Unless you ride in a desert, even when the forecast is dry, you can never really be sure it won’t rain. For many riders, riding in the rain is exactly the opposite of what riding is all about – it’s cold, wet, uncomfortable, stressful, and hard to see. Still, rain can happen almost any time, so it’s best to be prepared for it. When prepping your motorcycle for riding in the rain, your tactics and gear are just as important as your equipment.
Rubber and Road
Just a few square inches keep you on the road at any given time, whether you’re taking a corner at 15 mph or 50 mph, or taking off from a traffic light or slowing down for one. Individual motorcycle tires are designed to balance traction, ride comfort, and wear, but rarely can deliver all three. For example, a grippy tire will deliver great traction in cooler weather, but likely wear out faster in warmer weather, or a comfortable cruiser tire will last 20,000 miles, but deliver poor traction in the cold.
If rain is common where you plan on riding, then a suitable tire will include deep grooves and sipes to squish water out from under the tire, keeping the tread in contact with the road. Realize the extra grooves shrink the contact patch, so you won’t benefit from as much traction as with a dedicated dry-pavement summer tire. At the same time, a summer tire likely doesn’t have enough grooving to get water out of your way quick enough to prevent hydroplaning. Consider two sets of tires to match riding conditions, if they change significantly from season to season.
Braking and Cornering
Rain equals less traction, no matter what tires and electronic nannies your bike is equipped with, so there is no substitute for responsible riding. When riding in the rain, perhaps your tactics are more critical than your equipment. Really, the single best thing you can do is slow down.
When taking off, ease into the clutch and throttle, because breaking that back tire loose might put you on the ground. While cruising, slow down and maintain at least 4 to 6 seconds of following distance. This will give you room for braking and evasive maneuvers. When cornering, brake in the straights, before you get to the corner, and don’t take the corner as hard as you would when dry.
Braking in the rain requires a delicate touch, and being too grabby will surely lay you down. Use both brakes, but be lighter on the front brake until the suspension is compressed. Play it by feel, and you’ll notice that, once the suspension is compressed, you can apply more front brake without slipping.
Dress for Success
In addition to traction and tactics, dressing for the weather will help you be a safer rider. Even on a hot summer day, an afternoon storm can sap your body heat and reduce your ability to control the bike. Cold fingers and toes don’t respond as well, and a slow response could spell the difference between a near-miss and a critical mistake. Always pack rain gear and put it on at the first hint of rain. At the very least, rain pants, rain booties, high-visibility rain jacket, and waterproof gloves can protect you from the worst of it. Spend a little more cash and you can stay almost completely dry even in a monsoon.
When prepping your motorcycle for riding in the rain, it’s easy to forget how important each of these factors can be, not only individually, but in concert with each other. Properly equipped, well-dressed, and well-played, riding in the rain can be just as safe as any other time.