Spring is here, at least according to the calendar — but that doesn’t necessarily mean clear skies from now till November. In some parts of the country, April means showers, while in other places, a spring snowstorm is hardly a rare event.
Riding a motorcycle in bad weather can pose a challenge for even experienced riders. I’m not one myself (and if you read my Segway post, you know why), but some of my friends have been riding for years, and when I asked for their bad-weather wisdom, they gave me great advice for all types of conditions.
Here are some motorcycle safety tips to help you safely handle the elements, whether you’re taking on snow, rain, or even a labyrinth of fog.
Riding in snow or light rain
Fortunately, riding in fresh snow isn’t much different from riding in a light rain, but both require you to be diligent and handle your bike more gently than usual.
Be gentle with your bike
- Take it easy on your brakes and throttle, and always complete turns before accelerating. It’s good to avoid any sudden movements because your tires won’t be able to grip the road as well as usual.
- When making a turn, slow down beforehand instead of braking for corners. You also reduce your risk of skidding by using engine braking (letting go of the clutch and allowing the engine’s RPM to drop so you slow down naturally) for junctions and corners.
- When it starts to snow or rain, it’s safest to align your bike with tire tracks left by cars. The tire tracks are likely to be less slick than the center of the road.
Wet weather-proof your gear
- Make sure that your visor/shield is clean and polished on the surface and inside. A clean, smooth exterior makes it possible to shake off raindrops and falling flakes more easily. Otherwise, droplets can collect on the surface, making it difficult to see.
- Depending on your helmet, a rain-repellent product like Rain-X, which helps water bead up and fall more easily, can also help keep your shield clear.
- Consider buying waterproof boots, a motorcycle rain suit, and waterproof gloves (particularly a pair with a waterproof lining and a squeegee-like piece on the thumb and/or index finger to help wipe water from your shield or helmet). You’ll be drier, more comfortable, and better able to focus on the road.
Prepare for slick conditions
- If your rear wheel locks, you run the risk of losing control. If you lock up, release the rear brake and immediately reapply it (and repeat if needed), in order to make your stopping distance as short as possible on a slippery surface.
- If it’s icy and you can’t avoid the slick spots, try to ride in a straight line at a walking pace and avoid using your brakes at all. Lightly skim the ground with your feet as you go, so you’ll be able to catch yourself if you begin to fall. If that works, you can then squeeze the clutch and coast until you reach a nonslip surface.
- If there are other vehicles in front of you, be sure to maintain a distance of at least a few car lengths ahead of you. This allows you more time to react to changing conditions (like, say, there’s a hazard in the road or the car in front of you stops short).
Riding in heavy mist or fog
Dense fog can easily obscure your vision and the vision of drivers around you, so it’s especially important to preplan every move when you’re riding in these conditions.
Make yourself visible to others
- In addition to wearing brightly-colored clothing and reflective gear (also a smart idea for night riding in any weather), use orange or yellow fog lights.
- Trigger your brake lights frequently to help drivers behind you spot your motorcycle.
- Use your low beam headlight (in addition to fog lights) when it’s difficult to see through the mist. High beams, on the other hand, reflect back and can cause glare.
Improve your sight
- Think about investing in a fog-free coating for your glasses. It helps keep your lenses clear (inside and out) by turning condensed water into a clear sheet, rather than the dense film of water that naturally occurs from fogging.
- Yellow-tinted glasses and shields can increase contrast, helping you see things more clearly.
- When your eyes are trained on the road ahead, you might not give much thought to traffic coming from the opposite direction. But note their speed and direction as you ride; they might veer over the line if they can’t see well, and you need to know to get out of the way if that happens.
Maintain distance and reduce speed
- Because you’ll need to increase your reaction time when braking, avoid sudden stops and use engine braking as often as possible.
- Maintain a greater following distance than usual but let the tail lights of the car ahead of you help you navigate. Don’t rely on them too heavily, though — it’s dangerous and can give you a false sense of security if you’re dependent on another driver to show you the way. Just use their position as a point of reference on the road.
- If you can’t see, go slowly. This might seem obvious, but there’s a temptation to ride faster in an attempt to shorten your ride in bad weather.
It’s important to ride safely no matter what the weather’s like, but biking in bad weather requires great concentration and caution and should be avoided if possible. If you have to ride in bad weather, make sure your traction and visibility aren’t compromised.
Another must-have for your bike (whatever the weather) is motorcycle insurance. It can help protect you and your motorcycle, and lend a hand when seasonal challenges threaten to wreck your ride.