Racing the Rain

You just can’t trust the weatherman.

The forecast had been for rain most of the day, but it never materialized. When I checked again after work, it looked like I was going to have a couple of hours before I “might” see some rain. Because the forecast was only a 40 percent chance, I decided to go for it and race the rain.

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I don’t normally go out looking for trouble, but I love riding this time of year and look for just about any excuse to put a coupe miles (or even a few minutes) in the saddle to good use. It looked like a storm was blowing in when I left the house, but also it looked like it might blow over because looking north, it was blue skies and fluffy white clouds—not the dark and ominous storm clouds developing to the south.

Riding a Motorcycle in the Rain

I prefer not to ride in the rain. That said, I seem to do a lot of it. A few years ago, every tour we went on it rained on us. A trip to the Grand Canyon a couple of years ago it rained for the first two days of the trip. Meaning, we started the second day in the rain, in soggy rain gear. Fortunately, the trip turned out great once the storm passed midway through the third day.

On a different trip, a Memorial Day Weekend tour into Colorado, we saw rain (and even some snow) for the first day and a half. I had forgotten to pack our rain gear but my jacket was a waterproof leather jacket and the rest of me is pretty waterproof under my leathers. Sue was a trooper the first day, but that night we stopped in Grand Junction and made sure to purchase a set of raingear for her—I was stubbornly committed to toughing it out.

The next day my boots were full of the snow and slush we were surprised with as we went over one of the passes. I have never gone on a tour without my rain gear since that trip. In fact, our rain suits maintain a permanent place in the saddle bag and trunk of both my Road King and Sue’s trike.

Although I would choose not to ride in the rain if I could, I’m not afraid of riding in the rain. And, those who commute by motorcycle every day can confirm, if you’re prepared and aware, the worst the rain can do is get your bike really dirty.

Unless the sky up ahead is black and ominous looking, I’ll typically just ride through a sprinkle. A little bit of rain won’t hurt you in the summertime and actually feels pretty good. One of my favorite pleasures is the smell of a summer rain on the hot asphalt. Topped only by what sagebrush smells like in the rain.

In the West, a summer storm usually blows over in a few minutes giving you plenty of time to dry off in the sun as you motor down the highway—the same is not true in the fall or early summer.

With that said, here are eight things you need to know when storm clouds threaten and mother nature tries to rain on your parade:

  1. Rain gear, don’t leave home without it. Yes, it can be a pain to put on and take off, but it will keep water out of your boots and keep the rest of your gear relatively dry. What’s more, if you find yourself someplace where the summer temperatures in the morning are a little colder than you prepared for, your raingear will help stop the wind from blowing right through you. I just leave it in my saddle bags so it’s always there.

  2. I like my pinlock visor. It’s an extra lens on some helmet visors that helps reduce the tendency for the warmer air inside your helmet to fog up when it hits the visor being cooled by the cooler air outside your helmet. Many helmets come pinlock ready and some even come with the pinlock lens. My helmet included the pinlock lens, but Sue’s did not. It’s such a convenient safety feature, we spent a little extra to get the additional lens that fit her helmet too. It doesn’t completely eliminate all fogging, but it really helps. I wouldn’t even consider a helmet that didn’t come with the ability to use a pinlock lens—even if I needed to purchase it separately.

  3. A good set of tires will maintain pretty decent traction on a wet road—most of the time. Of course, you’re only on two wheels, so you probably shouldn’t lean into the corners the same way you would if the roads were dry. A little common sense will help you keep the rubber bits down and the shiny bits up as you go down the road—which is the way I like to ride.

  4. Don’t use your cruise control (this is something that also applies to your car). If you have cruise control on your motorcycle, don’t use it in the rain. You’re more likely to hydroplane with the cruise on.

  5. If you remember when you were learning to ride, there are basically three positions in the lane. From left to right, 1, 2, and 3 with the #2 position in the middle of the lane. Particularly for the beginning of a rain storm, avoid riding in position #2 or the middle of the lane. That’s where cars tend to drip, if they have any leaking fluids. And, because oil and water don’t mix, the center of the lane can quickly become a slippery mess. Even if water puddles in position #1 or #3, it’s safer there than in the middle of the lane.

  6. The paint they use on the road is slippery. A few years back, someone pointed out to me just how slippery the paint they use for crosswalks, lane dividers, and other indicators on the highway are. Since then, I’ve been aware (especially when the road is wet) to avoid lingering on the painted surfaces. If you think about it, you should see for yourself. Bend down and feel just how slippery the paint in a crosswalk is and imagine if it were wet and your were leaning into a turn on that slippery wet surface.

  7. Be aware of cattle guards and any other metal grates. Approaching the Beartooth pass from Cody, there is a bridge just after you turn off of the Chief Joseph Highway. On that bridge is a metal seam that cuts diagonally across the road in the middle of a turn. It’s slippery dry (I know this because I felt my rear wheel slip going over it the first time), I can just imagine how slippery it must be when wet. The same is true for cattle guards and anything else made of steel that runs across the roadway. Be aware, mind your speed, and minimize your lean angle going over them in the rain.

  8. Cold and wet don’t mix. Rain in the summer is a lot different than rain this time of year or in the early spring. When temperatures drop, getting wet can be life threatening. Pay attention to the early signs of hypothermia, and if you, or someone you’re riding with starts showing signs, don’t hesitate to get off the road, wrap your hands around a warm mug of something, and get warm and dry. If you’re wet, get out of those wet clothes into something dry, and ride another day. I like to ride all year long, even in the winter. If the roads are dry and not frozen, if the temperature is above 36 degrees, and the sun is out, I can be talked into a ride. If it’s wet, I’m out. I may have an addiction, but not at the expense of recklessness.

If asked, I don’t know anyone who would say riding in the rain is particularly fun, but if you’ve been riding for any length of time or like to tour, you’ve probably ridden in the rain more than once—or you’ve been incredibly lucky. Sometimes, you have to embrace the bad weather and power through. Just be careful, don’t be in a rush, and recognize that you’re not only harder to see in the rain, you also don’t have the same level of control of your bike on the road—that quick move on dry pavement to avoid an accident could put your bike down on a wet road.

Be safe.