Riding in the wet

When the snow begins to melt, or the summer day turns nasty the motorcyclist gets to experience the wet. The nature of rain, from nasty tropical deluges, to prolonged dripping mist, is that they all are wet. Nothing can ruin a beautiful ride faster than a sudden rain squall when a rider is unprepared. The increased evaporative cooling effect (wind chill) can cause a rider to experience hypothermia much quicker. The decreased traction available will cause all sorts of nonsticky situations.

Riding in the rain comfortably is simple with some preparation. Depending on the local climate, rain-gear that is quilted may help keep the chill out easier. In tropical areas the lightest weight material possible is a necessity. Humidity and dehydration are just as much a factor in tropical wet weather, as heat and dehydration are in desert riding. To explain in Florida the wet season is during the summer. Temperatures can be in the middle nineties with ninety percent humidity. Afternoon rain showers are sudden and fierce. 4 to 8 inches of rain will fall in a few hours causing street flooding in many areas. Florida is mostly swamp after all. Of course, the rain usually hits about the time of the afternoon commute. Another part of preparation is the decision if riding is the right decision.

Not many motorcyclists are out after about two in the afternoon in south Florida. The rain is not the primary fear of the motorcyclists, its the lightening. Florida is the lightening capital of the United States. Though getting hit by lightening is rare, the chances are still better than winning the lotto. I buy lotto tickets, and I don’t ride in thunder storms. Chance is fickle, but why risk it.

Proper clothing should also include a full face visor for a helmet, and boots and gloves that are very water resistant. I have found very few items that work well on a motorcycle that are truly waterproof. Basically items that are completely waterproof still have openings for hands, feet, or the body to enter them, and water will enter any opening that is available. Even if an item is truly waterproof the properties that keep water out will also keep water in. Sweat, dampness, and leakage can be just as uncomfortable as not wearing a rainsuit. Rubber booties that go over riding boots are an easily carried item that are about as water proof as possible, and they have the added advantage of waterproofing any footwear. There are many items available from different outlets if you check out Wing World advertisers you should be able to find several products. One thing all riders should carry ALWAYS/EVERYWHERE on the bike is a lightweight rainsuit for rider and passenger. If you have this with you, you will never have to say “I forgot to bring….” Go ahead and get the fancy color matched heavy duty Gortex (R) raingear with your name embossed on the chest, but also carry a inexpensive suit in a fairing pocket or the corner of a saddlebag.

When riding on wet roadways even if the rain stops traction will have decreased. There are two very basic reasons traction decreases on wet roadways. The first reason is that water and the waste oils on the road don’t mix, especially at the beginning of a rain shower, the resulting substance I believe is the slickest thing known to man. The substance would be second only to wet pavement markings another hazard of wet roadways. The second cause of low traction is that water fills in the grain of the road causing the tire to be in contact directly with less surface. In extreme conditions this is called hydroplaning. Hydroplaning occurs when the tire pushes across the surface of the roadway through water, and the water creates a wedge in front of the tire thus creating lift. The wedge of water can not get out of the way of the tire fast enough, and the tire floats on the hydraulic lift. Tires are built so that water is cleared to the sides by pumping the fluid out of the contact patch. Some tire manufacturers rate tire performance by gallons per second. That is moving a lot of fluid quickly.

All of the low traction situations put extensive stress on the rider, and perceptual ability. As risk of mishap increases the need for the rider to be able to perceive increases too. If vision is obscured, as in rain, the need to decrease speed becomes very important. How important? Depending on the volume of water in the air vision can be reduced to zero. In many situations stopping during a rain shower can become more hazardous than continuing. Add in the decrease in vision caused by dirty face-shields, fogged eye-glasses, road spray, and driver fatigue, and you have a situation of extreme risk. No rider is capable of responding to a hazard they do not perceive. Because riders are limited to vision as their primary method of hazard appraisal rain becomes a special risk. Consider taking a break when it first starts raining. This will allow some of the road grease to flow off the road, and also allow you to rest up and mentally prepare for the challenges ahead.

The way to deal with decreased vision in rain is to slow down. Speed increases potential hazard (impact speed), and decreases reaction time (time before impact). As speed decreases potential damage decreases, and reaction time to avoid impact increases. There are no specific rules that would cover every situation every time, but this rule gives a basis to work up from.

As said earlier when it first starts to rain take a break. Find a place to wait for awhile, so that water can wash away the worst offending materials on the roadway. If you find a place that is dry it will also allow you to gear up easier. Now get your raingear, and put it on. If the rain is intermittent put your raingear on. If there is a chance you’re going to get wet put your raingear on. If the weather turns better consider it a worthwhile investment in time. You shouldn’t feel silly riding down the road in sunny weather after all if any of your friends ask why just tell them you were airing the suit out. If the weather turns nasty you’ll know it was a good investment. When riding in rain the ability to see items in the roadway such as tire carcass, boards, and other detritus is reduced. Stay away from any vehicle larger than your bike (All?), and try and stay clear of others too. A Goldwing with full lights from any position can easily disappear in the road-spray kicked up by a tractor-trailer truck. If vehicles can not see you, your chances of seeing them is greatly reduced, and their chance of avoiding you is zero.

The idea is to be predictable and obvious. The more predictable you are the easier other vehicle operators will feel around you, and the less likely they will panic in your presence. This is more of a hope than expectation as you have no control over the other drivers around you. Remember the more obvious presence you are, the more visible especially, the less likely someone will not see you. But, you can’t count that either. Riding in the rain will almost assuredly happen to you at some time in your riding career. The better prepared you are for the experience the less mental stress you will put yourself through. The better equipped you are the less physical stress you will have to bear. Ride with caution and ride safe.

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