Motorcycle Tips & Techniques

Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics

Skip Repetitive Navigational Links
Safety TipsRiding Hazards   Tip098   Print article Print

Electrical Storms
Riding out from under them could be a big mistake

By: James R. Davis

You are out in the country and an electrical storm blows in. There is no civilization (read: shelter) for a hundred miles. Should you ride out the storm? If not, what should you do?

No doubt you have heard that because your tires are made of rubber, and because rubber is not a good electrical conductor, so long as you keep your feet on the pegs lightning will not hit you since it cannot find a path to ground through you and the bike. WRONG!!!

Though rubber is a pretty good insulator at the normal voltage levels we mere humans deal with, it is not very effective against the voltage in a lightning bolt.

On the other hand, you may also have heard that if a lightning bolt hits a car the occupants are safe because the car is riding on rubber tires, etc. Actually, this is almost true! So long as the occupants stay away from anything metal they will more than likely survive a lightning hit without any injury whatever.

What protects occupants of a cage is not their rubber tires, but the fact that they are enclosed in a metal container. If a lightning bolt hits the surface of the car it spreads around the occupants, NOT THROUGH THEM, and goes to ground.

A lightning bolt that hits you or your motorcycle is a different matter entirely.

Let me give you an idea of magnitudes we are dealing with here. The master fuse on your bike handles about 30 amps before it blows. An average lightning bolt produces a current of about 20,000 amps. Even 30 amps can easily kill you because it disrupts your heart's electrical system and the heart then simply stops working. Your heart doesn't stand a chance against a lightning bolt.

Anyway, if you are out in the open on your bike when lightning flashes begin, and if you can hear the thunder caused by those flashes in less than three seconds from when you see the flash, it's time to stop your bike and get off it.

  • Immediately find low ground, but NOT under a single or small group of trees.

  • Squat on the ground with your legs together, head lower than back, but NOT touching the ground. Do NOT lay on the ground.

  • LET YOUR CLOTHES GET WET!!! (In this way, if you are hit the majority of the electricity will follow the moisture of your wet clothes around your body.)

  • Do not get up until thunder following a lightning flash is AT LEAST five seconds after the flash. (Which means the lightning struck more than 1 mile away.)

Incidentally, lightning can, and DOES, hit the same place twice - frequently.

If there are more than 5 seconds between the lightning flashes and your hearing that thunder, head for shelter. This is the only time trying to ride out from under an electrical storm makes any sense.

Best shelter, of course, is a hard covered surface connected to ground with metal. Get under it and wait out the storm.

Copyright © 1992 - 2024 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.

(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

A plea for your help