Riding a motorcycle in wet weather is inevitable for most commuters or long-time riders. Believe it or not but sometimes the weatherman can be wrong and you might get stuck in an unexpected storm. Some of us only have a motorcycle for transportation and just have to gut it out when rain is in the forecast.
When operating a motorcycle in wet conditions, the last thing that should be on your mind is whether or not the motorcycle might be damaged or malfunction in any way.
As a general rule, motorcycles are made to get wet and continue functioning reliably. If a motorcycle gets rained on either while sitting still or moving, all components will continue to operate correctly. Overexposure to water under extreme conditions can cause damage to certain components.
What Happens When A Motorcycle Gets Wet?
Motorcycles are engineered and manufactured to encounter water. Specific components are intentionally sealed off to make sure water stays out.
When riding around on a rainy day, important components such as the engine, fuel tank, and wiring harnesses are protected so that water does not get inside and do damage. Other components that are shared with cars such as tires, paint, and lights are also ok to get wet for obvious reasons.
It is worth noting that certain components need to be maintained at a more frequent interval and can be worn down prematurely if left out in the rain. For instance, a motorcycle chain that needs to be lubricated on a regular maintenance interval in perfect conditions needs extra attention when wet. If the motorcycle gets wet or sits out in the rain, the chain may develop rust and become a safety hazard.
The best way to handle this situation would be to park the motorcycle indoors or cover the bike at a minimum. After a wet-weather ride, take the extra time to wipe the chain down and lubricate appropriately. Also, assess the chain tension and make sure to adjust appropriately.
How Can Water Damage A Motorcycle?
Water can pose a danger to specific motorcycle components under certain exceptional circumstances.
If too much water gets inside the engine, rust may develop and cause catastrophic failure due to the lack of lubrication.
This is the same principle underlying the dangers of a head gasket leak. Coolant is a large percentage of water and when your head gasket leaks the water will mix with the engine oil which reduces lubrication of critical internal engine components.
Make sure to keep any water out of the fuel system as this can also cause major component failure to your motorcycle.
If water gets into the fuel, the mixture will enter the combustion chamber and cause a radical increase in pressure upon detonation because the water will flash off due to the extreme temperature.
If your motorcycle has been sitting out in the rain, consider emptying the fuel tank and flushing the lines then filling up with fresh gas. Also, adding a fuel stabilizer is a good idea if the bike will be sitting for a long time even in dry conditions to avoid fuel separation.
When cleaning your motorcycle, avoid the use of a pressure washer as this may cause water to get into unwanted areas.
A pressure washer can spray water at such a high velocity that some water may break through inside main harness connectors and cause a short. A hose at low pressure with some soft soap will clean a bike just fine.
Also, a pressure washer might cause paint to peel and chip off. There is really no need to use a pressure washer under any circumstances. Even if you want to clean your engine, just spray with some degreaser and let it sit then spray off with a low-pressure standard hose.
Is Riding A Motorcycle In The Rain Dangerous?
Riding a motorcycle in the rain is inherently more dangerous than riding on a dry road because of the reduced traction between the tire and asphalt.
The treads on the tires are designed to wick water away and maintain traction to avoid sliding during cornering. Keep in mind that tire tread depth is vital to rain riding for this very reason.
On a dry road, the tire is able to get up to the proper temperature and perform at maximum capacity compared to when it’s wet. A cold wet day is going to affect the rubber tires negatively regarding temperature and require additional care.
Motorcycles weigh a fraction of a passenger car which increases the chance of hydroplaning dramatically. Hydroplaning occurs when water interferes with the contact patch between the tire and road causing a sudden loss of control. Take care not to ride through any puddles or standing water for this reason.
Following the first rain after a long dry period, fresh oil and debris will rise to the surface of the road and create exceptionally slippery conditions.
Best Practices For Riding A Motorcycle In The Rain
If you have no choice but to ride through the rain, take a couple of pro tips with you to keep the rubber side down.
Allow plenty of distance between yourself and the vehicles ahead of you when riding a motorcycle in the rain.
Take into consideration that your ability to stop quickly will be reduced in wet weather. If traffic suddenly stops in front of you, an extra few car lengths may allow you to avoid a collision. Because of the reduced traction, stopping distance will be extended on wet roads. Especially avoid abrupt movements like sharp braking or acceleration as the margin for error is reduced greatly in the wet. (See video below at time stamp 5:15 if you don’t believe me.)
Always have your headlights on when riding in the rain even if it’s light out.
This may seem odd but a bright headlight even during the day will dramatically increase visibility on a rainy day. Drivers already have a difficult enough time identifying riders but rain makes it worse. Give yourself every chance possible to not get broadsided and leave your lights on.
Practice wet-weather motorcycle riding in a controlled situation first to build your skillset.
One tip I wish I could have passed along to myself before my first rain ride was to practice before trying the real thing. Just a simple ride through an empty parking lot can give you a feel for the lack of traction and instability compared to a dry road.
When riding a motorcycle in the rain avoid uneven or painted road surfaces.
The final small recommendation is to stay on the even, consistent part of the road. If you transition from asphalt to a painted line especially mid-corner you can very likely tuck the front wheel and hit the ground. The same goes for accelerating with the rear wheel going over a painted line, manhole cover, puddle, or any uneven surface.
Best Gear For Wet Weather Motorcycle Riding
When riding in the rain, there are a few things to keep in mind to increase your odds of staying dry and alive.
The technology for wet-weather gear has come leaps and bounds and can allow you to arrive at your destination with dry clothes. I personally advocate for Klim riding gear for a wet-weather jacket, pants, boots, and gloves.
Avoid leather at all costs as it will just get waterlogged and create a miserable riding experience.
In line with the headlight tip in the section above, try to mix in some high visibility reflective gear for wet riding as visibility is at a premium. Even just a simple bright yellow vest to go over the top of your gear will serve you greatly.
Lastly, the visor on your helmet will fog up in rainy conditions so apply some anti-fog treatment to your visor to maximize the rider’s field of view.
Ultimately, in a perfect world, you would have a motorcycle and car at your disposal to combat the inevitable rainy day. However, if wet-weather riding is in your future, we have gone over some useful advice to be responsible and keep your bike on the road.