Riding in rain, sleet or snow has never really bothered me. Early on I was so addicted to riding that I just didn’t care, so long as the bike had enough traction to move forward I’d ride, no matter how onerous the conditions. Hell, when I was a kid, it could have been raining ball bearings, I still would have gone for a ride. In the interest of full disclosure I should also mention that in those days, my motorcycle, a nearly new 1966 Suzuki X-6 Hustler, was my only form of powered transportation, so it was either ride it or walk, and by the age of 16 I’d walked just about as far as I wanted to.
Whether I’m a proficient rain rider or not is debatable, but I feel comfortable riding in it, at least when it’s coming down relatively gently and I can see where I’m going. Snow gives me pause these days, but mostly because I no longer feel as invincible as I did when I was young and fearless. I’ll ride in it if I have to, but only if I have no choice. Allow me to digress here and point out that I only know of one guy that I’d call proficient in the snow, my friend Billy Wilcox—who can ride faster through the snow on a Road King than most guys can in their four-wheel drive pickups, but he lives for the stuff.
While I’d never suggest that riding in the rain is as pleasant as riding in the sunshine, I can tell you that it’s not particularly bad, at least not unless you’re riding through a real frog strangler, and under certain conditions, like when it’s 110 in the shade and you hit a cooling shower, it can be downright pleasant.
Unfortunately some riders get freaked out by rain and absolutely refuse to ride in it. One of my buddies won’t even leave home if it looks like rain, but that’s because he doesn’t like to get his bike dirty. I appreciate that a day in the wet can make a mess out of your ride, and I’ll confess that when I ride in the rain I’ll take a demo if it’s available or my “everyday” bike if it isn’t, which is a luxury that most people don’t have. That being said, I’ve been caught in the rain on every motorcycle I’ve ever owned many more times than you can count, and I’ve yet to see one melt, or even suffer irreparable damage.
Like anything, there are a few tricks to it. Most importantly you need good rain gear. Riding in the rain takes some concentration, and that’s tough to come by when you’re wet and cold. If it’s raining when I leave, I’ll generally wear my old waxed cotton Belstaff jacket. The thing may look—and smell—like it’s made from rhinoceros hide, but it’s as watertight as a duck’s ass, and also provides an acceptable level of protection against road rash should the unfortunate occur, which is something that can’t be said for you average plastic rain suit. It also has five big watertight pockets that’ll hold most of what you need for the day’s trip. With matching over mitts and pants, I’m good for anything short of a gully washer, and it makes me look like the dashing WWII dispatch rider I’d always envisioned myself as being.
During the first few minutes of rain, all the debris and gunk floats to the surface, making the pavement as slippery as a greased hog, so you have to tone it down some in the beginning, and be particularly cautious about riding in the middle of the lane, where all those leaky cars and trucks have been depositing their oil. It’ll take at least a half an hour of steady rain to wash it away, so treat the throttle with caution, especially if the roads have been dry for a while.
Finally, although it seems counterintuitive, adding a few extra pounds of air to the tire will help prevent aquaplaning, which occurs when the tire rides on top of the water, rather than push it aside. Increasing the tire pressure by 3-5 pounds narrows the tire’s foot print, and helps the tire’s rain sipes squeegee the water out from under the contact patch, enhancing traction.
Riding in the rain should never be taken lightly; visibility and traction are reduced and fatigue can become a real factor, but that doesn’t mean you have to be afraid of it either. Get used to riding in it and you’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll ride in the dry. Like they say, whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.