When Unexpected Weather Strikes: Tips for Safely Riding Your Motorcycle
Few things compare to the freedom and exhilaration of riding a motorcycle on a beautiful, sunny day. You know the type of weather we’re talking about. The temperature isn’t too hot or too cool, and the airflow you get from cruising down the road makes the ride absolutely perfect. It’s even better when there’s just enough of a breeze blowing to disperse the heat from the bike’s engine, the asphalt beneath you, and all the surrounding vehicles when you stop at a traffic light.
Of course, Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate when you take off for a road trip or a weekend outing. Sometimes, freak summer storms put a serious damper on a ride. Other times, the road takes you from nice weather in low-lying areas into the mountains where conditions are a bit different than you might expect. Those who ride to and from work all year long may have to battle a range of weather problems and unfavorable road conditions.
Staying Safe No Matter the Weather
Whether a storm catches you off guard or you’re a year-round road warrior, staying safe on a motorcycle is essential. Different types of weather and road conditions call for different safety measures. Keep the following points in mind while you’re riding to help protect yourself and your passengers no matter what Mother Nature has in store.
Preparing in Advance
Before getting into tips for riding safely in bad weather, we need to cover a couple of basic points. Each biker has his or her own riding style and habits, and most have distinct preferences when it comes to the types of bikes they prefer. Having said that, certain types of bikes are more suitable for inclement weather than others.
Larger, heavier motorcycles, like touring bikes, naturally handle bad road conditions more effectively than lighter, sportier models. Bikes that weigh less than 500 pounds are more prone to sliding and hydroplaning. Those that sit closer to the ground also meld better with rough weather in some cases. A couple of the most recommended bikes for wet, slippery roads are the Honda Goldwing and the Harley Electra Glide.
If you want to be prepared for any type of weather, you could certainly sell your motorcycle and purchase a model that’s more suitable for tricky conditions. In the event touring models and other heavier bikes aren’t really your style, you could hold onto the one you have and purchase a second one for bad weather. At the same time, tires can make a world of difference. Some tires are made for adverse weather and slippery roads whereas others are mainly designed for ideal road conditions.
Riding Safely on Wet Roads
Rain is one of the most common weather-related hazards riders face. For one, those raindrops can feel like bullets pelting your face. At the same time, riders usually end up getting soaked right through their gear. Rainsuits may help, but even those aren’t completely effective in a downpour.
All that often causes riders to come down with a bad case of tunnel vision. All they want to do is get home or at least to a nearby restaurant where they can weather the storm over a hot cup of coffee. If nothing else, even taking shelter under a nice overpass will do.
Rain reduces visibility in its own right, especially on a motorcycle. On top of all that, the water building up on and inside your riding glasses puts a damper on your field of vision. Full-face helmets are recommended for riding in the rain, so if you don’t routinely wear one, consider at least keeping one on hand for emergencies. Even with a full-face helmet, though, the excess moisture can cause foggage. In short, it’s almost impossible to see the road.
Low visibility can certainly make riding precarious, but we can’t overlook the additional dangers of wet roads. Even the slightest bit of moisture mixing with oil, transmission fluid, and other spills can make for incredibly slippery conditions. Be sure to slow down and leave plenty of space between yourself and other vehicles.
Brake slowly and gently, and use the same strategy when accelerating. Take curves and turns gently to make the bike less likely to slide out from under you. If you happen to hydroplane, don’t hit the brakes. Just let off the throttle and go with it. Steering slightly in the direction the bike seems to want to go is advised. If possible, try to avoid puddles. Staying in the tracks of the vehicles ahead of you can also help.
Facing the Dangers of Snow and Ice
That brings us to riding a motorcycle in winter weather. Traffic safety experts strongly advise against riding in snow and ice, insisting it’s best to stay home or find alternate means of transportation. While that’s certainly sound advice, it’s not always possible.
Most of us have found ourselves unexpectedly battling winter weather on a bike. If you’re out riding and it starts to snow or the temperature drops while the roads are wet, those winter hazards are unavoidable. It’s not uncommon for bikers to ride to work in fairly pleasant weather only to find Mother Nature has other plans for the ride home.
Prep Your Bike
Anyone who plans to ride in cold weather should equip his or her bike with winter tires. These tires are designed for use in colder temperatures. Unlike standard tires, their rubber stays more flexible when the temperature drops. They can also provide more traction than their warm-weather counterparts.
If you know riding in snow and ice may be a possibility, consider taking matters a step further and putting snow tires on your motorcycle. They offer even more protection on slippery roads than basic winter tires. As you might imagine, the market for motorcycle snow tires is pretty limited. Still, a few manufacturers have seen the need and heeded the call.
Riding on Snow-Covered Roads
Riding in snow is dangerous regardless of skill and experience. As most of you probably know, there are different types of snow, and traversing each one is different. Fresh snow is lighter and less dense. Because of that, motorcycles can cut through it more easily. That doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous; it’s just the lesser of the evils.
On the other hand, snow that has been on the roads for a while is much trickier. Multiple vehicles have traveled over it, and it has gone through cycles of melting and refreezing. That makes it dense and incredibly slippery.
Slush is also hazardous. It often lulls riders into a false sense of security because it’s partially melted and mixed with salt or sand. Of course, if you’ve ever hit a patch of sand or gravel on the road, you know how easily both of those can snatch the wheels of a motorcycle right out from under you. When mixed with ice, sand and salt become even more dangerous for bikes.
Navigating Snow and Ice
Above all else, slowing down is the key to staying safe when riding on snow and ice. As are the general rules when riding in the rain, brake and accelerate slowly, and handle curves and turns the same way.
Many riders have found that using higher gears helps prevent sliding as well by toning down the engine’s torque a bit. When riding uphill in ice and snow, the last thing you want to do is lose speed and end up sliding back down. Try to maintain a constant speed by staying steady on the throttle.
It’s best to avoid tensing up, too. Being relaxed with your shoulders loose and elbows slightly bent the way you’d normally ride will actually give you more control over yourself and the bike. In turn, it’ll allow you to react to slippery spots and other hazards more quickly and effectively.
Safe Winter Weather Riding
In packed snow, most people instinctively try to drive in the tire tracks of other vehicles. That’s generally recommended in passenger vehicles, but it’s not necessarily the best idea on a motorcycle. Snow and ice in those tracks may be slipperier than the snow around them. Besides, if you fall in line with those tracks, pulling back out of them when you need to may be difficult and dangerous.
Instead of riding in tire tracks on the road, consider staying between them. You can also ride to the right or left of them. Keep in mind, though, there may be more ice, snow, and salt or sand built up in the center and on the outside edge of the road. While those hurdles are dangerous enough, snow on the edge of the road could be hiding dropoffs and potentially damaging debris, too.
If you start to slide on ice or snow, don’t panic. We all know that’s easier said than done. Even seasoned riders with nerves of steel will feel their hearts drop into their stomachs when they lose traction. Still, staying calm could save your life as well as your bike. Turn the handlebars into the skid, and don’t hit the brakes.
While all those measures can help keep you safe on icy and snow-covered roads, many people overlook the importance of protecting themselves from the cold itself. You’ll be dealing with sub-freezing temperatures, and it feels even colder with the wind against you while riding. That means you need to be dressed appropriately.
Leather offers a great deal of protection against cold and wind, but donning extra layers underneath your jacket and chaps is advised. Warm gloves and socks are a must, as are sturdy riding boots. You could even place warmers in your gloves and boots for added heat. Heated gloves and grips are also available.
Being cold numbs the body and mind. It slows the body’s reactions to dangerous situations. At the same time, if your hands are frozen, you might have trouble working the brakes and throttle. Doing everything you can to block the cold and wind will help combat those problems. When riding in snow and ice, please wear a helmet even if it’s not required by state law.
Other Points to Remember
Rain, snow, and ice make for particularly hazardous conditions. While they’re problematic for all drivers, they’re even more dangerous for motorcycles. They’re not the only weather-related issues to watch out for, though.
Fog can bring about dangerous riding conditions. Use your low beams when riding in fog. Though high beams are brighter, the fog will actually reflect their light back to you rather than cutting through the haze. Try to wear reflective gear, and consider running the hazard lights so other drivers will be more likely to see you.
Strong wind makes for dangerous riding as well. Lean into the wind a bit to help you stay upright, but watch for upcoming obstacles that will block it. If you’re leaning to one side to compensate for the wind and pass by large buildings or spans of trees, you might end up tipping over. When riding with other bikers in rough wind, ride in a staggered position. That’ll help prevent collisions from the wind pushing around the bikes.
Riding Out the Storm without Suffering the Consequences
Although it’s best to avoid riding a motorcycle in bad weather, that’s not always possible. When you have to ride in rain, snow, ice, wind, or fog, taking it slowly and carefully is essential. Riders should always have a healthy amount of respect for all the hazards of inclement weather, but staying calm and knowing how to handle potentially dangerous situations will keep you safe.
Be sure to watch out for other drivers, too. No matter how many safety precautions you take or how expertly you react in the face of adversity, you can’t always count on others to do the same. Stay vigilant, and always be on the lookout for what might lie ahead.