rain-X (which works better on glass than it does on plastic) or some other chemical that increases surface slipperiness, wind will largely clear the raindrops from view. It’s also not a bad idea to treat your shield before beginning any ride. If your shield fogs up, don’t open it completely, because that will enable rain to deposit on the inside, which is hard to clear without stopping and removing the helmet to do so. Make sure all helmet vents are open and only crack the shield slightly to increase airflow and exhaust condensation.
Inspect Rain Gear Integrity: Over time rain gear can loose its ability to repel water. I learned this lesson once, the hard way, when my dated rain gear began leaking during a daylong ride in heavy rain. The combination of riding wet in the wind caused me to lose body heat, become chilled, and then sick enough that I couldn’t continue riding the next day. Now I replace worn rain gear and buy suits with heavier gauge material.
Be Visible: I will never understand why some companies make black rain gear, particularly the jacket. It’s hard enough to see riders in rainy, low light conditions without making them virtually invisible to human sight. If your rain gear top isn’t especially colorful or visible, wear a hi-viz vest over it. Because most other vehicles will have their lights turned on in the rain, reflectors also will improve other motorist’s ability to see and avoid you.
Slow Down: Although a relatively small amount of traction is lost on clean wet pavement, it still makes sense to ride more carefully in the rain by avoiding: (1) excessive speed; (2) steep lean angles; (3) close proximity to other vehicles and (4) aggressive stopping maneuvers.
Don’t Push Your Luck: It’s one thing to ride in rain, but quite another to ride into a thunderstorm or even a heavy downpour. Because your riding risk factors are already heightened in rainy conditions, know when to get off the road and take shelter. Remember, your rubber tires won’t provide any protection in the event of a lightening strike and there’s nothing between you and flying debris picked up by high winds. Common sense should tell you when it’s time to “fold ’em.”
Practice: Here’s a radical idea: go riding in the rain, even when you don’t have to! As is true with most other motorcycle riding skills, practice improves ability, confidence, and enjoyment of the experience. The same is true for riding in the rain. Practice effective rain riding techniques close to home so they will be second nature when you need them on a road trip.
Learn to Enjoy the Experience: The rhythmic pitter-patter of raindrops, while ensconced in a warm dry cocoon, can be both enjoyable and relaxing. It only can be so, though, after mastering tips one through nine above. I’ve heard of some motorcyclists who enjoy rain riding so much, they actually look forward to rainy days in the saddle.
Long story short, a rainy day doesn’t mean that your two-wheeled adventure has to stop being fun.
What Would You Do? #1
CORNERING You are riding on a curving, two-lane road. You are traveling just below the speed limit. You round a right-hand curve and feel your bike begin to drift outward, with your wheels almost touching the centerline.
Suddenly, an oncoming car appears, straddling the centerline. You feel like a deer caught in the headlights. What would you do?
The Wrong Response
Many riders freeze up in this situation. They roll off the throttle and stare at the oncoming vehicle … and do little else. Also known as target fixation, it can easily lead to disaster: The bike tends to go where you look.
Freeze & Stare
What should you do in this situation?
The Right Response
The best response is to hold the throttle steady, focus your head and eyes where you want to go – the turn’s exit is your target, not the oncoming vehicle! – and lean the bike harder by countersteering (pressing forward on the inside handgrip) on the side you want to go, thus tightening your line. Press right-go right.
Correct Hold throttle steady Look through the turn Countersteer
Running wide in a corner is one of the most common causes of motorcycle fatalities. Even experienced riders fall into this trap if they’re not looking far enough ahead. It doesn't matter whether it's an oncoming car, a tighter turn than the rider expected or some other obstacle. When a rider suddenly decides they’re not going to make it, they often panic, look down and forget to steer through the turn.
Focus where you want to go – the turn’s exit, and not the oncoming vehicle!
Lean the bike harder by countersteering and tightening your line.
When the road surface is good, a motorcycle should be able to negotiate a curve safely at its advisory speed limit – as long as the rider stays steady on the gas, looks through the turn and countersteers to control path of travel.
If the concepts of target fixation or countersteering are unfamiliar to you, or if you have trouble with corners, enroll in a training course and get some instruction and practice in these critical skills.
The MSF or Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers both basic and experienced rider courses that will prove invaluable to you. Also, some of the National motorcycle organizations such as GWRRA offer similar courses as well as training in Group Riding techniques. Seek them out…you will be glad you did.
Know Your Motorcycle
Be aware of road conditions, traffic, and weather. It's always changing.
Watch for objects on the road such as sand, gravel, leaves, grass clippings.
ALWAYS be aware of what's going on around you.
Group motorcycle riding is a great experience when common sense, respect for other riders, and safety prevail. Please review these riding rules and tips below for your personal and group riding safety.
Do not mix alcohol and motorcycle riding at anytime, especially when riding in a group.
No attitudes while with the group. A diversity of people ride. Motorcyclists are very diverse. We just share the love of riding.
Top-off your gas tank before you begin a ride. Bikes with small gas tanks have to stop more often.
Decide before you begin when and where you will stop. Inform everyone of designated stops.
Do a personal and bike safety check before beginning a ride. Bikes should be in good running condition before riding (anytime). Look at the posted below, "Got 3 minutes? Safety Check."
Riders should wear eye protection, and a DOT/Snell certified helmet. This is law in many states.
Ride at safe speeds.
Riders who choose to ride in a group must do just that, ride with the group. If a navigational mistake is made (e.g., missed turn or exit) continue with the group until the error can be safely corrected. It is recommended to have Road Captain travel the route prior to a run, thus, avoiding navigation mistake.
As in the military, formation is mandatory.
Two up is the typical ride arrangement (riding staggered).
The more experienced rider should ride on the left…not the person with the biggest ego. (Loud pipes on the right!)
Motorcycles with a passenger should ride on the right when possible. All passengers should know their riding assignment prior to the ride.
Alternate bikes for passengers should also be chosen. New riders should never have a passenger.
Maintain approximately two bike lengths between bikes; weather and road conditions permitting.
If a vehicle wants to break through the group on a multi-lane road, give them space to safely do so. Close formation once the vehicle exits the lane. If the vehicle does not move, cautiously and carefully pass to reform.
Bikers do not own the road. Be considerate of other vehicles. Give them space.
Novice and inexperienced riders should ride in the middle of the group until they are comfortable riding in a group. The Road Captain or those who have ridden the route should ride up front…again, not riders with big egos.
Experienced riders should also be the rear of the group…this is done to maintain order.
Know hand signals, and pay attention to them. Signals are passed back by every rider so that everyone is i informed. Be certain it is a real signal, and not a wave to a passing motorcycle.
Maintain a steady pace with as few (dramatic) speed changes or sudden moves as possible.
Changing lanes on a freeway should be done from the rear then moving forward to the clear lane.
Turns and Turning. When turning left, the right lead bike should safely block oncoming traffic.
The group should continue through a red light only if Road Guards have the intersection secured. If Road Guards are not used, be sure the riders behind you know that you intend to stop. When a single file signal is given, the bike on the left proceeds (in front of) the bike on the right.
Blocking intersections is risky and very often, an unsafe practice. However, an exception is an escorted ride. 'If you block, review these:
Road Guards should wear a brightly colored safety vest to be more visible. Turn headlights toward oncoming traffic when blocking, and use 4-way flashers. Urge riders to tighten up and move as quickly as possible through blocked intersections. Have a procedure for getting Road Guards to the front from the rear.
Road Guards should always be chosen from more experienced riders in a group.
Rear Road Captains should pull out and block the lane before a group lane change occurs.
When a lane change is signaled, do not move until the rider in front of you moves.
The group should know who is blocking.
Do not follow Road Guards!
Caravan vehicles should never block unless asked by the Road Captain.
Got 3 Minutes? Safety Check
Safety check to insure your next motorcycle ride is a great one:
"What a day for a ride," you think to yourself.
What you should be thinking, though, is "Is my ride ready for the day?"
It's a valid question, no matter how often or infrequent you ride. Either on-the-road usage and vibration or in-the-garage inactivity can take their toll on your bike, potentially degrading safety, control, performance and comfort.
That's why the Motorcycle Safety Foundation recommends a short pre-ride check of your favorite two-wheeler before every ride. To help you remember what to check, the MSF came up with the acronym T-CLOCS, which stands for Tires, Controls, Lights, Oil, Chassis and Sidestand.
These are simple, easy-to-access items that anyone who rides should be able to identify and check. And despite the length of the MSF's list, you can probably check everything in about three minutes. Depending on what you find, that could be the best three minutes you spend all day.
Tires and wheels
Since these are where you and the road meet, they're probably the most important things to look over. A problem can affect handling—sometimes severely.
Are your rims free of dings? Are your spokes tight and straight? Check pressures in both tires. Since most manufacturers specify pressures for cold tires, this is the only accurate way to check them, as they heat up quickly on the road, raising the pressure. Consult your owner's manual or call your tire manufacturer's hotline for the proper pressures for your particular bike.
If you own multiple bikes, it may be difficult to remember all those different tire specs. And since this is one of those critical things you should check often, you may want to make a small card with each tire's recommended pressure, then hang it on your garage wall, or anywhere that's handy.
While you're down there checking the tires, make sure you've got plenty of tread. You should have more than 1/16 of an inch, about the distance between Lincoln's head and the top of a penny. Remove foreign objects that may have lodged in the treads, and make sure there aren't any cuts in the tire. A scuff is nothing to be worried about, but if it's a deep scratch, you might want to have it checked.
Controls and cables
A snapped throttle or clutch cable can leave you on the side of the road, so check 'em. Operate anything connected to a cable and make sure that levers and cables feel smooth and don't bind. Apply the front brake and push the bike forward. The brake should feel firm, and the front wheel should not move. Check the rear brake in the same fashion.
Seeing and being seen are two great ways to avoid unwanted incidents on the road, so making sure your lights work is key.
Start by turning on your ignition. Are the headlight's high beam and low beam working? Does the taillight come on? Does the brake light come on when you depress the brake pedal and lever? Check left and right turn signals, front and rear. Remember that the cause of a malfunction here could be a relay or bulb.
Lastly, don't forget to check your horn.
Oil and fuel
Running out of gas is a bummer, but since many motorcycles don't have gas gauges, it's a very real possibility. Check the gas level in the tank, and be sure your fuel petcock isn't on "reserve," which could leave you with a nasty surprise if you roll to a stop thinking you've still got gas in reserve. And don't forget to reset the tripmeter every time you fill up.
Running out of gas can be inconvenient, but running out of oil can turn your bike into an inert display of public art. Even some new bikes can use enough oil to be down a quart between oil changes, so check it before every ride.
Though an improperly adjusted suspension may not seem critical, imagine your surprise as your bike behaves differently in the middle of a curve because you forgot to reset it after picking up your friend last night.
Sit on the bike and rock it, making sure that everything moves smoothly and relatively slowly. If the front or rear end behaves like a pogo stick, a trip to your trusty mechanic should be in your immediate future.
If you have an adjustable suspension, remember to read your owner's manual and adjust it properly for the load you'll be carrying and the type of riding you'll be doing.
Sidestand and centerstand
The sidestand is a handy little item—it's what keeps your motorcycle off the ground. Make sure it's not cracked or bent. Check the spring or springs. Are they in place, and do they have enough tension to keep the sidestand safely up?
Don't forget to look at the engine cut-out switch or pad, if so equipped.
If everything's in place and operating properly you're done, and you're good to go. Enjoy the day.