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How To Ride In The Rain
By Wes Siler - September 26, 2013
Scared of riding in the wet stuff? There’s no need; with a little know-how and a little preparation, riding in the rain can be just as safe and just as fun as riding on a nice, sunny day. Here’s how to ride a motorcycle in the rain.
The heavens have opened and it’s pouring. You can’t see very far down the road thanks to the spray coming off other vehicles. Your visor is misting up and you’re not entirely sure how you and your bike are going to handle the rain. Slow down a bit. Relax. Pay attention. After all, it’s only water.
The Right Equipment
Riding in the rain for a long period of time? You’re going to get wet. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on rain gear or what exaggerated claims the manufacturer makes, it’s just going to happen. Period. But, there are steps you can take to stay comfortable, warm, mostly dry and, most importantly, safe.
The thing is, that when it rains, you’re going to get cold. And getting cold will decrease your ability to concentrate and your ability to control the motorcycle. So, riding in the rain shouldn’t simply be an effort at gritting your teeth and sticking with it, you need to prepare.
The first thing to consider is likely visor fogging. With moisture in the air, every helmet we’ve ever tested has fogged up. Well, with the exception of Icon helmets, which are designed in rainy Portland and somehow gifted with magical anti-fog properties. Your more expensive helmet can be, too, simply by fitting a Pinlock, Fog City or similar insert. These really do work perfectly so, even though it’s dry today, go ahead and order one and install it in your clear visor. You’ll thank us when you’re caught in a storm.
Also on the subject of vision: ditch the dark visor for a clear one, and if you’re regularly riding in the wet, consider a yellow (clear yellow, not gold iridium) shield. These increase contrast and therefore vision in bad conditions. Endurance racers swear by them.
Every helmet maker ever will tell you not to apply Rain-X or something similar to your visor. However, we’ve been doing it for years with no ill effects. It causes water to quickly bead up and run off, aiding vision. It’s said to reduce the effective life of your shield, but we’re replacing our clear visors once a year anyway due to scratches and whatnot. So it’s definitely worth considering if you’re regularly riding in wet road conditions.
The next thing to consider is your hands. They are the first things to get cold, and you need their fine control to delicately operate the controls. If your hands go numb, you aren’t able to ride safely. Period. So keep them warm and dry. Look for a pair of gloves with a name brand waterproof membrane like Gore-Tex or eVent. Because you want to retain control, gloves get bonus points for laminating that membrane to the outer shell, thereby eliminating one layer of stuff moving around between you and the levers. Gore-Tex X-TRAFIT has just such a lamination process and is used on the latest waterproof gloves from Alpinestars and Dainese.
Now you want to consider your bike’s riding position. If your arms sit level on the bars (such as on an ADV or Standard bike) or sit higher (as on a Cruiser) you’ll want gauntlets that go over your jacket, then cinch tight. If you’re riding a Sport Bike, Sport Tourer or performance Naked and your arms slope down, you’ll want gloves that fit under your jacket, so rain running down your sleeves doesn’t enter your gloves.
In a pinch, a pair of nitrile shop gloves or those cheesy plastic mitts gas stations give out at the Diesel pumps will help keep you dry and warm. Heck, even Marigolds have been known to help; that’s what Barry Sheene would wear under his leather race gauntlets.
That same name-brand waterproof membrane advice goes for your jacket and pants or suit. Make sure zippers come with rain flaps so moisture doesn’t pass right through and look for a neck and cuffs that cinch tightly to keep out the water. One-piece suits like the Aerostich Roadcrafter do a better job of keeping you dry than two-pieces, simply because the rain can’t sneak in around your lower back. A regular application of NikWax or Scotch Guard can help keep out the water, too.
Then there’s the tricky subject of boots. For some reason, manufacturers have yet to find a way to make a decent pair of waterproof motorcycle boots that also provide good feel and safety. Part of the reason is probably that boots sit in the spray coming off the front tire, so are essentially being powerwashed the entire time you’re riding. Look for boots that include a waterproof gusset in the entry flap that goes nearly as high as the boot itself, keep that name brand membrane in mind and regularly apply a silicone boot spray or similar around the sole/body stitching and any other hardware and you might get away with only damp feet. Wear wool socks, they’ll keep you warm even when they get wet. And they will get wet.
Which brings us to the subject of what you wear under all that. Because rain is, absolutely, no argument, going to get inside your outer layer, your inner layer(s) also need to work to keep your warm and dry. A good ol’ fleece jacket works well at that, as do wool sweaters. You’ll also want a balaclava or scarf that doesn’t soak up water to protect your neck. Seal Skinz socks do a great job of keeping your feet dry, even in ventilated race boots.
And, on top of all that, consider the reduced vision everyone on the road is sharing. Wear bright, reflective items to help drivers see you through the spray.
What Happens When It Rains
Water falls out of the sky. Duh. But that water also does some unexpected stuff.
Road surfaces are porous. In the dry, those pores soak up oil and other substances, which are then lifted to the surface by rainwater. The most dangerous time to ride is in the first hour of a heavy rainstorm, when all that junk has been lifted to the surface of the road, but not yet washed away.
Road accessories seemingly designed for safety also become positively treacherous. The paint marking lanes and other such stuff becomes icy-slick when it gets wet. So stay off of it. The same goes for manhole covers, tar snakes and those idiotic steel plates major American cities place all over roadways when they’re under maintenance. Those things are just death in the rain. Look ahead, plan ahead and ride smoothly. Never allow yourself to be caught riding over this stuff then suddenly find the need to panic brake. It simply won’t happen.
Water sitting on the road surface gets between your tires and the road, reducing grip. That’s why there’s all that tread on your tires; its only job is to remove water from between tire and road. The rule of thumb is that the more tread there is, the more effectively water will be removed.
Over cars, motorcycles benefit from narrower tires that slice through puddles. So, hydroplaning is rare. But it can happen. Anything that looks like it might be deeper than half an inch should, if possible, be avoided. Or, if you have to ride through it, take it through at steady throttle while bolt upright. Stay off the brakes.
As the recent flooding in Colorado sadly illustrated, fast moving water should be avoided at all costs. If a stream has broken its banks and is flowing across the road, alter your route to avoid it. Attempting to ride through it could kill you.
What You Need To Watch Out For
Even on a nice, clean, level road surface, grip levels are going to decrease. You won’t be able to brake or accelerate or turn with nearly as much speed or force.
This applies to everyone else on the road too, but car and truck drivers tend to be a little less aware than bikers. You’re already riding defensively, in the wet you need to be even more careful around other vehicles. Their vision is reduced, their braking distances are increased and the odds of someone spinning across the road into you or just generally doing something unpredictable and stupid grow enormously.
That same spray also reduces your own vision, making it harder for you to see ahead, plan ahead and take evasive action in plenty of time.
What You Can Do
Slow down. Seriously, just slow down. Not only does doing so ask less of your tires and grip levels, but it will give you more time to look ahead, identify hazards and come up with a plan for avoiding them. It’ll give you more time to read road signs and decrease your braking distances too.
You also need to focus on riding more smoothly. Harsh, abrupt application of power, brakes or steering can exacerbate the limited grip on offer, causing premature loss of traction.
Loosen up, too. A white knuckle grip on the bars exaggerates reactions and prevents your bike from working out problems itself. You don’t need to react to every little loss of traction or bar wiggle, let the bike handle those things for you. It can do so if you’re not clinging to the bars with a death grip, arms locked.
When using the brakes, the same method as riding in the dry applies: slowly squeeze the lever to load the front tire and compress the suspension, then gradually increase force until you achieve the desired degree of deceleration. You can brake quite hard in the wet, you just need to do so smoothly and progressively. Actually, that applies to all your controls. Be careful of the back brake, decreased grip can result in locking it up even sooner and doing so in a corner might wipe you out.
Same thing with the throttle. Accelerate a little more gently, a little later and just try to be smoother. Should a slide occur due to acceleration, don’t slam the throttle shut, just hold it still, look where you want to go and the bike should do the rest.
Ron Haslam once told me his trick for wet racing was to counter intuitively by using a lower gear to keep revs higher. Higher revs equals more power, which may sound like a recipe for a slide, but more power also equals less throttle applied for a given amount of acceleration. Because of that, the rear tire is less prone to dramatically spinning up should traction be lost, allowing you to more easily correct the situation. The rules to remember: High gear, low revs, big throttle and a big slide. Low gear, high revs, little throttle and a little slide.
When it comes to other vehicles, simply give them as much room as possible. And keep your eyes on the prize: getting to your destination safely. This isn’t time to try and start a fight with someone because they’re tailgating you, just move aside and let them pass; you’d rather have an unsafe driver in front of you, where you can control your distance from him, than behind you, where he’s in charge.
As you slow for a traffic light, start braking even earlier than you need to for the altered road conditions. This helps to control traffic behind you, bringing it to a controlled stop rather than surprising them with anything unexpected. It’s sort of like herding sheep.
At traffic lights, if it’s safe to do so, stop ahead of or between other traffic, using it as a free crumple zone. If you have to stop at a red light all by yourself, sit between rather than square in the middle of the lane and flash your brake light to draw the attention of distracted drivers.
Late at night, in a rare Los Angeles rain storm, I once had a driver plow through a red light at 50+ mph with all four of his (completely bald) tires locked, missing me and my bike by maybe half an inch. Because I was sitting on the lane marker rather than in my lane, I lived to write this article.
Last but not least: ABS and Traction Control. These work and should top the list of features you want on your next motorcycle. All the above safety advice still applies, just with a nice helping hand there to make you a little bit safer.
Click here for more Rider Ed Articles
The GWRRA Rider Education Program (REP) is intended to make the motorcycle environment safer by reducing injuries and fatalities and increasing motorcyclist skills and awareness. Our close-working relationship with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), as well as additional GWRRA programs and studies, has provided a wealth of information for use in establishing a comprehensive Rider Education Program. Through Commitment, Education and Application, we can reduce our accident rate significantly. Listed below are several benefits of a fully implemented GWRRA Rider Education Program at the Chapter level:
• Increased rider knowledge
• Increased rider safety skills
• Prevention of accidents
• Reduced injuries
• Reduced fatalities
• Improved general public image of motorcyclists
• Enhanced enjoyment of motorcycle riding
The motorcycle community is already realizing many positive benefits from the GWRRA Rider Education Program. Through the efforts of the Rider Education Officers and participation of the membership and others, we will reach our goal of establishing the safest motorcycle environment possible.
Senior District Educator Assistant District Educators
Bill & Sheila Tucker Rick Stevens Bob Brown
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Tractor Trailer Dangers
articles from Goldwing Docs September 2014
I've always been wary of riding (or driving!) next to tractor trailers. When I come up and am going to pass one on the highway, I slow down, wait until I know I can get completely past the truck, then accelerate quickly past. The idea being, I want to spend as little time as possible next to that truck. I also move over as far to the left of my lane (i.e. as far away as possible from the truck) as I can.
Trucks can pick up debris on the road and fling it, but more importantly, they have large tires that can (and do) fail catastrophically, flinging large pieces of rubber in every direction. One of these pieces of rubber, at highway speeds, can at best do significant damage to your bike, and at worst kill you if they hit you directly.
Validation of my truck tire paranoia was brought to the forefront earlier this month. I was riding my Goldwing, with my son on back and towing my trailer, southbound on I-75 between Detroit and Toledo. Suddenly, I saw brake lights come on in front of me, and on the CB, the truck drivers started yelling at each other to get into the center lane. I did the same.
A minute later, we came across the reason. Sitting in the right lane, partially on the shoulder was a tractor trailer. One of the trailer wheels was shredded. Large chunks of rubber were all over the road. The tractor itself was bashed and dented, and the trailer it was pulling was also damaged. Shortly up the road on the left shoulder, was a car, a Mercedes, resting up against the concrete median wall. This car looked like it had been through a car crusher, it was absolutely destroyed. There was no surface on the car that was not crumpled, crushed, smashed. Several people had stopped and were in the process of prying the passenger out, who was an older gentleman in a daze. I could not see the driver, but from the looks of the car, he couldn't have been in good shape.
During the next few minutes, I heard from some of the truck drivers over the CB who had witnessed the crash just what had happened: The Mercedes, driving alongside the truck, was startled by the sudden explosion of one of the trailer tires, as it flung chunks of tire outward. He veered and crashed into the median wall, then lost control and spun across two lanes, crashing into the truck. The trailer went over the car, sending it spinning back into the median wall again, where it finally slid to a stop. The truck came to a stop, mostly on the right shoulder.
The people inside that car were in rough shape. A motorcycle would not have had the slightest chance.
So watch out for the big trucks. They have trouble seeing us, are heavy (which means increased braking distance), and can (and do) have catastrophic tire failures that throw heavy rubber tire chunks all over the place. Keep clear of them, and keep your time next to them at a minimum.
I drove tractor trailers for 24+ years and on the wing I don't like to sit next to a truck even when traffic is stopped. I've had blow outs on my big rig that took out the mud flap and the bracket it attaches to; the worst rig you could be near is one with a rail can on it. Companies contract to haul a rail can which means they are just borrowing the chassis the can is on so when there is a flat most companies put the cheapest tire ( s ) on possible next on my list are steel and gravel haulers.
This reinforces the point of not spending any more time near trucks, tractor trailers, or pretty much anything else on the road in my mind. I pay particular attention to the sound of any truck or trailer I happen to be near on the road, as often times the tires will provide a clue they're getting ready to let loose, if you listen. I guess being 40-50 feet from the rear tandems, the driver can't hear the thumping of impending failure as well as I seem to be able to when I'm directly behind or beside a tier before it lets loose.
I also give a lot of room to large vehicles to the front until it is safe to pass on two or four lane roads. I won't "pace" one unless it is in town and speeds are significantly slower that what I consider to be highway speeds. Aside from the tire danger, I figure there's a high probability that a truck driver (unlike the cell-phone distracted liars who claim) can't see me if I hang out on either side of the truck. If I can't see his face, odds are he can't see my bike... so, I'll take it slow until there's plenty of room to pass and then I speed past rather quickly and settle in at my cruising speed after I'm safely past the big rig...
By trade, I am a truck mechanic. The crap I see that is driving on our roads simply amazes me. I try not to be within 3 truck lengths of them because you never know what is going to fall off or fail. I too witnessed a gator jump off a rim and barrel at high speed right into the side of a Honda Civic and push it clean off into the median. BEWARE of the gator
I get around them ASAP I don't like all the wind buffeting, and I don't trust them (I've been cut off before on the Wing when they didn't see me). This summer we were going camping (with the car), doing 75mph a 1 ton truck with "dollies" was passing me, just as he got 50 feet in front of me his right rear blew! All I could see was shrapnel of rubber and a big cloud of dust vapor from the tire. Scared the crap out of me! I told the wife at least we're not on the Wing!
There's a practice I do habitually when I drive my Wing on highways....when I see an 18 wheeler approaching in the oncoming lane I move over to the right hand of my lane just to give me that extra margin of error IF a tire should blow and to avoid any wind turbulence. In my experience, some of the long distance truck drivers today are not trained like they were 20-30 years ago. With rising insurance rates, fluctuating fuel costs and slim profit margins training has been cut to the bone and I feel our roads are unsafe by fatigued and distracted truck drivers on our highways. I cannot tell you the number of times an 18 wheeler has drifted over into my side of the lane on the Trans Canada highway! In a head on collision, the truck driver always walks away from the scene. I have seen some pretty grizzly 18 wheeler accidents over the years and I believe blown tires are certainly something you want to be aware of as a biker but the biggest threat to us on our public highways in my mind is distracted and fatigued drivers that lack the training involved to be a truly professional, safe truck driver.
Great Advice on riding next to those highway bombs called semi's. I have practiced the mentioned techniques all my highway riding days but here is a situation I have never heard of or witnessed. A friend of mine was at a stop sign behind a semi when all of a sudden the truck began backing up--apparently to allow an oncoming turning truck extra room to make the turn. My friend didn't have time to push his bike backwards so he jumped off just in time to avoid being run over. The truck backed over the bike and totaled it. Keep that in mind when stopped behind a semi!!!!
Even In my car I NEVER ride anywhere close to a 18 wheeler, if avoidable, and will only pass when there is enough room to do so, quickly, and completely.
What Do You Wear?
When travelling outside the USA, it's rare to see a motorcycle rider wearing anything but full gear: helmet, jacket, pants, gloves and boots. When travelling inside the USA, at least in some states, it's rare to see a motorcycle rider even wearing a helmet, let alone any protective gear. It's not uncommon to see a helmetless rider riding down the road wearing only shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops on a hot summer day. Interestingly, it is those who have survived a motorcycle crash who tend to become the biggest proponents of proper protective gear. (Goldwing Docs June 2017)
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The Fine Line Between Excitement and Disaster
We all ride motorcycles for different reasons. For some of us, it's inexpensive daily transportation. For some, it's a chance to get away and feel at one with the outdoors. And for others, it's an opportunity to push ourselves, to sharpen our skills and see just what we are capable of, while controlling this heavy, powerful machine.
I gave this some thought while riding home from work the other day. There's no doubt that riding a motorcycle can be exciting - either the good kind of exciting, i.e. the thrill of carving through a sweeper, and the bad kind of exciting - i.e. the kind that costs money...or worse.
I figured that there are several levels to this, and these levels change as our experience and skills change over time.
Learning: "hmm, that's interesting" - When the bike does something unusual, but not scary. For instance, the first time you ride over a metal grate, and find the bike wandering to follow the grate, without your input. You decide to mention it to your friends on goldwingdocs.com the next time you're online.
Heightened Awareness: "whoa, what was that?" - When the bike does something unexpected, and you might get a brief shot of adrenaline. For instance, when braking, and your tire briefly loses traction when running over a hot "tar snake." You file that experience away in your memory, noting to avoid braking or turning hard when tar snakes are around.
Excitement: "Holy ****!!" - When you get yourself into an unexpected, potentially dangerous situation, but you manage to properly handle it. For instance, when partway through a sweeping curve, you see gravel on the inner part of the curve - but because of your judicious entry speed, you are able to go wide and miss it, without jeopardizing the safe navigation of the curve. This usually also results in a shot of adrenaline. You tell yourself to pay more attention next time.
Near Disaster: "aughhhh" - When you are in a situation that is out of control, that has a potentially disastrous outcome, yet you somehow make it through unscathed - entirely due to dumb luck! For instance, approaching an intersection too quickly on cold tires on a cold day, braking hard...and sliding right into (or through!) the intersection. This leaves your veins coursing with adrenaline, and your body shaking. You usually swear afterwards to NEVER do that again.
Disaster: BANG - When the "near disaster" situation doesn't end quite so well. You might not even have time for the adrenalin. For instance, when a pick-up truck turns left in front of you, you swerve to miss it, but there is no time, and you hit the truck, destroying your motorcycle, breaking some bones, and sending yourself flying down the road. You might swear afterwards that you will never ride motorcycles again.
And yes, if you have guessed that each of these examples are taken from my own personal experiences, then you are correct. Fortunately for me, as I gained experience (and distance from my teenage years), the Near Disaster and Disaster scenarios have disappeared, leaving me with the occasional Excitement scenario. I'm fine with this.
Without a doubt, experience helps swing the experience spectrum more towards the Learning end and away from the Disaster end, but there are other things that help as well: training, protective gear, a properly maintained bike, and maturity. Maturity? Sure - it's been a long time since I felt the need to ride at 150 mph on public roads, as I did when I was 17. Not to mention having a bike that I've put a lot of time and effort into, and really don't want to wreck!
Think about your own experiences. How many Near Disaster scenarios have you had in the past year? How about Excitement? What could you do differently to become a safer rider?
(Goldwing Docs July 2015 www.goldwingdocs.com)
Motorcycle Riding Improves Physical Health
This blog post is dedicated to every rider who’s sick to death of those “motorcycles are so dangerous” conversations, to every mother who’s convinced her son or daughter is insane for riding, and for anyone who needs a really good excuse to go out and buy a bike. The bottom line is that riding a motorcycle is a form of low-impact exercise that improves muscle tone, can assist with weight loss, and has a multitude of health benefits. These health benefits include but are not limited to:
Healthier, stronger knees and thighs: A well-known orthopaedic surgeon in Indy once told me that motorcycle riders have fewer knee problems because riding a bike strengthens key muscles used to hold the patella and other bones in the knee in place. He told me that riding a motorcycle may reverse knee pain and problems and can most definitely prevent them. Most of the key muscles used to hold knee bones in place reside in the thigh. Ever notice that chicks that ride bikes have nice thighs? There’s a reason! Additionally, backing a bike into a parking spot, especially uphill, is basically like doing leg presses with a 600 pound weight. It works!
Improved core strength: Again, all of the activities involved in steering a bike, moving it at slow speeds, etc., serve to strengthen muscles in the abdomen. It’s more fun that situps!!
Increased insulin sensitivity: Because riding a motorcycle is a low-impact form of exercise, people who ride have improved insulin sensitivity for up to eight hours after a ride. Improved insulin sensitivity has a profound impact on weight loss, because insulin is a fat storage hormone. Having improved insulin sensitivity means your body will produce less insulin to counteract carbohydrates or to lower blood sugars, which means your body will be signaled to store less fat. The improved insulin sensitivity is also of great importance to anyone with Type 2 diabetes. (See my post, Diabetes and the Art of Motorcycle Riding for info on how riding a bike significantly lowers blood glucose levels.)
Calorie burning: Riding a bike burns calories. Period. Getting everything ready for a ride takes time and burns calories, but there’s more. Think about it … it requires effort while riding to maintain balance, shift, brake, control the clutch, battle headwinds, etc., and that’s AFTER you burn calories backing the bike out of the garage! Riding into a headwind burns a significant amount of calories as your body tenses muscles to fight the wind and stay on the bike. This constant resistance exercise not only burns calories but serves to strengthens those muscles, which ultimately increases your metabolism. Additionally, the physical effort exerted while turning, especially at higher speeds, can be significant. Folks who ride motocross or race motorcycles can burn up to 600 calories per hour; the rest of us burn around 200-300 calories per hour. Not bad! (Note to passengers: You burn zero calories per hour while riding passenger on a cruiser, and potentially up to 50 calories per hour while riding passenger on a sport bike. Maybe it’s time to consider getting your own bike!)
Improved neck strength: This one is limited to those riders who wear helmets and those who have taken the time to properly fit themselves to their bike with the correct handle bars, seat, foot pegs, etc. Riding a bike that doesn’t “fit” well can actually cause back pain and destroy proper alignment. Make sure your bike fits you! Wearing a helmet for a few hours a day would strengthen your neck whether you ride or not. Wearing it while riding, especially if you don’t have a windshield to shelter you from the wind, requires significant strength. I’m happy to say, much to my chiropractor’s chagrin, I was able to reverse whiplash simply by riding my bike and wearing a helmet. (I never ride without one.) Strengthening my neck muscles served to pull my neck vertebrae back into alignment and back into the proper curvature. That is a therapy I can live with!!!
Mental outlook: Motorcycle riders usually report returning from a ride feeling energized and happy. Many riders refer to their motorcycle as their “therapist.” Riding a motorcycle has a wonderful way of releasing endorphins that serve to boost mood and improve outlook. The time spent on a bike also provides valuable sun exposure, known to increase Vitamin D levels which are known to be powerful mood enhancers. Additionally, the hours of alone time spent on the back of a bike either allows folks to completely escape from their problems or allows them to work through problems and consider issues from different perspectives. I know more than one rider who hops on their bike and takes a ride when they have an issue needing consideration. (This does not, of course, apply to issues causing great distress.)
That’s it! Riding a motorcycle has definite health advantages, both physical and emotional. As always, ride smart. Get thoroughly trained before starting to ride and then take time to practice on back roads before hitting main thoroughfares. Take your time and don’t try to beat lights or get in front of slow drivers. As always, NEVER drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Even one beer can affect reaction time enough to impair shifting, clutch operation and turning ability. Just don’t do it.
I’m off to ride. Have a great day!
(Good Works Wellness July 22 2011)