By Norm Kern
I’m on the road going to rallies about sixty days per year. Almost half of them are travel days- going to and from a rally, 200-700 miles per day, mostly on highways and interstates. I use the “Get-There-Dry” website and other techniques to avoid riding in the rain, but sometimes there is no choice. A 300+ mile day of rain, including some heavy showers, is a fact of life at least a few times per season. This month we’ll talk about how to ride on rainy days with greater safety and comfort.
Four Safety Factors
I’ve always had a “push onward regardless” mindset about the weather but, have come to balance it with “discretion is the better part of valor.” Here are the main safety factors I consider when faced with a day of riding in the rain: visibility, temperature, wind and traction.
Visibility– If there is so much rain, spray or fog that you cannot safely see road conditions ahead, the traffic behind probably can’t see you either. Get off the road and take shelter if you can’t see.
Temperature– Worst case scenario- having to ride in wet freezing conditions. The only thing slicker than snow or ice is wet ice. Even if temperatures are in the 40s or 50s, cold water can suck heat out of your body quickly. If your clothing gets wet as well, it loses its insulating ability and makes hypothermia a greater danger.
Wind– If it’s going to be windy, especially side winds or gusty, it may be safer to wait out the rain. Passing or being passed by big trucks is dicey in these conditions.
Traction– The Michelin PR4GT tires on my FJR are great. They retain over 80% of their traction on wet pavement, but that comes with some caveats. If the pavement has standing water on it, tar snakes, sand that’s washed out on the road or there’s a puddle that’s even half an inch deep, you may suddenly have very little traction. Finally, there’s the condition of the tire itself. Look at your tires. Tread that’s down near the wear bars can’t handle as much moisture as a fresh tire with plenty of tread. If the center of either tire is bald, you need to make other plans for the day.
Making the Best of a Rainy Day
Once you’ve assessed the safety factors and decided to ride in the rain, it’s time to take all the steps you can to maximize visibility and comfort. Here’s what I do:
Visibility- Being able to see the road surface and other traffic is essential. I start with Plastic Rain-X, which is applied to the windshield, mirrors, helmet visor and eyeglasses. It is best applied to clean, dry surfaces, so do it ahead of time- don’t wait until it’s already raining. Rain-X causes water to bead up and blow off surfaces more easily, making vision clearer. Another strategy to improve visibility is minimizing the number of surfaces between your eyes and the road. (Tip: If you have good distance vision, put your eyeglasses away.)
The best single piece of equipment for visibility in the rain is a good full-face helmet. I wear a Shoei GTAir, which has good internal ventilation and an excellent visor. The visor comes with a Pinlock insert, which has a sealed dry airspace between it and the visor and a fog-resistant layer on the side facing the rider. The detents on the visor flip-up mechanism hold it firmly in all positions and a rubber lip seals it to the helmet when fully closed. If you can ride with it fully closed and not fog it up with your breath, the inside surface stays free of water droplets, greatly improving your visibility.
The bike’s windshield is used in combination with the visor. The electric adjustable windshield found on the Yamaha FJR and some other sport-touring bikes makes the windshield an even more powerful tool to aid visibility. Here’s how they work together.
Let’s say we’re riding down the highway at 70 MPH and light rain starts. I can put the windshield up all the way so that the top edge is even with the top of my helmet. (I put pieces of duct tape across the top of the windshield to make it easy to see where it cuts my line of vision.) It stops or deflects virtually all the raindrops, keeping me dry. When water droplets start to accumulate on the visor, I can lower the windshield (range is about seven inches) for a few seconds, blow most of the droplets off the visor and raise the windshield back up.
This works well even in heavier rain until I get into fog or prolonged spray from trucks. Then the Rain-X no longer keeps the windshield clear enough that you can see through it clearly. Traffic often slows down in these conditions as well and the lower air velocity and flow may cause the visor to fog up.
Lowering the windshield at this point increases air flow to the visor and may be enough to keep it clear. If not, there is no choice but to raise the visor about an inch to increase air flow on the back side and evaporate the fog. Unfortunately, that breaks the seal between the visor and the helmet, allowing water droplets to run down the back side of it. These droplets can be reduced by lowering the windshield all the way, flipping the visor all the way up, and tipping one’s head back to let the wind blow the water droplets off both surfaces of the visor.
In heavy rain, I usually run the visor part way open as shown in the photo and adjust the windshield, so it is just high enough to deflect raindrops from hitting my face directly through the gap at the bottom of the visor.
What do you do if you don’t have an electric adjustable windshield? Back then I chose a windshield whose top edge crossed my line of sight about forty feet down the road in my normal seating position. Then I could slouch when it needed to be higher and sit up straight when I wanted it lower.
Comfort is mostly controlled by what you wear under various conditions. On a hot humid day, I am loathing to put on rain gear unless it’s raining hard enough that it’s not going to be a steam bath with the rain gear on. I’ll wait as long as possible, playing the oncoming windshield wipers game, watching radar and seeing how wet I get. Unfortunately, I often wait too long and am already wet by the time I finally get the rain gear on. If the rain is cold and a big drop in temperature arrives with it, getting wet like this is a very bad idea!
I like to be at least partially prepared for rain at all times, so I wear Sidi Gore-tex waterproof boots and non-mesh armored Revit waterproof riding pants. My jacket is an Olympia mesh with waterproof/windproof liner that can be worn on the inside or outside of the jacket. Great for both fair weather and foul.
If I think it’s going to rain, I wear the liner on the outside of the jacket. If I expect a downpour or many miles of rain, I add a Frogg Toggs jacket and pants as an additional waterproof layer. They weigh almost nothing and can pack in the lid of a saddlebag. If I need warmth, I add a FirstGear electric heated jacket liner and possibly heated pants. (Tip: With any rain gear it’s extremely important to get it sealed up tight around your neck. Otherwise water trickles down and soaks everything underneath.)
The final detail is gloves. I have a pair of Sealskinz gloves that are 100% waterproof. I either wear them or an expendable pair of old summer riding gloves that I don’t care about getting wet. (The FJR has hand shields and heated grips so insulating my hands doesn’t matter much.) There is always debate on whether to wear the glove gauntlet on the inside or outside of the jacket cuff. I choose inside as the Olympia liner and Frogg Toggs jacket both have tight fitting, elastic cuffs. Your hands will get wet regardless but that’s what works best for me.
I would close with “Happy riding!” but will settle for “Hope you can stay safer and drier!”
Connect with local Ohio MSTA riders at these monthly breakfasts:
Southwest Ohio Breakfast, 9AM November 17
Village Family Restaurant
144 S. Main St.
Waynesville, OH 45068
Central Ohio Breakfast, 8AM, December 2
6515 S High St
Lockbourne, OH 43137
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