TOTW: Have a foul-weather plan

The riding tips on these pages are my personal opinion about matters related to motorcycle riding. They are not the official position of any organization, and are for your consideration only. They are not hard and fast rules, they should not necessarily be applied in all circumstances, and they should not be applied without thinking. Always use your judgement and take all current safety factors into account while riding. You are responsible for your riding, not anyone else (especially me). These tips were originally published by a motorcycle riding course, called “Tip of the Week” (the reason for the TOTW in the titles).

What’s the problem?

Everyone prefers riding in dry, pleasant weather. Sometimes, however, you will have to ride in foul weather. Even if your normal practice is to avoid setting out when the weather will be bad, sooner or later circumstances will force you to do some riding in foul weather.

The solution: advance preparation

You should do some advance planning of how you will handle foul weather. Your approach may range from avoidance to extreme preparation. To help you consider your options, here are a range of approaches to foul-weather preparation.

No preparation. You may decide to be a fair-weather rider, and that’s OK. You don’t set out if it’s raining or if rain is forecast, and if you get caught in the rain you will quickly seek shelter or get wet and live with it.

If this is your strategy, you should make a habit of getting current weather forecasts. You might want to invest in a small weather radio. If you have Internet access at home or at work, check the Environment Canada forecast before you ride.

This is not a test of your toughness. You should not ride long distances while wet and unprotected. You will experience hypothermia, which can get you killed.

Basic preparation. You avoid foul weather when you can, but accept an occasional need to ride in the rain. You should have a lightweight poncho or rain suit stored somewhere in your bike or in your tank bag, and stop to put it on if you are caught in the rain and are very far from shelter. You don’t need to invest in an expensive motorcycle rain suit for this kind of infrequent use. A lightweight sporting-goods rain poncho for occasional use will cost only a few dollars. (Because of wind and your riding position, you will still get somewhat wet wearing a suit not designed for riding, but it won’t be too bad.)

The occasional rain-rider has a problem with riding technique: riding on wet pavement is a more difficult skill than riding on dry pavement, but you are not riding in the rain often enough to develop true proficiency. You should make a point of occasionally riding in the rain so that you are comfortable with the amount of traction your tires provide on wet pavement. Reduce your traction demands by braking more gently, and by trying to keep your bike more upright when turning. If possible, practice basic riding skills on a rainy day in a safe location such as a parking lot.

Extreme preparation You ride all the time, rain or shine. For serious, all-whether riding, a proper rain suit designed for motorcycling, or a waterproof riding suit, is an important investment. You will also want waterproof gloves or waterproof rain covers for your existing gloves, and waterproof boots. (Your existing leather boots and gloves can be waterproofed with a suitable leather treatment.)

To maintain your ability to see, you may want an anti-fog treatment for your helmet’s visor, and you’ll want to learn to clear the water from your visor while riding (by using an extended, slightly curved, gloved finger as a squeegee).

Remember that other drivers’ vision is also impaired in the rain. Your riding suit and helmet should be brightly coloured or reflective. You should ride with the assumption that other drivers cannot see you, especially at night.

Know when to quit

Even if you take pride in your ability to ride in any weather, you should know when to quit. If it is raining so hard that you can’t see, then other drivers can’t see you either, and you are highly likely to collide with something or be struck. If it’s raining so hard that deep water is standing on the road, it will be extremely difficult for you to retain enough traction to remain upright, especially when turning.

If a rain storm begins while you are riding, you will likely want to find temporary shelter where you can don your rain gear. Remember that other drivers’ ability to see you is impaired, so get well clear of the road. Taking shelter under a highway overpass is a bad idea.

Finally, if you are caught in snow, hail, or ice, get off the road immediately and wait it out. You cannot control a two-wheeled vehicle on a frictionless surface. When the threat passes, ride carefully back to shelter. Remember that snow or ice will remain in shaded or sheltered parts of the road long after the open road is clear.

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