Don't Let Drizzle Spoil Your Ride

Deconstructing Drizzle

If you’re one of those riders who scurries for cover the minute skies go dark, it might comfort you to know that riding in the rain doesn’t have to be an exercise in aggravation. Any Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor worth his salt will tell you negotiating wet roads can be downright enjoyable if you bring some good foul-weather wear, tried-and-true defensive-riding strategies and the right frame of mind with you.

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Don't let the drizzle scare you. With the right precautions you can still enjoy a ride in the rain.Cruiser

The Suit

The key to enjoying a ride through the foul stuff is good rain gear. New riders usually only seek out two qualities in rain togs: that they be bright and cheap. That’s probably why you see so many one-piece PVC rainsuits for about $30. They keep you dry and help you stand out from the misty background. But while PVC’s not a bad start, on longer wet-weather rides, its limitation becomes apparent—you get clammy inside the suit because it’s not breathable.

The higher-quality garb often builds in membranes to keep larger-sized water drops out while letting tiny water vapor molecules pass through—layers like Gore-Tex, Reissa and Sympatex all do the job pretty well. You’ll also want to choose gear for its ease of entry, conspicuous colors and comfort. A bright yellow rainsuit gets top honors—it’s the single simplest way to make soggy rides safer, because it’ll keep you from blending into that wet, gray world. Fluorescent colors and retro-reflective striping on your rainsuit, helmet and pack also boost conspicuity.

Consider a cruiser’s ergonomics, too. With a one-piece suit, that more upright position will tend to funnel water toward the crotch area—which, trust us, is no picnic. A two-piece suit with a longer jacket will kill that kind of chill, but the simple reality is that traditional zippers leak if water pools on them. Faced with a frontal assault of rain and wind, a combination of overflaps will do the best job deflecting most weather.

It’s also possible for your gear to be completely waterproof and you still get wet when riding. There are at least five openings on any jacket exposing your body to the elements, so keep in mind that rain gear is more about managing that exposure. While you should finish an average commute in the rain without taking a soak, a whole day in soggy weather will probably leave you a bit wet around the edges.

The Strategies

Preparation: Consider hand position when deciding how to situate your glove gauntlets. On standard bikes, try to fit the gauntlet inside jacket sleeves (if gloves allow) so that water will run down your arm and over the outside of your glove instead of into your palms. With higher bars, the gauntlet will be more effective placed outside your sleeves.

Vision: Once you've dressed for the rain, you have only two issues to confront: traction and vision. Even with a fully drenched faceshield, you probably have a better view of the situation around you than the average car driver in the rain. That is, if you've managed to control the fogging within your helmet. That's because drops on a faceshield (or goggles) are inside your focal range and become just vague blurs when you focus on the road ahead. However, your view can be impaired by faceshield fogging or a windshield that's more in your line of sight.

A bit of Rain-X (www.rainx.com) on the outside of your visor will help sheet most of the moisture away. For better interior views, install a Fog City visor (www.modernworld.com) inside your visor to keep fogging at bay (though it’s not recommended for nighttime use as ghosting can occur). Rain-X does help disperse water on windshields, too (which can be even more difficult to see through). Even if you don’t have a commercial antifog solution, a thin layer of dish soap will do in a pinch. Just make sure your windshield is low enough to see over, or you may be riding blind once the rain hits accumulated dirt and dust on it.

Traction: Wet-weather traction seems to be the main concern for most riders, usually because they aren't sure how much grip is available. While some surfaces—metal fixtures, painted areas and places where built-up oil hasn't washed off—become much slipperier when wet, you can actually call on a surprising amount of traction on clean asphalt in the wet.

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The right suit, strategy, and state of mind will make the world of a difference if you want to ride in the rain.Cruiser

The easiest way to test traction is to feel for it with your rear brake. Assuming you know how much deceleration you can develop on dry pavement before the rear tire breaks loose, you can gauge what’s available if you repeat the test with the road wet (also assuming your tires have a reasonable amount of tread depth). When first starting out on a rainy-day ride, deliberately lock up the rear wheel a couple of times before a stop. Once you can feel the traction, you’ll have a better idea of how much you can safely ask of the tires when braking and cornering. At moderate speeds on a flat, straight road, this test shouldn’t throw you for a loop.

If you want to improve traction, premium aftermarket tires are almost certain to give you better wet-road grip over original-equipment rubber. Slightly increasing tire pressure also can boost wet-weather traction; an additional five psi or less helps cut through water better to combat hydroplaning. Just don’t try it with a bald tire….

Some situations deserve even more attention. Railroad tracks, for instance, deserve a double take, wet or dry. Your best bet is to cross them at a right angle. A larger metal surface—such as a bridge grate or a cattle guard—offers even less grip, and painted surfaces can be almost as slippery as metal. Also keep an eye out for spots where water meets oil and tends to hang around for a while—places like toll booths, tunnels and parking garages are prime examples of this kind of low-traction trap.

Along the same lines, turning on a slick surface demands an ultrasmooth approach. Jamming the brakes or sudden steering inputs could put you into the curb. Slow down before you enter the turn and keep the throttle neutral all the way through. Initiate turns more gradually, engage the clutch more deliberately than usual and avoid abrupt throttle changes. Use a taller gear to reduce the forces reaching the rear tire. Allow more space to stop or slow down.

The State of Mind

Leave the road rage at home, and don’t forget to give your bike a once-over before you hit the start switch. There’ll be plenty for your senses to deal with out on the road, and your equipment shouldn’t be one of them. Peace of mind goes a long way.

The T-CLOCK mnemonic created by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation is as good a device as any to help you organize a pre-ride safety check. Each letter represents an inspection category, as follows:

T - Tires & Wheels
C - Controls
L- Lights & Electrics
O - Oil
C - Chassis
K - Kickstand

In wet conditions, tires, lights and brakes are the most important components to check. Tires are the most vulnerable—they’re the first troops in the trenches and stand the most to lose. You'll uncover immediate problems like failed bulbs and punctured tires, but also check for smaller problems if you have the time. Throttle cables, for example, often slide out of adjustment unnoticed; the growing play can wreak havoc with throttle control.

So take your sense of adventure when you go for a ride on rainy days. You'll arrive at your destination revitalized, and it'll help your smoothness on the bike next time you ride it, to boot. When the ride is over, wear any dampness you may experience as a badge of honor.