I receive many texts and emails from friends and students on all sorts of motorcycle related topics. Some are fun, like a recent text with a photo showing a small group of my students in front of the DMV with their brand new driver’s licenses including motorcycle endorsements. Others are on what to pack, celebrating personal achievements and discussing challenging events. Riding in the rain has been the main topic of conversation lately as we’ve really had a lot of storms in East Tennessee over the past few weeks!
The consensus seems to be the same for first-time rainy weather riders, it’s a big surprise that you simply can’t see with the raindrops pounding down. Your glasses and shield can fog up, the streams of rain covering the shield lower your visibility, water from other vehicles is blowing around you and no one ever seems to think about how much rain hurts until you have experienced it. And, if you happen to have a bit of mascara on your eyelashes – it burns! Making visibility even worse!
You want to be most cautious when the rain first starts. This is because the road has oil from vehicles in all the small crevices. The rain will cause the oil to come to the road surface making it slippery. The oily residue will be washed to the side of the road after a while. But remember, a wet surface will have a detrimental effect on your traction. The rain also makes it more difficult for you to be seen by people in their vehicles. The safest course of action is often to just find a place and pull over. Make it a coffee break if you can.
Let’s hear from my friend, Juan, regarding his first experience riding in the rain. Juan told me he felt he had three challenges:
1. “My vision and being able to see …”
2. “Vehicles being able to see me in the storm as they approached.”
3. “… the effectiveness of breaking in the excessive rain.”
These are challenges every motorcyclist will encounter the first and most likely every time he or she is riding in the rain. Luckily, Juan was wearing a full-face helmet with anti-fog glasses. The anti-fog glasses took away one of the issues we can encounter when riding in the rain; your glasses can fog up on you – really fast. In order to be seen by other vehicles, Juan used his hazard lights. And, for breaking, he applied both brakes with caution. Good job Juan!
Just a note on hazard light use: I spoke to a retired Tennessee State Trooper friend and asked him about hazard light use in the rain and he replied that the use of what’s commonly called emergency flashers, or using auxiliary lighting under low light conditions, is a good idea.
AAA has a detailed list of hazard light use by state and identifies for the state of Tennessee that “Hazard light use is not permitted while driving except in emergency situations.”
While we are discussing using hazard lights, I do want to point out the moth effect. Summarized, the moth effect is the tendency that people will unconsciously drive toward flashings light, especially at night, like a moth to a flame.
Hopefully, it’s just a short shower and you can be back on your way. If not, and you have to get out the rain gear, test your gear ahead of time. Improperly fitting gloves and boots and can make it difficult to shift and brake.
Remember to slow down, increase your following distance from the vehicle in front of you and slow down the entry speed when going into curves. Rain increases your risk and safe driving in the rain starts with you being aware of the conditions around you.
By the way, if you’re ever in upstate New York, you can stop by Stormville and visit. Hopefully, it will not be raining as hard as the day I was there!
Thunder Roads Tennessee Magazine, July 2017