Can A Motorcycle Hydroplane?


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Water can be a very dangerous element on the road for a motorcycle if a motorcyclist doesn’t know how to handle it. Many riders are under the misconception that their ride is not prone to hydroplaning because it only has two wheels and is much lighter than a car. This is indeed a myth.

Can a motorcycle hydroplane? It is possible for a motorcycle to hydroplane. Motorcycle tire treads were designed to repel water, but the repelling of water becomes much less effective at higher speeds on wet roads. Because of this, hydroplaning on a motorcycle is more likely to occur on freeways or highways.

Having owned motorcycles in both extremely snowy and rainy climates (Utah and Mississippi), I have seen first-hand the possibilities of motorcycles hydroplaning in wet conditions. Continue reading to learn more about why it happens, how to handle it, and how to avoid it.

Understanding Hydroplaning On Motorcycles

Hydroplaning (also known as aquaplaning) is a phenomenon where a layer of water remains between the road and the tire. This leads to loss of traction between the road and the tire which ultimately results in loss of control.

All the functions of a motorcycle that have to do with controlling and directing the motorcycle all depend on the friction between the road and the two tires. Motorcycle tire treads are designed to channel water that comes between it and the road to keep that needed friction and control the bike needs. If a motorcycle and it’s tires encounter more water than it can dissipate, hydroplaning occurs.

Though the engineering of motorcycle tires and treads continue to improve over time, they’re still far from perfect and will never guarantee 100% traction in every weather condition.

There is also wear and tear to consider on motorcycle tires as well; not everyone changes their tires as often as they should which results in less effective, much smoother tires that hardly provide much protection at all. Hydroplaning also depends a lot on the depth of the standing water and the motorcycle’s ability to handle it.

The first ten to twenty minutes of a rain storm is the most dangerous time for any vehicle to be on the road as their risk of hydroplaning increases. The water mixes with the residual oil that is left on the road. Not only are you are at risk of hydroplaning, but the water is also extra slippery because of the oil.

The faster you go on a motorcycle during a storm, the higher your risk of hydroplaning. Specifically, your chances of hydroplaning greatly increase as speeds higher than 35 miles per hour. Hydroplaning can also lead to fishtailing on a motorcycle. You can learn more about that by reading our other article here.

What To Do When Your Motorcycle Starts Hydroplaning

Knowing how to handle a motorcycle hydroplaning situation before it happens can leave you more confident with your riding abilities. There is an art to handling hydroplaning, so it’s important you know exactly what to do.

You’ll easily be able to tell if you’re hydroplaning because your back tire will seem a little “loose” or moving a bit from side to side. The steering may also seem a little too loose. You may have an overall feeling of loss of control of your motorcycle or feel a little uneasy.

The first thing you need to remember when you find yourself hydroplaning is to not panic. It’s certainly easier said than done, trust me I’ve been there. A panicked disposition will do nothing for you, so calm down and know you are still in control. If possible, do not attempt to increase your speed or abruptly use your brakes; this will only make you lose control even more.

Simply let off the throttle and coast through any hydroplaning situation. Any steering you have to do should be done very gently and slight; avoid swerving or turning hard. Drive in as straight of a line as you can.

If you must brake, avoid pressing on the brake hard. Instead, gradually pull in the brakes until the motorcycle is able to gain traction on the road. You can learn more about how to handle wet conditions by reading this manual from the Motorcycle Legal Foundation.

One thing I’ve done to help me practice for something like this is simply doing the steps on an every day ride. If I’m riding down a residential road, I go through all these steps (left off acceleration, coast, go as straight as possible, and gradually engage the brakes). Adding these steps to muscle memory has made a huge impact for me when I’m actually caught in situations such as hydroplaning.

How To Prevent Hydroplaning On Your Motorcycle

Being prepared mentally and physically is the single most important component to keeping you safe on wet roads while riding your motorcycle. Know beforehand how to handle riding on water and your chances of safety will greatly increase.

Luckily there are a number of simple factors you can adopt that will prevent hydroplaning on a motorcycle. The first one to consider is to simply not ride on wet roads at all. Obviously, this may not always be possible.

Second, before riding, make sure your tire pressure is at the correct PSI. Too low or too high of a PSI on a motorcycle tire can greatly increase your chances of hydroplaning on wet roads.

If you’re caught in a rain or snow storm while riding your motorcycle, reduce your speed to below 35 miles per hour. If you’re on a busy road with crazy drivers speeding past you, attempt to use back roads to avoid them.

If you’re on a multi-lane highway or freeway, stay either on the far right or the far left lane. This way you will only have to worry about being aware of one lane of other drivers next to you.

Ride on the driest spot on the road. Most roads will have grooves in them with one side of the lane having more water than the other. Stay on the side with the least amount of puddles.

If possible, avoid riding through large puddles. Large puddles could be hiding something much more dangerous such as large holes. Sometimes all it takes is a large puddle to start the process of hydroplaning on a motorcycle. If you must ride through a puddle, proceed with caution and slow down as much as possible.

Conclusion

Hydroplaning on a motorcycle essentially means there’s a barrier of water between the tire(s) and road that the tire cannot dissipate. This leads to lack of traction which can result in loss of control. Let’s recap how you can handle hydroplaning:

  • Don’t panic
  • Let off the throttle and coast
  • Go as straight as you can
  • Gradually engage the brakes

Have you ever been caught in a hydroplaning situation on your motorcycle? How did you handle it and what other advice would you give?

Related Questions

Is it OK for a motorcycle to get wet? Most motorcycles were designed to get wet. It is OK for it to be rained on whether in the driveway or while you’re riding it. However, excessive exposure to water can eventually cause damage to your motorcycle. Click here to see my article for more information.

Are you at fault if you cause an accident while hydroplaning? You are considered at fault if you hydroplane and cause damage to someone else and their property. Though most people assume hydroplaning is “an act of nature,” it is something that can be avoided with the right safety precautions.

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.

Kyle Cannon

Kyle currently works as a mechanical engineer and graduated with a minor in automotive engineering. He loves restoring motorcycles, has a vast knowledge of how they work, and has sold his restoration projects to customers from all over the United States.

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