Wet Weather Motorcycle Riding (Part 2): Touring Safely

| |

In the first installment of our two-part article, we looked at wet weather motorcycle riding and the benefits of basic bike and rider preparation.

If you missed the first post, you can check it out here: Motorcycle Riding In the Rain: Part 1

In part two, we look at the necessary technical skills for wet weather motorcycle riding.

Wet Weather Motorcycle Riding: Distance And Observations

“Only a fool breaks the two-second rule.”

For those of you that haven’t heard that expression, it’s referring to the time gap between you and the vehicle in front.

following position for wet weather motorcycle riding
Following distance is crucial when riding a motorcycle in wet weather. (Image via https://hazardperceptiontest.net/)

In normal conditions, there should be a minimum gap of two seconds.

When it comes to wet weather motorcycle riding, however, we need to double it.

At least!

And the reason for this is two-fold:

1. Stopping Distance

In the rain, our stopping distance increases. So if something should go wrong up ahead and the vehicles in front of us stop suddenly, we need as much space as possible to bring our bike to a halt in a safe and effective manner.

And this is what distance gives us. Distance gives us space and time to come to a stop safely without locking up the wheels and skidding to a halt.

Or worse.

2a. Forward Planning

Maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle in front also opens up our visibility.

If we’re up the arse of the car in front, then that means we usually can’t see past it. All we can see is the back of the car.

Keeping a safe distance allows us to see past the car.

It allows us to see bends up ahead. Or it allows us to see brake lights early when the car in front has missed them and has to stop quickly.

The extra space allows us to see hazards way before we get to them which means we can take early action. And an early action is usually a safe action.

riding the col du tourmalet in wet conditions
Wet weather motorcycle riding: allowing a safe following distance on the Col du Tourmatet

2b. Rear Observations

Keep an eye on your mirrors.

Most people aren’t stupid enough to drive too close to bikers in such bad conditions. Even the most mindless of miscreants can usually come to a sensible conclusion in such a scenario.

But what if that vehicle behind you has ignored your gestures to back off?

Well firstly, see if you can move towards the curb to let it past.

If that isn’t safe/viable, then at least you have the space you crafted between yourself and the vehicle in front if something should go wrong.

You can’t force the vehicle off your tailpipe. But at least if you have maintained a decent gap upfront, you can control the pace at which you (and the idiot behind you) must come to a stop should the need arise.

Keeping an eye on your mirrors also gives you a few seconds warning of any overtakes (legal or otherwise.)

rear mirrors and observation keep you safe when riding your motorcycle in wet weather
Rear observations are just as important as forward observations when riding your motorcycle in wet weather (image via Pixabay)

Smoothness Is The Cornerstone Of Wet Weather Motorcycle Riding

When it comes to wet weather motorcycle riding, smoothness is the absolute foundation of safe riding.

Smoothness is the foundation of riding in ANY conditions. But it’s even more important when riding in the wet.

And I often find the best way to do this is to use ‘slow hands.’ Because moving your hands slowly keeps everything deliberate and controlled.

Nobody ever stopped harshly by braking gently. And nobody ever spun the rear wheel out by throttling on in a slow and progressive manner.

Keep your hands slow, and this will translate into a slow and smooth operation of your bike.

It’s also important to remember that smoothness in wet conditions is brought about by starting everything earlier.

As mentioned above, you will be looking way ahead in your forward observation to see things early. And when you see a hazard arise, you have the time and space to react to it accordingly.

Gently roll off the throttle.

Apply the brakes softly and gradually introduce pressure.

When exiting a bend, come up to speed gradually.

Starting everything earlier means everything takes longer to complete. And in turn, this makes for smoother movements.

I like to break it down into A, B, C: Acceleration, Braking, and Cornering. Because if you can control your A, B, C’s, then everything else is easy.

wet forest road
Smoothness on wet roads is the key to wet weather motorcycle riding (image via Pixabay)

Smooth Acceleration

If you ask any rider what their throttle is for, they’ll tell you it’s to make them go fast. Because it’s fun! But our throttle also gives (or takes away) traction.

Throttle control allows us to stabilise our bike whilst maintaining traction and preventing slides. It allows us to hunt for grip.

And this is why throttle control in the wet is vital.

Rolling off the throttle in a controlled manner keeps the bike stable and planted.

Gently rolling on the throttle allows us to lay down grip progressively. That’s why we don’t come out of a corner in wet conditions and give it the beans.

We roll on gently, giving our tyres the opportunity to grip the tarmac as we accelerate.

close up of bikers controling throttle - wet weather motorcycle riding
Smooth acceleration sense maintains traction when riding your motorcycle in wet weather

Smooth Braking

Okay, so when we apply the brakes in soggy conditions, we’re obviously trying to stop. But we’re trying to stop in a safe and controlled manner; which means without skidding.

So what causes skidding, then?

Well, this can be defined as doing something in a fashion that is too excessive for the conditions.

And that includes braking.

If we apply either brake too aggressively in wet conditions, there is a good chance we’ll skid. And unless you’ve got impeccable control, this is where things go wrong.

Harsh braking leads to the front end sliding out from underneath us. Or the rear wheel fish-tailing along behind us.

The easiest way to avoid skids is to apply our brakes earlier, and more gradually, over a longer period of time.

biker braking smoothly in the rain
Braking smoothly when wet weather motorcycle riding prevents your tyres from skidding

Order Of Brakes

The order of braking in wet conditions is the same as the order of braking in dry conditions. It’s just the timing and ratio of each that is different.

We still start with the front brake. And we still apply it gently to transfer weight from the rear of the bike to the front.

Weight at the front of the bike compresses the front forks, which presses the front tyre into the ground and gives us grip.

As soon as we apply that front brake (gently) we apply the rear brake (also gently) and we squeeze slowly applying pressure in a 50/50 distribution.

In wet conditions, applying 50/50 brakes spreads the weight of the bike between the front and rear tyres more evenly. It slows us to down gradually without overloading either wheel.

Smooth Cornering

When corning, we’re really looking at combining steering with acceleration and braking (above.)

We brake as we approach the corner, we steer through it, and then we apply throttle as we exit the bend.

But as for the cornering aspect, we need to keep the bike stable and happy in wet conditions.

And we do this by steering smoothly. We avoid sharp directional changes to prevent losing grip at the front end.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t move on the bike or countersteer – far from it!

Countersteering is the essence of steering a bike. You still need to countersteer, but you need to do it in a smoother, more applied fashion than you would in the dry.

And moving on the bike in wet conditions does a superb job of maintaining clearance when cornering.

If you enter a right-hand bend, lean your body into the bend whilst keeping the bike upright and your bars straight.

Your weight will shift the centre of gravity to the right, allowing the bike to tip in slightly. But the majority of the bike’s mass is still in the central plane, keeping it planted.

So don’t be afraid to countersteer or shift your weight in wet conditions. Both of them can help you corner without losing traction or reducing clearance.

Related: Overtaking On A Motorcycle: Touring Safely

biker taking corners smoothly in the Pyrenees - wet weather motorcycle riding
Wet weather motorcycle riding requires a smooth cornering technique

Wet Weather Motorcycle Riding: Road Hazards

The main hazards people worry about are painted white lines and manhole covers.

But if we apply our A, B, C criteria, riding over both of them is fine as long as we keep the bike upright and don’t accelerate or brake aggressively.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather go slightly left or right of a wet manhole cover than go over it. And I’d rather steer between painted white lines than go over them.

But if it comes to it, going over either of them is fine so long as your acceleration is stable and you’re not braking or steering.

Potholes & Standing Water

Potholes and standing water are an exception to the rule and I wouldn’t advise going over either without taking action.

Going over standing water at speed (aquaplaning [or hydroplaning]) can be particularly dangerous.

Firstly, you don’t know how deep it is. Secondly, you don’t know what’s hidden beneath the water. And thirdly, when you aquaplane, your bike is essentially coming off the ground as it skims across the water like a pebble across a lake.

You have zero control and zero traction. And you are relying solely on luck to get to the other side.

When it comes to standing water and potholes, always go around them or at least slow down considerably.

motorcycle aquaplaning in wet weather
Standing water can be the biggest hazard of wet weather motorcycle riding

Others

Other potential hazards to consider whilst wet weather motorcycle riding:

  • Your boots may slip off your brake pedal. If the rubber has worn on your pegs or brake lever (or if it’s just metal), your foot may slip off during heavy braking. Leaving more time to break by giving yourself a larger gap between yourself and the vehicle in front will alleviate this issue.
  • Foot slippage when putting your feet down. If you don’t have non-slip soles on your boots, be aware that when you stop at traffic lights, (especially if you’re on a camber), the ground could be slippy. You will struggle to hold up a 300kg adventure bike if your feet are slipping!

Wet Weather Motorcycle Riding: Road Surfaces & Positioning

Road Surfaces

Keep an eye on the road surface when motorcycle riding in wet weather.

Heavy showers can often wash mud into the roads as the gutters overflow. You don’t want to be riding through mud at 50mph on a soaking motorway.

Similarly, if you’re close to the mountains, the rain can often wash gravel, stones and pebbles into the road which can catch you off guard – particularly on corners.

mountain pass after rain - wet weather motorcycle riding
Watch out for stones, debris and mud when riding your motorcycle in wet weather (image via Jens Herrndorff)

Road Positioning

When riding on busier roads, make sure you position yourself so that you are in full view of the traffic around you.

I tend to position myself in the centre of my lane, but slightly towards the centre line of the road.

This ensures I am seen in the driver’s wing mirror of the car in front, but I am also visible to the driver of the vehicle behind me.

It does, however, mean I am closer to oncoming traffic in the opposite lane. In this situation, I move in and out as necessary.

Moving in and out also means the drivers in front of me and behind me see my lights moving obliquely; letting them know I’m still there.

What I won’t do is move towards the gutter.

Because whilst this offers me optimum safety from oncoming traffic, it also invites impatient drivers to overtake, and push me into the gutter.

Optimising your road position in wet weather requires constant thought, consideration, and forward planning based on observations of what’s going on around you.

motorcycle lane positioning vector
Road positioning & wet weather motorcycle riding. (Image via https://www.msi.org.za/lane-position/)

Wet Weather Motorcycle Riding: See And Be Seen

Finally, let’s discuss how you can see better whilst being seen by other road users.

Lights

I know this is obvious, but in times of stress, people often forget the most basic things!

With modern bikes, your front and rear lights are constantly on – they can’t be turned off.

But on many older bikes, the lights have to be turned on and off manually.

Don’t forget to turn yours on!

If you have auxiliary lights or fog lights, don’t be afraid to use them.

Reflective Clothing/Adhesives

I’m personally not the kind of rider who wears high visibility clothing. But I make an exception when it comes to waterproofs.

My waterproof clothing (whether one-piece or two-piece) is always yellow, orange, or some other dayglo colour.

The reason is obvious; in dark, wet conditions when visibility is poor, it makes sense to be as bright as you can.

And I always make sure my waterproofs have reflective strips across the back and down my arms. As drivers approach from the rear, the flash of light they see as their headlights dance across my back might just save my life.

Reflective stickers on panniers also work well, as do reflective strips on helmets.

Related: Motorcycle Touring Rain: Get One Up On The Weather

rev'it athos hi-vis jacket - wet weather motorcycle riding
Hi-vis and/or reflective clothing is suggested for wet weather motorcycle riding. (Image via Rev ‘It)

Signal Earlier

Something else I always do to increase visibility is signal for longer than I would do in dry conditions.

So if I was changing lanes, for example, I would let my indicator blink four or five times before doing my shoulder check and changing lanes.

Once there, I keep my indicator on for another three or four blinks so the ‘new’ traffic behind me has an opportunity to see that I have moved into their lane.

And I do something similar with my brake light.

As mentioned above, we brake more gently but over a longer period of time.

In this case, I tap my rear brake a few times when approaching traffic lights to give the vehicles behind me an opportunity to see that I am braking.

If I am stationary at a set of traffic lights and can see traffic approaching from the rear, I also give my brakes a few taps to let them know that I am in a stopped position.

Wet Weather Motorcycle Riding: Conclusion

When it comes to wet weather motorcycle riding, you need to have the clarity of mind to remember a lot of things to get to your destination safely.

As mentioned, it’s nowhere near as impossible as what many people fear it is.

But you need to be switched on, alert, and ready to adapt to situations way in advance.

As well as the tips in this post, I’m a big believer in not feeling sorry for yourself.

It’s easy to slip into a ‘poor me’ mindset when you’re wet, cold, tired, and feeling sorry for yourself.

For me, wet weather motorcycle riding is a bit like a hangover. Have you ever noticed that you have a hangover all day if you feel sorry for yourself? Yet it seems to go away if you just get on with life?

Riding in the rain is exactly the same. Get your chin up, sit tall, smile to yourself, fill yourself with confidence, and get to your destination with your head held high.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to practice wet weather motorcycle riding before your tour.

Next time it rains, prepare your bike, put on your waterproofs, and go for a short ride where you live.

Make yourself aware of your distance between yourself and the vehicle in front. Make a conscious effort to look way into the distance and observe what’s going on.

Practice rolling on and off the throttle, and applying your brakes evenly and gradually.

Spend time perfecting your use of indicators and positioning within the road to ensure that you are visible whilst improving your own field of view.

Because practicing now means having an easier job of it when you find yourself in a deluge in the Alps!

An easy-to-remember infographic on the A,B, C's of wet weather riding
An easy-to-remember infographic on the A,B, C’s of wet weather riding

If you missed Part 1, be sure to check it out here: Motorcycle Riding In The Rain: Part 1

Top image via Vander Films

Feel free to share!
Previous

Motorcycle Riding In The Rain (Part 1): Touring Safely

Using A Motorcycle Route Planner To Experience Europe: Step-By-Step

Next