Monsoons bring us relief from the scorching heat of the summers, a lot of greenery and scenic beauty which would nudge the riding worm in our brains to take our two-wheeled friend on a memorable journey. However, while monsoons are green, they can also get mean. They bring potholes, flooding, and a lot of other issues along, that can be hazardous for our motorcycles. It would be unfair to blame the monsoons alone for all the despair caused on the roads, as it is also our road infrastructure that needs to be improved. Nonetheless, it is us and our riding companions that have to endure the situation. Since self-help is the best help, it comes down to us taking care of ourselves and our motorcycles while riding through those water bodies.
Water wading and motorcycles are not exactly the best of friends. While it can be a fun adventure when crossing a stream or a river on an adventure motorcycle, it can also be a disaster riding a small bike through knee-deep water. In either case, the bottom line is - if you drown the motorcycle or water gets into the air intake, you will need to spend more time in the water than you would have to if you waited to find an alternative route. One should generally try and avoid wading through deep water on a motorcycle. Compared to cars, motorcycles are more prone to be damaged by water as the proximity of air intake on a motorcycle is closer to the ground than what it could be in a car.
Watch, and learn
This is the golden rule of water wading. If there’s another motorcycle or in desperate scenarios, even a four-wheeler, which is crossing the obstacle ahead of you, pay close attention. Make sure that you carefully note the path the vehicle took, along with all the points where it faced an extra challenge. If the vehicle ahead of you makes it to the other end without any significant challenge, your chances of coming across a dangerous surprise are minimised. So do not be the first to take the plunge! If the water crossing ahead seems too deep, too flowy, too muddy or too unpredictable, the best way to deal with it is to wait a while, and let others go through it first. Oftentimes, there will be people who are used to the terrain and know how to navigate through the challenge. Watching them closely and following a safe route based on your observations can help you decide on a relatively predictable path to get through the water. If you think your skill or your motorcycle’s capability isn’t in line with the rider who went before you, either find an alternative route, or wait for another comparable rider to go through the hurdle before making a proper decision.
Let the motorcycle breathe
Cold water on a hot engine may cause damage which will not only rob you of your time but may also lead to expenses on repairs. If you absolutely need to cross through the water, park it on the side and let it cool down. Do not attempt to ride while the engine is too hot.
Check the terrain and trace a path
While you are waiting for the motorcycle to cool down, and if there are no other vehicles that you can observe crossing the problem area, you can take a walk through the water and check for the depth of water. Use your feet to gauge the nature of the terrain and look for obstacles like big stones or other objects that might cause you to fall. You should also rub your shoes across the surface to gauge the slipperiness of the path, especially on concrete roads, round rocks and stones with algae over them. Chalk a path which seems the safest and has the least number of undulations and obstacles. Once you have decided the path and the motorcycle has cooled down, ride through it carefully.
Still unsure? Don’t risk it
Even after careful examination of the path and terrain, if you are still unsure about whether you will be able to make it through, do not take the risk of attempting to ride through. A much safer way is to push the bike across. Do not do this while seated on the motorcycle as there are chances that your feet will slip while you try to paddle your way on the ground. Hold the bike on one side and push it along. If you have a pillion or some bystander ready to help you, ask them to hold the bike from the other side. This will make it easier to balance the bike and avoid a fall. If you are alone and feel that the bike will fall, try to drop the bike to the other side so that it does not fall on you as there are chances that you might get stuck under the motorcycle. This could be more dangerous if you are on an adventure trail and you are riding a heavy adventure bike.
Don’t be overconfident
You might be the best when it comes to riding, or plain unskilled with just a ton of overconfidence. In either case, it is unwise to mess with nature as nothing is predictable. You might come across unknown obstacles which may turn hazardous. Even on familiar terrains, the water flow might wash out stones, debris, garbage etc. which you might trip upon. When it comes to handling the wrath of nature, it’s best to use your common sense and carefully navigate the situation.
Ride through carefully
When it comes to riding through the water, you need to keep a few things in mind.
- Make sure you are riding in the right gear, and keep the engine revving with ample exhaust pressure. The lower the gear, the better, as you will need maximum torque to get through the water and a higher engine speed will result in higher exhaust pressure which would prevent water from flowing in. Water itself is an obstacle and your motorcycle will need a lot more power to get across.
- Your motorcycle’s clutch is your best friend while riding through and you do not want to let go of this friend. Hold on to it and control the speed of the motorcycle using the clutch, riding a low gear and keeping braking to the minimum.
- Sudden braking might cause the motorcycle to stall, and once stalled, there is a good chance that the motorcycle might not start again. If stalled, do not crank the engine more than a couple of times as constant cranking will do more harm to the engine. Your best way is to get off the motorcycle and push it across.
- Do not ride standing up. If you lose balance, there is no way that you would be able to balance the motorcycle in time and a fall would be imminent. Not only will this cause the motorcycle to drown but also increase the chance of injuries to your knees and ankles.
- Ride sitting down with your feet on the pegs. This will help you balance the motorcycle much quicker than it would when you are saddling. Also, ensure that you are not dragging your feet in the water and they are always placed on the pegs. Dragging your feet might cause the motorcycle to turn and you would lose control.
- Do not overspeed through the water as you might hit the front wheel on an unknown obstacle and cause the motorcycle to fall. This could cause a major injury as the rider will most certainly topple off the motorcycle.
Avoid water crossings, especially the muddy ones
This might be a bummer for adventure seekers, but the best way to deal with a water-logged area or a water crossing is to avoid it completely. There are unknown variables at play and you possibly cannot deal with all of them. The dangers are many - the depth of the water, strong flow, open manholes, deep potholes, slippery surfaces, and the list could go on. All of these can cause a fall leading to an injury to you and also damage the motorcycle. To avoid all of the above, find an alternative route or find a way around the water-logged area.
Flooded? Forget It
Flooding is much more dangerous than waterlogging. While waterlogged areas have still water, where there is flooding, the water is very unpredictable. The speed of flow, the rising levels, the direction of the flow will make it very difficult to manoeuvre the motorcycle. DO NOT even attempt to cross flooded areas.
Keep your bike fighting fit
It is advisable to get your motorcycle to service just before the monsoons. If you are planning an adventure trip, you most certainly need to service your bike. After the service, your motorcycle will have clean spark plugs, a new air filter, fresh oil, a new oil filter, a well-lubricated chain and lubricated moving parts. Think of the servicing like a COVID vaccine for your motorcycle. It might not entirely prevent the disease but will at least prevent it from turning into a fatal one if you’re following all the right guidelines, as the motorcycle will not fail on you unpredictably.
Carry necessary tools
If you are an adventure freak and want to definitely try a water crossing, be sure that you carry all the necessary tools required to temporarily fix your motorcycle in case water gets into the air intake, or worse, the motorcycle drowns. You should also know your way around reaching the spark plug, the air filter and topping up oil if required. Things you should carry:
- Tools to remove the spark plug, sump plug
- Tools to remove the air filter and oil filter
- Spare spark plugs
- Extra oil
- Spare air filter
- Cloth for cleaning and drying
Reiterating, it is best to avoid deep water wading when on a motorcycle, especially when you cannot see the bottom. However, in cases where you must, the above tips and precautionary measures will go a long way in keeping you and your two-wheeled friend safe. Stay safe and happy riding.