THE BEST PART ABOUT RIDING IN THE RAIN: Having ridden through every imaginable type of rain condition all over North America, I consider the best part about rain riding to be that period for about an hour after the rain stops, when everything is wet and clean. Sort of like Mother Nature getting out of the shower, reinvigorated to take on life.
Of course, that perspective can be influenced by other factors, including the temperature, and how windy it might be, but there is something uniquely refreshing about riding through rain and continuing to ride after the rain stops….
RIDING MOTORCYCLES IN THE RAIN
Motorcycle riding in the rain isn’t for everyone. Some riders are so concerned about avoiding rain, that they may avoid riding if there exists even a remote possibility of rain in the forecast.
And of course, they would also miss many fine riding opportunities, regardless of whether it rained or not.
Others ride every day, in good or bad weather. (Heck, some riders even brave the snow! Which is another subject altogether).
If you are a rider who ventures out of town for overnight excursions or longer, you need to be prepared for rain.
And if you are a rider who commutes to work, regardless of rain, you will absolutely encounter wet weather – and at times, LOTS of it.
In brief, whether you are on a cross-country tour, or heading to work on Monday morning – if it’s raining – the main things that you need to accomplish are staying warm and dry while riding with a higher level of safety awareness.
Let’s take a look at our options for staying dry during wet-weather motorcycle riding, from head to toe….
MOTORCYCLE HELMETS IN THE RAIN
A full face helmet offers the greatest protection, not only in terms of a motorcycle crash, but as well, in terms of protection from wind, rain and cold. Even so, if you have a full face helmets with built-in vents, one thing to remember is to close the vents before it rains. Otherwise, by the time the water starts seeping into your hair, it’s too late.
If you ride with an open face helmet, instead of a full face helmet, then of course you’ll want to ensure you have a helmet visor handy to keep the rain off your face.
A half helmet offers the least protection in a crash, and offers the least protection from the rain. Hopefully, if you are caught in the rain with a half helmet, you’ve at least got a good pair of goggles to keep the rain out of your eyes.
MOTORCYCLE RAIN JACKETS
Motorcycle riders can be prepared for wet weather in two primary ways:
1) Wear a heavy-duty, waterproof motorcycle jacket (or)
2) Carry a lightweight motorcycle rain jacket with you (that goes over your regular motorcycle jacket)
In either case, you’ll want a rain jacket with a high collar, that seals securely against your neck, to keep water from dripping inside.
Either jacket will need sleeves that seal securely around your wrists, to minimize water coming in from your hands.
And, particularly if you have a lightweight rain jacket that goes over your regular motorcycle jacket, you’ll want to ensure that it fits well. If it’s too small, or too tight, it won’t be easy enough to get on when you need it, and you might be inclined not to bother with it while on the road: which means it’s almost as if you didn’t bring a rain jacket in the first place.
And if the rain jacket is too large, it can flap around and be a distraction, and even let rain enter from your waist.
Motorcycle jackets that are promoted as “waterproof” often need to have waterproof spray applied to the jacket periodically, and especially the seams. (Check the instructions for any particular jacket).
Even purpose-built, lightweight, motorcycle rain jackets, that are rolled up and stowed away until called to duty, may require an occasional application of a water-repelling spray to keep you dry when you most need it. (Again, it depends upon the apparel construction, check the manufacturer’s instructions.)
Motorcycle rain jackets are somewhat of a minimum level of wet weather protection. If you have ever been caught on a motorcycle ride, without any jacket at all, you know how much those little rain drops can sting as they are pelting against your skin, or a thin shirt.
MOTORCYCLE RAIN PANTS
If you ride a motorcycle with a windshield, you benefit from some upper body protection against the wind, rain and cooler temperatures. In that case, typically the first thing that will get wet is your legs.
However, with or without a windshield, your legs are going to get wet fast. Even if you have a full-fairing that offers protection down to your feet, enough rain is going to get your legs wet, even if it’s just from the general splashing and spray from other cars or the low-hanging, roadway mist.
The point is that rain pants can be easily overlooked by some riders, but they are an important piece of gear for staying dry.
Like a regular, heavy-duty motorcycle jacket, you have two primary categories of motorbike rain pants:
1) Motorcycle pants that are primarily made for crash protection, and secondarily, are also waterproofed for wet-weather riding
2) Additionally, you can also bring along a rolled-up pair of lightweight motorcycle rain covers for you pants and pull ’em on when needed
Either style of motorcycle rain pants should seal around you waist and ankles to minimize the potential for water seeping in.
Some motorcycle rain pants are made in an “coverall” or “bib” style, which means they reach up over the front of your torso, which offers additional wet weather protection from any rain that might come in through the zipper of your jacket, or under the waist of your jacket.
Furthermore, some motorcycle rain pants also have elastic stirrup straps that anchor the bottom of the rain pants to the bottom of your boots, preventing them from creeping higher to expose more of your legs to the elements that necessary.
Additionally, motorcycle rain pants may have suspenders which help to keep the pants securely positioned, not only while riding, but also while standing or walking around.
Keep in mind that the same fitting precautions noted about motorcycle rain jackets, also apply to motorcycle rain pants: If your overpants are too tight, you’ll be less inclined to actually use them. If they are too loose they’ll flap around and be a distraction, and are more apt to let water in.
ONE-PIECE MOTORCYCLE RAIN SUITS
The obvious advantage of a one-piece motorcycle rain suit is that there is no open waist area where water can enter.
Also, while stored on the bike when not in use, a one-piece suit is typically more compact than a two-piece suit of similar material construction. So, there’s a space-saving advantage.
Additionally, particularly with the proper size, a one-piece suit is less bulky than a two-piece suit.
The main disadvantage to a one-piece motorcycle rain suit is that it is not as quick to put on and take off. In fact, depending upon how big your feet are, it may be easier to remove your boots before you put a one-piece suit on, or take it off. And that is even taking into consideration that the ankles are usually readily expandable! (Having said that, motorcycle pants may require you to remove your boots, too, but overall, a one-piece suit is more cumbersome to put on and take off).
As a practical consideration, it can be a little quicker to take a bathroom break when you are wearing a two-piece suit, compared to a one-piece suit.
Further, if you are out on a ride, and it’s looking like it might drizzle a little and you really don’t want to put on your full rain gear, with two-piece rain gear you can elect to simply wear the jacket or the pants, as the situation warrants.
Bottom Line: With a one-piece suit, it’s all or nothing!
Note: Personally, I have found that I prefer to use a one-piece suit when commuting, since I can put the thing on and take it off while inside and out of the rain at both ends of the commute. While touring, or for all-day riding adventures, when I’m getting on and off the bike throughout the day, going inside cafes and restaurants, or gas stations as needed, and grabbing my wallet, camera and other items from various pockets, a two-piece suit is more convenient: In spite of that, I still prefer the one-piece suit for additional warmth, a smaller storage size, and its compact fit.
WATERPROOF MOTORCYCLE GLOVES
Motorcycle rain gloves are similar to motorbike rain jackets and pants, in that there are two flavors:
1) Motorcycle gloves that are made for routine wear and are also waterproof (or)
2) Motorcycle rain “covers” for gloves, which are secured over your routine gloves and are stowed on your bike when not in use
“Waterproof” gloves that are made for general use (like their cousins in the jackets and pants departments), may also require a periodic dose of waterproofing spray – check the instructions from the manufacturer.
And like their cousins in the jacket and pants department, purpose-built, rain covers for gloves (some are more like rain mittens), that are worn over your existing gloves, typically offer better wet-weather protection, particularly in heavy rain, and/or for longer exposure to the elements, such a long commute, or for all-day riding in the rain.
In either case, a longer glove gauntlet that extends well over the sleeves of your jacket will help to keep rain from getting down to your hands.
A peculiarity for riders on bikes with fairings is that the wind dynamics behind your fairing may create a reverse force of water running down your sleeves and into your gloves. This is contrary to the obvious frontal force of rain and wind on a bike without a fairing or windshield, where the rain is being forced over your gloves and onto your sleeves.
Unfortunately, you won’t find this out until you are actually riding in the rain.
The solution, of course, in such a scenario, is to place the gauntlet of your gloves under your jacket sleeves. This may seem counter-intuitive, and would only apply to some riders behind certain fairings, but the result is warmer and drier hands.
Warm, dry hands maintain a vital role in keeping a rider in control of his/her bike when the environment may demand higher precautions. Cold, wet, numb hands will not respond as fast which can be bad news if you need to brake suddenly, especially if you need to brake suddenly on a wet road, which requires even more skill and dexterity.
The obvious point here is that warm and dry hands are NOT just a point of comfort, they are a safety factor, as well.
WATERPROOF MOTORCYCLE BOOTS
Well, if you recognized a pattern here of having two categories of rainwear for each part of the body, it follows through to boots, as well.
1) You can buy motorcycle boots that are inherently waterproof, which means that if things get wet, your feet are already protected
2) You can buy motorcycle rain boot “covers” that are stored away until needed and only then pulled over your regular boots before things get wet
And just like with rain jackets, pants and gloves that are promoted as “waterproof,” supposed “waterproof” motorcycle boots will likely need periodic maintenance to keep them “waterproof.” (In my experience, waterproof motorcycle boots require more maintenance than any of the other pieces of motorcycle rain gear).
Motorcycle boot covers, which are often made of nylon or rubber, offer more wet weather protection, particularly for prolonged rain riding. They can be easily stored and put away and don’t take up much space. The rubber ones are more sturdy but can be a little tougher to stretch on and off your regular boots. These over-boots offer the best option for keeping your feet dry in a heavy deluge, or during all-day rain riding conditions.
PURPOSE-BUILT MOTORCYCLE RAIN GEAR
It’s important to note that rain gear for motorcyclists have special requirements, so it’s best to get rain gear that is specifically manufactured for riders.
Motorcycle rain gear needs to be durable enough to hold up to the rigors of being exposed to the elements while enduring high speed winds (riding 64 mph is the equivalent of a category 1 hurricane). As well, the same material needs to breathe, which means it needs to allow perspiration from the rider to escape, otherwise the biker will get bathed in his own sweat. So, your rain gear needs to keep rain from getting in, while letting perspiration (smaller water droplets) out. In other words, not all rain gear for other applications can hold up to the rigors of motorcycle wet-weather riding.
Also, the outside pockets on any of the jackets or pants may not offer as much wet-weather protection, compared to inside pockets. Which means, some items (such as your wallet, or a pocket camera), may need to be relocated to a more secure inside pocket, while preparing for rain.
WATERPROOF MOTORCYCLE LUGGAGE
While you’re keeping yourself warm and dry, you want to ensure your gear is kept dry, so you’ll have a dry pair of clothes to fit into later on.
Even if you have waterproof motorcycle luggage, it’s a good idea to enclose some, or all, of your clothing and other pertinent items, within sealed, waterproof bags. Resealable plastic bags, like the kinds for kitchen freezer use, serve the function rather well. For larger amounts of items, some luggage retailers also offer much larger sealable plastic bags, that can even be compressed, to remove air. Not only does this offer more secure wet-weather protection, but also, as any experienced rider knows, anything that can be made more compact is better suited for motorcycle travel.
MOTORCYCLE SAFETY IN THE RAIN
All this talk about riding motorcycles in the rain should be concluded with a note on riding safely in the rain.
For any rider who has ridden a lot in the rain, it’s easy to take it for granted. An experienced rain rider may look at wet weather in a similar fashion as most car drivers do – “Oh well, it’s raining.” Stated another way, wet weather is just not a big deal to an experienced, wet-weather rider.
However, a higher safety awareness should be maintained.
Even though modern motorcycle tires do provide very good wet-weather traction under ideal conditions, the reality is that most roads are not ideal. There can be gas, oil, paper, leaves or any of a number of things which can reduce traction on a dry day, but are much more slippery when wet.
Painted road lines, plastic road lines, manhole covers, metal bridge gratings, steel construction plates and rail road tracks, are some of the routine things that can be part of any rider’s experience, and all of those mentioned pose a higher level of risk to a rider when they’re wet, because those make for some VERY slippery surfaces.
More than ever, when the roads are wet, a safe rider should:
- Allow more space between the traffic in front and behind
- Allow more distance for braking
- Be more attentive to “not” braking while leaning or turning
- Be ever mindful that the car drivers with cell phones glued to their heads are less likely to be as alert to the conditions as you, and are quite likely to oblivious to your presence….
Wishing you Safe Riding.