Riding in the Rain - Riding Into the Wild Wild Wet

There is an aspect of motorcycling we don't like to think much about, but inevitably must all deal with it. Whether that becomes an ordeal or just another part of the fun will be determined by positive attitude and preparation more than skill and experience.

Let me preface this with a general, generic disclaimer: In technical terms, biking is not for babies. If you ride outside you will get wet sooner or later, and probably cold, and maybe a little grumpy. But it doesn't have to ruin your good time. With the right gear, proper technique and a happy attitude, even a rainy day can be a good day.

Some motorcyclists like the idea of biking more than actual biking, which includes accepting, nay, passionately embracing the elements. At the first sign of inclement weather, the former breed of biker will keep his prized possession neatly tucked in the garage like last year's Christmas ornaments, covered and locked and cozy in the warm, boring darkness.

The latter road warrior doesn't give a good goddamn, rolls his bike out, shakes a leathered fist at the sky and yelps, "Is that all you got!?" Well, at least in his mind anyway. This, of course, does not mean crazy old-school biker guy is going to ride stupid.

He will have some quality rain gear stashed in his saddlebag or bungied to the rear seat, a helmet with a visor that has been pre-treated with Rain X or some other such super-slick, rain shaking invisible coating. Not sure why no one has invented a helmet wiper gizmo that you can suction-cup to your lid or head to keep your visor or goggles clear. It's helpful if you actually spend a few bucks on the rain gear, which can also be used for insulation under your leathers if things get unexpectedly cold. In you're caught in a deluge without some you can always fall back on this traditional method of staying sort of dry: the garbage bag. If you can't buy or beg a shop, gas station or restaurant for one, you can always liberate a Hefty bag from a trashcan. Not so bad once you get past the banana peels and baby poop.

Rip or cut a hole in the bottom and wear it like a poncho. This works surprisingly well, if not for surprisingly long. Once the sun pops out you can tear it off like Hercules, or an old stripper, depending how much of a weirdo you are.

I've seen many a tough guy cry to their momma when the sky spits in their face. They slow down to 20 in a 65, desperately using their left hand to partially shield a cheek or forehead as their faces contort in some tortured frozen wince as rain pummels their pusses. I like living free, believe in civil liberties and all that, but do yourself a favor and ride with (or at least carry) a helmet with a face shield. Then rain will ping harmlessly off your plastic rather than crash into your nose like pebbles shot out of cannon.

As a matter of course, anytime before you ride, a quick inspection of your tires could save your life. It's easy to become lax; in fact, I have been guilty of skipping the routine check sometimes in my haste for adventure. And then one day I was 200 miles from home and somewhere away from civilization when I noticed my steel-belted rear tire has stripped down to its belt. This unnecessarily costly event could have led to my premature demise were it not for the belated return of my biker senses.

So make a habit of checking your tire tread and inflation. When you only have two wheels, you really need both to survive. How to properly use both wheels, (or brakes) when things get wet and slippery is another matter. The next bit is a little tricky.

Safely handing a motorcycle is about being aware, smooth and in control. The road and all that's in it, whether that's other vehicles, rain, wet leaves, ice or other perilous road hazards, can be predictably dealt with without harm or damage to yourself, your bike, or auto encapsulated citizens if you sharpen your survival skills.

When it's wet and you've got to stop, grabbing a fat handful of front brake will send you crashing into the ground faster than you can figure what the hell just happened. Light, even pressure works best, with a little more rear brake than front. The key here is not to lock up a wheel, especially the front wheel. This is also true for riding in dirt or gravel. If you hit a patch of wet leaves or ice and traction is lost, steer through while staying off the brakes altogether. Braking over non-tractable materials like frozen rain will send you skidding and fishtailing into the kind of wild ride none of us enjoy, usually.

It is really more uncomfortable than dangerous to ride in the rain. Just slow down, give yourself a bit more cushion between vehicles, take turns a little easier, use your common sense forgodsake, ride with a little extra courtesy for others, and wear the right stuff-proper rain gear, helmet with face shield, waterproof gloves (rubber kitchen gloves work in a pinch), and waterproof boots (or ones that have been treated with weather proofing goop).

If prepared not scared, pouring rain need not ruin our ride. Challenging the elements fires our instincts, focuses our awareness, and makes us feel more like an animal. Be that beast on a bike and survive these wild streets.