There are a lot of things that are weather related that can pose a danger to you while riding your motorcycle. Lightning. Fog. A tornado.
Here’s advice on how to handle five of those situations.
1. Lightning. If you’re looking for one weather phenomenon to worry about while riding, lightning is it.
According to experts, lightning kills more Americans in an average year than hurricanes and tornadoes combined. And it can be particularly deadly for motorcyclists. Surprisingly, people traveling in cars are actually relatively safe in thunderstorms, because lightning tends to hit the metal cage of the car and follow that metal to ground, often leaving the car’s occupants unhurt.
But we’re safe, too, right? Because we’re rolling along on rubber tires that insulate us from the ground.
That small amount of insulation means little when compared to the incredible voltage in a lightning bolt. There have been many documented cases of motorcyclists being struck by lightning, usually with tragic results.
Lightning can travel 7 miles or more before striking the ground. And, since sound takes about five seconds to travel a mile, that means if the time between the flash and bang is less than 35 seconds, the lightning is close enough to hit you.
If you find yourself approaching a thunderstorm, your first, and safest, option is to stop and find shelter in a store, gas station or restaurant. If you’re caught out of range of buildings, hiding under a freeway overpass can help, but don’t seek shelter under a tree, because that can actually increase your chances of getting hit.
No buildings or bridges? Look for a low spot, pull off the road, park your bike and walk about 20 yards away from it. Then crouch down to get as low as possible while keeping only the balls of your feet in contact with the ground. Under those circumstances, the bike may be a more attractive target than you.
If you’re traveling in a group, stop and spread out, with about 20 yards between each person, so that a single strike doesn’t hit all of you.
2. Fog. Fog is another killer on the road. You can imagine the consequences for a motorcyclist in the middle of a massive pileup on a freeway caused by fog.
The danger when you enter fog is that you never know when visibility can suddenly drop to near zero, leaving you barely able to see the road, much less keep track of traffic around you. You don’t want to go too fast, in case someone has stopped up ahead. But you also don’t want to go too slow, since someone behind could pile into you.
When fog gets so dense that visibility drops below a quarter-mile (about six telephone poles), experts say, the only safe course of action is to stop, but not on or near the road. If there’s an interstate exit or parking lot, pull in there. Otherwise, ride your bike as far off the pavement as you can. Then leave it, and walk even farther from the road.
3. Tornadoes. This one’s easy. Tornadoes are extremely intense storms that can destroy whole communities. But there’s one reason for that: Those communities can’t get out of the way.
You can. So take advantage of that mobility.
Most tornadoes move at less than 50 mph, which is considerably slower than your bike. So if you see a tornado ahead, turn around and run from it. Don’t try to skirt the edges, and don’t try to predict where it’s headed, just get away.
4. Bitter Cold. Taking a long ride on a cold day can be no fun. Worse, it can be extremely dangerous, because of the insidious effects of something called hypothermia.
In extreme cases, you can literally freeze to death. But long before that happens, your reaction times increase and your muscle control gets clumsy, two things that can be equally deadly when you’re riding a motorcycle.
So the first thing you need to do is watch for shivering, numbing of fingers and toes and general clumsiness. These indicate mild hypothermia, which means it’s time to do something about it before you move into moderate hypothermia, marked by dazed consciousness, loss of fine motor coordination, slurred speech, violent shivering and irrational behavior.
On a bike, your best bet is to stop someplace warm before it gets to this stage. But if that’s not possible, look for any protection from the wind: an abandoned building, a line of trees or even a slope with a leeward side.
If necessary, if you have them, change into dry clothes. Then, if you’ve prepared yourself for cold-weather riding (and you should), you can pull out your nylon-reinforced space blanket and chemical heat packs.
But even if you don’t have that equipment, you can take advantage of heat from your bike’s engine. Of course, use common sense: Don’t pull into an enclosed space and leave the engine running, and don’t burn your hands on the hot exhaust. But you can usually place your gloved hands against the engine to drive some warmth back into your body. Just make sure you check your gloves regularly to make sure they’re not being damaged.
Once your core temperature is back up, you can begin riding again. Just take it easy and stop for a more thorough warmup as soon as possible.
5. Blazing Heat. For motorcyclists, heat can be even more dangerous than cold, since many of us just stop riding when the temperature gets too low, but we’re not equally cautious in extremely hot weather.
As with hypothermia, the first step in dealing with hyperthermia, or heat stroke, is recognizing the symptoms. Basically, when you stop having to go to the bathroom or when you stop sweating, you’re already in trouble. But watch also for rapid pulse, a throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea and confusion. If you experience any of those symptoms, stop now.
The cure for hyperthermia is simple: cool down and drink plenty of fluids, well beyond quenching your thirst. That should be easy if you’re riding through a populated area, but if you’re caught far from civilization, you should find shade and drink any water you’ve been smart enough to carry on your bike.
Stay calm and remain shaded until you feel better. That may mean waiting until sundown. And when you do resume riding, don’t be tempted to take your jacket off because that can dry you out even faster.