If you can avoid it, riding in the rain is not advisable due to decreased visibility and dangerous road conditions. But if you're riding in a state like Florida, you'll likely get caught in the rain more than once. Miami, for instance, gets more than 120 days of precipitation annually.
When this happens, it is essential that you are equipped with the right gear, know how to prepare your motorcycle and understand the basics of riding in the rain safely.
The Dangers of Riding in the Rain
Although it's sometimes unavoidable, riding your motorcycle in the rain can be dangerous for the following reasons:
- Decreased visibility: Heavy rain, fog, mist and overcast skies all create decreased visibility for you and everyone else on the road.
- Slippery roads: Water, oil and mud all contribute to slick, hazardous roads during rainstorms. If temperatures are low enough to cause freezing, rain can also turn to ice.
- Hydroplaning: Motorcyclists are at risk of hydroplaning during heavy rain. They are also exposed to other vehicles that may also hydroplane, further worsening road conditions and reducing visibility.
- Storm conditions: If heavy rain is accompanied by thunder, lightning, strong winds and hail, motorcyclists are at an increased risk and should avoid driving. If already on the road, seek shelter as soon as safely possible.
- Obstructions and obstacles: Heavy rain can wash debris and other obstructions into the roadway, as well as lead to other obstacles, like fallen trees or landslides. Combined with reduced visibility, these obstacles can become extremely hazardous to all travelers.
Have the Right Gear
Riding a bike in slippery road conditions is not ideal — but doing it while wet, cold and soggy is even worse. If you spend a lot of time on your bike, or use it for your daily commute, invest in high-quality rain gear to keep on you in case you need it. When choosing your rain gear, opt for high-visibility pieces when you can, so it is easier for other drivers to see you through the rain, fog and low-light surroundings.
- Anti-fog visor: When it comes to keeping your visor clear, you have three anti-fog options: anti-fog spray, an anti-fog insert or an anti-fog coating. Anti-fog spray is easy to transport, and you have the option of using it only when necessary. Anti-fog visor inserts are placed inside your helmet and guard your normal visor. Finally, you can choose to invest in a visor that has been pre-coated with anti-fog by the manufacturer.
- Pants and jacket: The key to staying as warm and dry as possible during the rain is to dress in light layers underneath, with a water-resistant jacket and pair of pants over the top — just be careful not to trap moisture inside. Choose a suit that is designed to resist water and offers some insulation and ventilation. When selecting your rain suit, choose one with sealed or taped seams for maximum protection. Some jackets may have additional features, like built-in storm flaps. Motorcycle rain gear is typically worn over top of your regular protective equipment. Keep this in mind while choosing your jacket and pants and size up accordingly.
- Accessories: Your gloves and boots need to be just as water-resistant and breathable as your pants and jacket. When selecting waterproof gloves, choose a gauntlet or adventure touring design and always move and stretch your hands while wearing them to ensure a full range of dexterity. If you decide not to invest in a pair of waterproof riding boots, look for a couple of boot gaiters to attach or a pair of overboots to slip over your regular riding pair to keep water out. Look for lightweight, ventilated socks designed to keep your feet dry and warm without overheating. You might also consider investing in a neck warmer or gaiter to keep wind and rain from sliding down the back of your jacket.
In your saddlebags, keep a few plastic bags to store wet gear in after the rain has passed. You can also wrap your valuables in plastic for an added layer of protection. If you can fit it, a small towel or microfiber cloth will come in handy to dry your seat afterward. You should also carry emergency tool and tire repair kits, as well as spare bulbs for your lights.
Prepare Your Bike
Regular check-ups are essential to keep your motorcycle operating at top performance, but you should also perform self-inspections before driving in the rain. Some areas of your bike, like your tires, should also be inspected during regular intervals throughout your trip if you are driving for an extended period.
Check the following areas for performance:
- Tires: Inspect the PSI and tread of your tires before riding. A heavy rainstorm is not the time to try your luck with a low-air or punctured tire.
- Gas level: Make sure you have plenty of gas in your tank before you ride in the rain. Running out of gas during a storm or downpour is not ideal, and stopping for gas along the way means having to brake, change lanes and merge during slippery conditions.
- Lights and reflectors: Make sure all headlights, taillights and blinker lights are working correctly and that no bulbs are out. Check that all reflectors are intact — they will be instrumental during periods of low visibility.
If you are worried about your bike sustaining damage in the rain, spray any vulnerable areas with an anti-rust coating. Once you have inspected all key areas, take a few minutes to plan your route. Many roads — like rocky passageways or dirt roads — become extremely hazardous or impassable during heavy rain and muddy conditions. Choose a route that takes you through populated areas with easy pull-off access in case conditions worsen or your bike malfunctions. Check all local weather alerts and see how long the rain is expected to last or if conditions are going to worsen and become more dangerous.
The first 30 minutes of rain is usually the most dangerous time to be on the roads because this is when all the motor oil and other slick residue is brought to the surface. It takes about a half an hour of a steady downpour to wash this residue away. If it starts to rain before you head out, use this extra time to prepare and inspect your bike, plan your route and switch into your rain gear. If you are already riding when it begins to rain, find a safe spot to pull over and wait. Wet roads are challenging enough without the added risk.
When riding in the rain, slower is always better. Double or triple the following distance between you and other cars to minimize the risk of colliding in slippery conditions. Let cars and other vehicles pass you as needed. Decrease your speed even more as you approach intersections and stay aware of your back in case the vehicles behind you are unable to stop.
Know When It's Not Safe
Despite what you may have heard, rubber motorcycle tires do not keep you safe from lightning, and it is not possible to "outride" the storm. Lightning can also strike trees and other standing structures that can fall on roadways or travelers. If you see lightning or hear the thunder roll while riding, pull-off and seek safe shelter immediately. Never ride during hail, as it can obstruct vision, injure you and damage your motorcycle. Do not resume traveling until all lightning and hail are gone. You should also never attempt to ride through submerged roadways. This can damage your bike, and it exposes you to dangerous flash flood currents.
Be Cautious of Road Obstructions
You should always watch for road obstructions while riding your motorcycle, but it's especially important to do so during the rain. Heavy rains can wash unexpected debris into the road and can make normal obstructions even more dangerous. Watch out for the following items along your route:
- Potholes and puddles: Riding through puddles can cause mud and rocks to hit your visor, making it impossible to see. Additionally, you never know how deep a pothole or puddle is under the water. Avoid damaging or wrecking your motorcycle by avoiding them.
- Pavement lines: Painted pavement lines and road tracks are always a point of caution for motorcyclists, but they're especially dangerous when wet. If you have to cross them, do so straight on, doing your best to keep the rubber to the ground.
- Manhole covers: If it is safe for you to do so, avoid riding over any manhole covers. Manhole covers collect water on the top and lack traction to keep you from sliding. If temperatures are low enough, they are also quick freezing points.
- Oil residue: Never drive through oil spills on the road. Roadway oil is easy to spot, thanks to its rainbow-like appearance. If a spill is unavoidable, safely reduce your speed as much as you can to avoid sliding.
- Litter and debris: Water can wash all kinds of litter — including garbage, trash cans and other items from neighboring yards — into the road. It can also sweep fallen tree branches and debris into your path. Never take your eyes off the road to help avoid unexpected collisions.
- Wildlife: Animals always pose a threat to drivers, especially when visibility is reduced. If you are riding through a heavily wooded area or another area known for its local wildlife, remember to take it slow and watch the sides of the road for any signs of movement.
- Other travelers: Keep in mind that you are not the only traveler trying to stay safe from the rain. Always watch out for other motorcyclists, bicyclists or vehicles that flash their emergency lights or are pulled off onto the side of the road.
Find a Dry Lane
While riding, stay in the dryest lane possible, like those kept dry by tree cover. Look for parts of the road that other vehicles have already traveled on, so your tires can grip more easily. Staying in these dry lanes may mean you have to switch lanes frequently to avoid wetter areas. As you change lanes, do your best to keep your tires against the pavement and make your movements fluid. While searching for dry lanes, keep in mind that you should still avoid obstructions and other hazards. Large semi-trucks are especially worth avoiding, as they can spray your visor or windshield with dirt and debris.
Watch for Landslides
Landslides can happen anywhere. Heavy rain and storms increase the risk for landslides, which are especially dangerous for bikers. Know the signs of a landslide and evacuate the roadway immediately if they are present.
- Dirty water: Streams, rivers and other moving waterways will become suddenly dirty and full of debris as land shifts during landslides.
- Unusual noise: Unusual noise is always a cause for pause on the road. If you hear a dull rumbling or the sound of trees and poles cracking, leave the area immediately.
- Previous landslides: Know the region you are driving in. Does it have a history of landslides or weak earth during rainfall? Fallen rocks and cracks in foundation and pavement are common indicators of previous landslide activity.
- Movement and cracks: Keep your eyes open for unusual cracks, including in the road, retraining walls or utility poles. Watch for movement in the trees or along guard rails.
One of the most important tips for riding your motorcycle in the rain is to stay calm and ride as smoothly as you can. Avoid leaning your bike too much, because slick roads provide far less traction than dry ones do. Try not to pulse your brakes or throttle and keep all movements fluid. Driving in the rain can be intimidating, but try not to tense up. The tenser your body is, the less fluid your movements will be. Accelerate and brake slowly. If you are not comfortable driving in the rain, do not hesitate to seek shelter and wait it out.
Get Your Motorcycle Serviced at Peterson's Harley-Davidson®
Unfortunately, even the freedom of the open road has its rainy days. If you get caught in a downpour, the most important thing to remember is to prepare yourself and your bike, stay calm and always be aware of your surroundings. Never attempt to drive during thunderstorms or when the roads are flooded. To make sure your bike is in optimal condition and is ready to handle wet conditions, bring it into one of our Miami service centers. Interested in learning more about how to ride your motorcycle safely in Florida? Visit us online and learn more about the Harley-Davidson® Riding Academy New Rider Course.