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Riding in Wet Weather
Some lessons learned

By: James R. Davis

Virtually every touring motorcycle rider both expects and experiences some rain while out on the road. It is generally true that if it is raining before you start riding you will postpone that ride segment, but once on the road that choice is no longer available.

My riding partner (Cash) and I just completed an eight day tour and seven of those days were glorious, but for one full day we experienced rain or drizzle, at high altitude, and in severe coldness. Here are the lessons we learned during that one day.

  • When it is drizzling (no depth of standing water on the roadway) we were perfectly happy to ride at or near speed limits. Though often posted at 75 MPH, we tended to ride at from 65 to 70 MPH in these conditions. Traction was NOT a problem, but visibility often was.

  • When you are riding at 65 MPH and an 18-wheeler is doing 65+ MPH in the opposite direction with light rain, you can be sure that that 18-wheeler is kicking up a MAJOR rooster-tail. That wall of water is approaching you at 130 MPH!!!!! When you hit it your visibility will be reduced to ZERO and stay that way for about 5 seconds. The water on your windscreen will NOT be merely on the outside - it will also cover the inside of your windscreen!

  • That same 18-wheeler when passing is going to do more than drop your visibility to zero. That 130 MPH mass of turbulence that you run into WILL abruptly slow your bike down! Indeed, your bike will lose a few MPH instantly, but *YOU* will not - and your body will abruptly move forward relative to your bike as a result!!! Then, just as abruptly, it will move back to its normal position relative to the bike. DO NOT FREAK OUT - EXPECT IT AND SIMPLY RIDE IT OUT.

  • Because rain and drizzle (and MUD) will collect on your windscreen, and on your face shield, (and possibly on your glasses as well) you will not be able to see through those layers of water. So, you MUST look over your windscreen until conditions change. If the windscreen is positioned properly you need only 'stretch' your back/neck to do that, but that effort is very taxing and you will find that you cannot do it for more than perhaps an hour before you must either stop or do something else to help you see. What else? STANDING ON YOUR PEGS!! Cash and I rode for about 20 miles standing on our pegs in order to see on that day.

  • You might be tempted to partially stand on those pegs (lifting your butt off the seat a few inches.) That will result in upper thigh cramps in about 10 minutes. You must actually stand on those pegs and lean forward if you need to keep going - locked knees will save your thighs.

  • We are both now totally convinced that people who opt for extra long windscreens have no idea how disastrous that can be to their ability to see in the rain as the extra tall ones, because they come well back over the rider's head, CANNOT be seen over by standing on the pegs - they are in the way.

  • Altitude and cold are synonymous. If it's raining and cold then if your direction is to a higher elevation you are best advised to STOP for the night. If your direction is to a lower elevation you are probably best off continuing to a lower elevation. We were going DOWN from about 8,000 feet when we encountered severe cold drizzle as the cloud layer descended upon us. Had we stopped we could have been there for DAYS until it cleared up but after about 100 miles we were out of trouble and able to complete another 300 miles without much trouble.

  • No matter how well clothed you are, no matter how many layers, if your hands get too cold you will not be able to safely handle your motorcycle. Your fingers will not be able to squeeze the brake or clutch levers effectively or with subtlety. You MUST keep your hands warm to handle a motorcycle safely. Glove liners as your first layer, rubber (surgical) gloves as your second layer, and finally your gloves make what would otherwise be impossible tolerable.

  • Keeping your CHEST warm will greatly help in keeping your hands warm!!!!! Your body protects its chest cavity (core) by restricting circulation from your extremities (hands and feet) so keeping your chest warm is a MAJOR AID in cold weather, not just from a comfort point of view.

  • Cramps (remember upper thighs from partially standing on the pegs?) can be eliminated almost instantly by the consumption of GATORADE!!!! We always carry water and now, when riding in cold weather or high altitudes, we also carry some GATORADE.

  • You cannot count on gasoline always being available when you need it while out on a tour. We planned our routes with that in mind but even so there was at least one instance when the small town we had expected to find gas in turned out to be 'closed' or out of gas. We carry a spare 2 gallons of gasoline on our tours for that reason. We mount that gas can on a passenger peg in order to keep it from causing damage to clothing or other things in our luggage. We mount an ice chest on the other passenger peg to even out the load. NOTE: that extra gasoline may not be needed by you but if you are 50 miles away from the next station and find a fellow motorcyclist stranded on the road it could save his life!

  • You should always carry a set of rain gear with you even if you don't or won't ride in the rain! It was so cold coming down from the high altitude of Colorado Springs that Cash was forced to wear at least the pants of her rain gear (over everything else) in order to keep her legs warm - it worked wonderfully for her!

  • But the rain gear does not keep your feet warm. Cash also had rubber 'totes' with her and put them on over her boots to do that.

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

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