Riding and Summer Storms

Most motorcyclists prefer riding in dry weather conditions; however, during the summer months you’re very likely to encounter a sudden thunderstorm, which can make riding difficult.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service approximately 1,800 thunderstorms are occurring at any given time, resulting in about 16-million thunderstorms each year! High humidity, in conjunction with warm temperatures, creates massive amounts of warm, moist air rising into the atmosphere, where it can easily form a thunderstorm.

The good news is that most thunderstorms last about 30 minutes and are typically about 15 miles in diameter. The bad news is that they bring two big threats to any motorcycle riders caught in one – lightning and flash floods. Riding in heavy rain, wind, lightning and flash flood conditions carries much more risk and should be avoided.
Many of these storms travel quickly into an area and you may not notice, or be in an area where you can see rapidly building thunderclouds on the horizon. Signing up for weather alerts on your mobile device (especially connected to your on-board GPS) can help you decide whether to continue to ride or seek shelter. Be careful if you decide to wait out the storm under a bridge as they are often the first places to flood.

If you do ride in the rain remember that you’ll lose traction on a wet street for acceleration, as well as braking. Rain changes the game so adjust your riding accordingly.

Any time you find yourself riding in questionable road conditions, the first thing you can do to improve your chances of arriving to your destination safely is to slow down and create more cushion between you and any surrounding vehicles or obstacles. Riding fundamentals really come into play during challenging riding conditions as rain riding tends to amplify any mistakes. Stay calm, be alert and try to look as far ahead as possible.
Remember that moisture allows the road grime and oil to rise to the surface of the street, which can amplify the slippery nature of an already wet surface. This is especially true at intersections. Stay out of the center of the lane and ease on the throttle when pulling away from the stop light. Out on the open road, the rule is the same. When braking in wet conditions, use both brakes, but apply lighter pressure to the front brake than you normally would in the dry. Ease into it, slowing down without being abrupt is important in the dry but critical in the wet. When wheels and roads get wet and scary it’s easier to lock up the wheel if you aren’t making a conscious effort to be smooth. If you grab a handful of front brake when the street is slick it almost always leads to you and your bike going down.
For those of us who like big, fat rear tires, remember the broader the contact patch increases your chance to hydroplane. Knuckles go white when water floats your rubber and you feel your front end getting lighter and harder to steer while the rear end fishtails. If this happens, try not to brake or make any dramatic changes, but you should back off the throttle a little and ride it out.

Motorcyclists usually don’t find much joy in getting soaked. But if you’re prepared, use some common sense and sound riding techniques, you’ll get home with yet another crazy story to tell. Then again, if it’s too bad out there, then let discretion be the better part of valor. Pull over, dry off, grab a coffee and embrace your watery fate as just another part of the adventure.

Ride Safe! Diane, President and founder of the Big Apple Motorcycle School

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