By June 15, 2011

Random Motorcycling Tip #23: Seeing in the Rain

My favorite time to ride is early in the morning in the spring or fall, when the sky is lightly cloudy, the sun bright, and the air crisp.

My second favorite time to ride is in a heavy torrential downpour that chases cars from the highway like a light does to roaches.

Riding in the rain takes regular motorcycling and multiplies everything. You need extra distance to brake. Your throttle management and turning technique needs to be extra tight. Your spatial awareness, appreciation of driver behavior, and predictions of traffic patterns have to be extra accurate — and extra early. You even need extra planning before you set your feet down. Stepping on a patch of oil or reflective paint can put you down as fast as any cager.

Unfortunately, mother nature wants to throw a monkey wrench in your plans — and covers your face shield with rain.

Here are some techniques to help you see better while riding in the rain.

  1. Avoid steaming up your visor by cracking it slightly. This is one of the few cases where a really expensive helmet may really make a difference. More expensive helmets tend to have a greater number of visor settings. The lowest setting on my Bell Star is too low to de-fog my visor most days, but the next one up is just fine. The one up from THAT is too open, and lets a lot of rain hit my face. See this previous Random Motorcycling Tip about keeping visor fogging to a minimum for more ideas.
  2. Try to put your helmet behind the protection of your windscreen. This may seem obvious, but even slight adjustments in my head and body position make a huge difference in the amount of rain that hits my visor while riding. The faster you go, the more cowering behind the windscreen helps. ;) If you don’t have a windscreen, you’re going to get a wet visor, and it’s going to be harder to see. Sorry, Easy Riders.
  3. Wear a full-face helmet. My Zox Azuma R didn’t have a very good range of detents, so I had to keep it 1/4 open one trip. I rode in the rain for about two hours this way, and my face got PELTED by rain at highway speeds. It hurts. I can’t imagine riding with a 3/4 or half-helmet where my face would be directly exposed to kamikaze raindrops at 80MPH.
  4. Keep your chin down. Most sport-styled helmets are built to be worn when a rider is in a tucked, racing position. My Bell Star flows a LOT more air when my head in a proper racing position, even if my body is not. Keeping my chin down not only increases air flow, but it also maximizes the streamlined design of the helmet. Drops that find their way to my visor slide off more easily if my head is in a “racing” position versus my usual “did you hear that noise?” gopher position.
  5. Rotate your head a few degrees to blow drops off. If you’re familiar with the head position I call the Admiral Ackbar then you may have already figured this out for yourself. Rotating your head to the left or right can help clear raindrops from your visor. I rotate my head to the point where I see ahead of me with one eye, and the other eye is looking at the opposing mirror. In my case, I usually look forward with the left eye, and look at my right mirror with my right eye. The faster you go, the more effective this is. Double up with the head tilt tip for added effectiveness.
  6. Consider wearing a second level of eye protection. I wear sunglasses when it’s bright out, and I used to carry clear safety glasses for when it was dark. I also used to wear the safety glasses when it was raining. On one hand, it helps protect you in case you get hit in the face with rain. Remember that episode with my Zox Azuma R helmet? It would have been worse had I not worn safety glasses. Consider an extra set of eye protection if you wear contact lenses like me and have a chance of taking drops to the face. On the other hand, once the glasses get wet it is very hard to clear your vision. Motorcycle gloves (you are wearing motorcycle gloves, right) will just smear drops, and the head rotation trick won’t help as much. The better suggestion is to find the most streamlined helmet possible with the greatest number of detent settings. If you’re stuck with a different helmet for now, think about an extra set of “eyes.”
  7. Some of my friends treat their visors with Rain-X or equivalent. This is supposed to help drops slide off of the visor, just like the windshield of a treated car. Be careful with these products, as some may damage your visor. Some products for cars will cause hazing; others may weaken the integrity of the plastic with little to no visible effect.

Lastly, realize that no matter what you do, riding in the rain is going to pose some comfort and visibility problems you won’t experience otherwise. You have to learn to live with these limitations, and come to accept them. No matter what you do, you’ll have some decreased visibility on your visor. My Bell Star has a ton of ventilation, and leaks no matter what I do. There’s a vent right above the visor, and even if it’s closed water will seep through if the rain is hard enough. You just learn to live with it.

I love riding in the rain more than any other time, but I’ve been doing it for almost six years. Start slowly, with a short trip around a route that you know very well. Avoid the highway until you’ve been out in the rain a few times, and then do a short trip on the interstate. Extend your range and weather conditions until you’re well acclimated. I’ve ridden for several hours in several tropical storms and through a flooded downtown Savannah, Georgia. I would have never started out that way, but now I feel comfortable riding in any wet weather situation.

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3 Comments on "Random Motorcycling Tip #23: Seeing in the Rain"

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  1. Jenner says:

    Having grown up in Savannah I can attest to the flooding. Of course when I lived on Tybee Island I had to dodge turtles, but that’s a conversation for another day. The Tybee highway (80) does actually flood at very high tide, imagine riding at night on a highway in pitch darkness and suddenly the road ahead is water. I always remember that when riding in the rain. You can find yourself speeding into water of unknown depth.

    We have fog here. I was on a ride this weekend up in the Santa Cruz mountains and the fog was so thick we couldn’t see each others tail lights until it pretty much was too late to do anything about it. It was so thick that it was raining, in the fog. Even with a clear helmet the conditions were scary.

    I kept my Shoei helmet visible by using the RainX and I have a pin fog insert on my shield with the high visibility yellow tint. I had no water, no fogging up and the high visibility. I don’t mind RainX, the possibility of costly damage is far outweighed by the safety factor, but that said I’ve never had damage. The pin insert is the best invention ever. Only in the worst of conditions have I had any fogging and that was only around the edges. The yellow? Think being on the gun range. With your gun you’d be ready for a shootout at the rest area on the expressway.

    If I had to choose my best purchase, it was the pin insert fog shield. It practically eliminates fog and my helmet model is notorious for being bad about that.

  2. Dave says:

    Also, Aerostitch/RiderWearhouse (again, no affiliation) has squeegee-like devices that will attach to your thumb/finger for removing rain from your shield, and they also have integrated such devices into several of their gloves.

    Although I am a devoted meat-eater, I currently wear the ‘stitch “Vegan” gloves, which have a thumb-mounted squeegee, and I like them quite a bit.

  3. Ric says:

    I’ve used RainX in the past, and I suspect it does soften the anti-scratch coating on a visor.

    I now just keep a can of aerosol wax furniture polish by the door, and spray and polish the visor before I leave the house if it is raining. Works fine, cheap, and no visor damage. I get around 6-10 hours of riding out of an application, so it’s not too time consuming.

    I’d also recommend anti mist visor inserts, they save having to fiddle with visor opening settings in what is anyway a quite high workload situation.

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