Friday, July 27, 2012


Sorry that I've been quiet for so long.  I've just returned from another pilgrimage to the Alps.  The plan had been to blog throughout, but due to being busy riding, dining, chatting with friends, and planning the next day's ride, that didn't happen.  The next several blog posts (at least) will be in reference to experiences and observations from that trip.

Those of us who call California home are so fortunate about rain.  We don't see much of it in the summer, and if you we do, it's not very much or for very long.  Not so northern Europe.  It was sprinkling when I left the UK on the Channel Tunnel.  It was sprinkling when I arrived in France, and before the day was through, it turned into a full on gully washer with limited visibility, water flooding road surfaces, etc.  One of the lessons such downpours teach is what gear works in rain and what gear doesn't.  

I'll start with a list of what gear worked in the rain because it's shorter:
  • Ortlieb dry saddlebags.  These are the only panniers I've ever had - hard or soft - that will keep their contents dry during an all day downpour.  
  • Daytona touring boots.  I bought these last year at a Louis motorcycle store in Mannheim.  The only way these get water inside them is if rain works its way through my pants, then drips down into the boots.  These are wonderful and comfortable all day long.
  • Aerostich Triple Digit rain covers.  These pull on over your gloves to keep the rain off, and for the most part work pretty well, and much better than gloves alone.
  • A fleece muffler that came as a giveaway with an issue of Fast Bikes, which I pull on over my head before donning my helmet.  It keeps the rain off my neck, keeping me warmer and more comfortable.  It's not waterproof, but it's bulky and absorbent, and water doesn't seem to reach my skin through it. 
  • The Kawasaki accessory top box stayed dry inside.
  • Heated grips.  Why don't ALL motorcycles have them?  Seriously.   
What didn't work?  Pretty much everything else:
  • Luggage that requires a rain cover.  Rain covers are difficult to apply snugly while stopped along the highway in a downpour. Rain covers flap in the wind.  The wind finds ways to lift covers and allow the migration of water past the cover and into the luggage beneath.  My Marsee tankbag is well built, but in an all day downpour the contents will get damp.
  • Motorcycle apparel that uses a waterproof liner as its method of keeping the rain out.  In this case my Olympia mesh gear was less than ideal.  I have loved Olympia gear for a long time, and have even manage to crash test it twice.  It works great in many circumstances, but extended, driving rain storms is not one of those circumstances.  First of all, you must remember to remove everything that you don't want getting wet from the pockets, and place it some other place that will stay dry, before the rain begins in earnest.  Otherwise, your wallet, phone, passport, etc. will get soaked.  Next, realize that this is because everything outside of the liner is expected to get wet.  In an all day gully washer that means very wet.  When it does, not only will the suit get sloshy, drippy and soggy - making you ever so welcome in that lovely roadside cafe in  rural France - all that water up against the Goretex liner means that water will eventually migrate through to you on the inside.  You will get wet inside.  Tip: wear quick drying synthetic materials against your skin. 
  • When the above happens, and water gets to your skin, even the good stuff like the Daytona boots and Triple Digit rain covers will not keep those parts of your body dry because water will move along your skin past the sealing surfaces.  Fingers and toes will be soaked too. 
One other thing.  I never thought I'd need a heated vest for a July ride in France so I didn't pack one.  What I did pack was several Grabber adhesive body heat packs that I was able to open and stick to my t-shirt.  These made it possible to continue when I was otherwise too cold and wet to safely carry on.  They take up nearly no space in luggage, and last indefinitely as long as they are not exposed to oxygen.  When the packaging is opened and they are exposed to oxygen the exothermic chemical reaction begins that generates heat for 6-8 hours.  These will ALWAYS be in my tankbag, along with zipties, duct tape, and tools.  

Now I have to go shopping for a proper rain suit.  


  1. Sounds like it's really important to watch for signs of hypothermia when in downpours like these. What are they on a bike? It's so tempting to push on...

    1. You are correct. It's very easy to get chilled on a bike - even in July. The signs are the usual. Discomfort, chills, diminished mental acuity. The third one means that it's difficult to recognize and act appropriately on the other two. That's why it's key to stop when one is uncomfortable, rather than soldier on, which is very tempting.

  2. Hi o'great flying hun
    Come back now, the weather is totally fine now, no rain in sight and the roads are dry and winding. I ask myself why I am still lugging my extra jacket here with me, and then I know I my use it at the top of the 'cols'. Did 'Col de la Bonette' the last week and needed my thermal top on as well. I changed half way up when I noticed the temperature dropping as I rode up.

    You are right, it is hard to use a rain cover to protect an otherwise non-rain proof bag, the wind sends the water straight in and whatever is inside will get wet. I will definitely get a dry bag for next year's trip.

    Hope to see you again over here,

    1. Sorry, I haven't responded sooner. I will be back as soon as I'm able. It was so nice to meet you in Briancon.