Riding in the rain

A full tank of gas, beautiful traffic free roads, your bike humming between your legs and no need to get anywhere. What a wonderful scenario.

Then it starts to rain. Crap. What do you do?

Lots of people don’t ride in the rain for safety reasons. Which is totally understandable. The static co-efficient of friction between rubber and dry asphalt is about 0.9. Rubber and wet asphalt? 0.25. This means you have a little more then 1/4 of the grip you would have normally. Does this mean you drive at 1/4 of the speed? No. What it means is that you have to be much, MUCH more careful.

-Too much front brake? Front wheel locks up, you lose control of the bike, under-steers and you go down
-Too much rear brake? Back wheel locks, back end slides out, spins around and you go down
-Too much lean and you will lowside. Tires simply dont have the grip to hold onto that slick surface.
-Too much gas in a corner will cause the back wheel to spin. Back end slides out, and you go down.

I know what some of you are thinking. “okay okay, enough of the don’t. What SHOULD I do?”

The biggest trick to riding in the rain is to be smooth. Sudden inputs will almost always break traction and thus, bring the bike down. This isn’t the time to try your best Valentino Rossi impressions, its time for you to make it to your destination safely.

Another trick to riding safely (and not just in the rain) is to learn to recognize where you have traction and where you don’t.

In the dry, the main things you have to watch out for are steel man whole covers and railway tracks (especially in urban environments with street cars)

In the wet, the list extends to this:

Painted Lines - These are EVERYWHERE and are unsafe for motorcyclists, particularly if you’re turning right or left and crossing the lines at an angle. Slow down try to make the turn as straight up as possible. Lane markings, crosswalk, the diamonds in the HOV lane. all of these are now evil, slippery things that want nothing more then to bring you down.

Any painted line is a hazard. Until the DOT addresses the issue and comes up with a tackier texture you’re the one in control of your destiny.

Surface Textures - Many commercial and residential parking areas are paved with very slick concrete surfaces. Your wet entry into the local mall or condo complex can put you on the ground in a second. Again, ride slow and straight up and don’t let the concrete bite you.


Steel - Manhole covers are enemy number one and railroad tracks rank a close second. Making a turn over the surface of them sets you up for trouble. Avoid such, or keep the bike straight up and cross over it slowly.

Railroad tracks have a way of popping up on you just after a turn and you may still be into a lean when you reach them. Look for the crossing signs ahead of time, slow down and stay straight up when crossing.

Grated bridge crossings and metal plates are a nasty encounter in the rain. Look at where you want to ride, take it slow and don’t try any quick maneuvering, particularly a lane change.


Water - Puddles/Pot Holes - It only takes once to know how this one feels. You cruise through a puddle and after it’s too late you realize you just went into a pot hole that wants to suck you into the underworld more painfully than Satan himself scrambling to meet Fridays quota. Avoid puddles if you can. Use caution and predict the possibility ahead of time. Recovery from this rude awakening is not always easy. Pull over and take a few minutes of rest if you need to gather your wits, and to recover from that nasty jolt.

Oil - It’s everywhere and very illusive. Those little red and blue rainbows on the ground mean danger. Ride slow and straighten up.

Leaves - Its fall, and leaves will be on the road. Ever slip on a patch of damp leaves on the sidewalk? Imagine what that same slip can do to you on a motorcycle. Avoid them as much as possible, and be SUPER careful if you have to ride through them

Tar Snakes - These little guys are bad enough in the dry, leading your wheels astray and messing with your lines, but in the wet, they are even worse then painted lines. They are very slick and the inconsistent nature of them means that if you aren’t paying attention and decide to brake the the wrong moment, you and your bike are going to have a very rapid introduction to that particular patch of ground.



The most dangerous time for a biker to be on the road is the first 10-20 minutes of a rain storm. This is because the road is wet (duh) but all of the oils and dust and crap that gets washed off during the rain hasn’t had time to actually get washed off yet. So you have this layer of wet, oily, slimy...gunk on the road that just absolutely robs your tires of traction. Its best to pull over (preferable somewhere with a roof) and wait for 15 to 20 minutes to let a majority of the gunk wash away.

As mentioned before, you have to change your riding for wet conditions. Around town, try to stay a gear or 2 higher then you normally would. The higher rations of the other gears help reduce the amount of torque that is transferred to the back wheel.

Weirdly, on the highway, its better to ride in a LOWER gear. “But wait, you just told me to ride in a high gear in town?” Yes I did. That was in town. On the highway, you want to have more engine braking so you use your brakes less. Reasoning? Its far easier to accidentally lock up a back tire at 100km/h then at 30. So its better to use engine braking. Also, riding in top gear - 1 @ cruising rpm really is how fast you should be riding in sub-par conditions.


For instance: on my SV650, I normally cruise around at 5.5K rpm in 6th. When it starts to rain, I back down until I’m at 5.5k RPM in 5th. If I have to drive with traffic, I still stay in 5th. With the motor spinning that much higher, I know that I’m going a little to quickly for the conditions, and that its time for me to either find a bridge to hide under, or pull off the highway and ride on slower roads. It may take you another 30 minutes to get home, but you get home, you don’t end up at the hospital.

The other big concern about riding in the rain is visibility. Spray kicked up by the cars means you cant see them as well and MORE importantly, THEY don’t see you. Keep lots of extra space between you and the next guy. Avoid big-rigs like you avoid your mother-in-law.


Remember to keep in mind what kinda of tires you have on your bike. A semi slick sport-bike tire (like a Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa) is not going to be as good in the rain as something with a more aggressive tread pattern (like a Pirelli Sport Demon)

Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa


Pirelli Sport Demon

With a groove down the center, the Sport Demon displaces far more water and will have more grip with the bike straight up. The different compound in the Sport Demon will also work in your favor in the damp.

As always, remember to wear the right gear. Lots of people think that your jacket is the biggest thing you need worry about when riding in the rain. While it is a big part, I would say its more important to get water proof pants. Why? You can throw a poncho over/under your jacket to stay dry. But that water will roll down to your seat, and their are few things as uncomfortable as riding with a cold and damp butt. Gloves and shoes are big too. Numb limbs at the controls are never a good idea.


The last thing I should mention is that you should expect to see steam. The front tire will kick water on your exhaust, or the rain will trickle down from up top. Every time I ride in the rain and end up at a stop sign, I always get a concerned motorist yelling at me: DUDE, YOUR BIKE IS ON FIRE! RUN AWAY FROM IT. After a quick explanation, they understand its just steam. The first time its funny. After the 7th, not so much.

Once you learn where the grip is, how to stay as visible as possible, get your riding smooth as silk, and get a more rain oriented tire, riding in the rain almost becomes fun! I enjoy going it simply for the look people get on their faces when they see a bike toughing it out. A little damp, yes, But look at it this way: free bike wash!

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