One of the most exhilarating (and frightening) experiences I ever had was getting caught in the rain on my first trip to the Alps.
In fact, I hadn’t even made it to the Alps.
I was somewhere in Austria, making my way towards Meiringen to experience the Alps for the very first time.
Around 150 miles away from my hotel, Austria went dark.
Heavy, dark clouds came rolling in with purpose above me. And I could smell the rain before it had even started to fall.
Stopping at the roadside, I quickly found my bright yellow rain suit and managed to zip it up just in time for the first speckles of rain to hit my visor.
Back on my bike, I became aware of a sudden feeling of urgency.
Ignition on. Into first gear. Shoulder check.
And off I went, hurtling towards Grimsel Pass on my CBR600 and into the impending storm.
When Car Drivers Feel Sorry For You
It was that kind of storm where even our friends in their 4-wheeled contraptions looked at me with sympathy.
The rain hit the road so hard that it bounced back up to my waist.
I couldn’t see. And worse than that, I couldn’t be seen. This is when motorcycle riding in the rain gets really scary.
As the camber of the road created a river across my path, I took a deep breath, laughed to myself, and ploughed on through the Alpine thunderstorm to my destination.
Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be my last encounter with the rich and bountiful thunderstorms of the Alps. In fact, I got used to riding my motorcycle in the rain by the end of the trip.
So when one of our readers emailed in to ask our advice on motorcycle riding in the rain, I decided to put this post together.
And there ended up being so much information that I had to split it into two separate posts! In this post (Part 1), we’ll look at some basic information and preparation for riding your motorcycle in the rain.
Motorcycle Riding In The Rain: Over-Egging The Custard
A lot of people make far too much about wet weather riding. And whilst we may indeed need to take extra precautions, riding your motorcycle in the rain isn’t as traumatic as many riders seem to believe.
So what about when you’re halfway up Stelvio when the rain comes down?
Couple this knowledge with some decent riding gear and waterproofs, and it needn’t be the nightmare you envisage.
Motorcycle Riding In The Rain: Relax!
Even experienced riders get a bit jittery when bad weather sets in. You’re on two wheels, so the additional risks are plain to see.
And with this extra risk comes anxiety. It’s natural to tense up when faced with this situation. Your hands grip the bars a little more firmly. And your body becomes rigid as you brace yourself for the worst-case scenario that’s playing through your head.
And this is where the problem starts.
The bike needs to move as it negotiates the surface over which you’re riding it. And whilst you may need to guide it, tensing up stops the bike from doing its thing as it overcomes undulations in the road.
The more you fight it, the more it fights you back until you find you can’t turn the bike at all. It just goes straight – and we’ve all been in that situation!
Relax. Take a lighter grip on the bars and trust physics. Trust your tyres, trust your bike, trust Sir Isaac Newton, and trust your own ability.
Because as soon as you have the confidence to relax, you start to get good feedback from the bike, which means you can put good input into it.
Motorcycle Riding In The Rain: Rider Preparations
There’s a good chance that you will encounter rain whilst touring. The easiest way to deal with it is to accept that you will (at some point) get wet and prepare yourself for it.
And it could be something so simple as checking a weather app!
We all have smartphones. And most hotels have a WiFi connection these days, even in the remotest of places. Take the time to check the weather forecast before you go to bed.
Avoiding wet conditions could be as simple as changing your start time. If it’s forecast to rain from 8 am to 11 am, and your ride is four hours, do you really need to go at 9 am? Or can you wait until lunchtime and leave at midday instead?
If it’s a transit day or you need to catch a ferry, then you can still prepare for the following day’s ride with the following.
If you know it’s going to be raining all day, make sure you leave with your waterproofs already on. This prevents any stopping and messing about trying to get them on once it starts raining.
If you get caught out (or if you’re on a motorway and there’s nowhere to stop), you risk getting your riding gear wet before you even get your waterproofs out.
And if you get wet, you get cold. And if you get wet and cold, not only will you start to tense up on the bike, but it will make a miserable day even more miserable.
Moreover, being wet and cold is distracting. And in conditions where you need to be on top of your game, you need to avoid the distractions of being cold and wet.
Don’t make the mistake of getting to your hotel with soaking wet gear. Because if it doesn’t dry overnight, it will mean putting on the wet and soggy gear in the morning.
And whichever way you look at it, that’s a really shit way to start the day.
Stop The Rain From Getting In
If you know that you’re going to be spending all day in heavy rain, protect yourself from the rain with a balaclava (or a hoodie.) There’s nothing worse than rain dripping off your helmet and down the back of your jacket.
Use a balaclava to protect the back of your neck (and even your head) from the elements.
Similarly, think about how you wear your boots and gloves. Fastening your gloves over your jacket sleeves means water will start to pool and make its way inside your gloves. So fasten your gloves over your cuffs.
Make sure your jacket and pants are protecting any crevices in your gloves and boots to stop rain from getting in.
Prevent Fogging Up
One of the cheapest things you can buy that makes the biggest difference when riding your motorcycle in the rain is a Pinlock.
Depending on your helmet, they cost anywhere between £15 and £30. For those of you who don’t know what a Pinlock is, it’s a transparent piece of plastic that goes on the inside of your visor.
The Pinlock insert stops the inside of your visor from fogging up in wet conditions – because the last thing you need in treacherous conditions is not being able to see.
If you don’t have a Pinlock, the next best thing is to ride with your visor cracked open a few millimetres to keep the air flowing.
Sure, your face might get a bit wet and cold, but at least you’ll be able to see.
Motorcycle Riding In The Rain: Bike Preparations
The best thing you can do to prepare your bike for wet weather riding is to check the tyres. They won’t perform at their best if the pressures are too high or too low, and you could even ruin them.
Check the recommended tyre pressures in your handbook. Or you can even contact the tyre manufacturer, who will tell you the recommended pressures based on your specific bike.
As well as the pressures, make sure you do regular maintenance checks of your tyres. Adequate tread is crucial when riding in wet conditions.
Protect Your Luggage
As well as waterproofing yourself, be sure to waterproof your luggage! There’s nothing worse than getting to your hotel soaking wet, only to find that the dry clothes you’re changing into for dinner got wet on the journey.
Ensure all straps and zips are closed and are properly protecting your gear. If you have anything valuable, I recommend putting them in a dry bag before putting them in your luggage – even if your luggage is waterproof.
The same goes for paper documents, cash, passports, and visas.
If any of your luggage comes with waterproof covers, ensure you use them on your tank bag or roll bag – especially if you keep your valuables in them.
As a final touch of security, secure a bungee cord around them to stop the cover from flying off.
In the second instalment, we look at the technical aspects of motorcycle riding in the rain. These include the importance of observations, acceleration, braking, cornering, and a whole host of other top tips.
You can catch up on the second part here.