How to Safely Ride a Motorcycle in Windy Conditions

Riding on windy days can add an extra challenge to stay safe and arrive to your destination on time. The type of motorcycle you ride will have along with how you position your body will both have an effect on your ability to ride in the wind. We’ll cover what motorcycle types do better in the wind, how to adjust your body position for optimal safety, and outline factors to be aware of that can affect your ride.

What Type of Motorcycle is Better for Windy Days?

One of the great debates for riding in the wind is what type of motorcycle will ride the best in those conditions. If you had the option to choose from more than one motorcycle type (or perhaps you happen to have a fleet in your garage), what would you choose? Heavier or lighter? Shorter or taller? Minimal or full fairing? All of those options factor into how the motorcycle rides in a windy situation.

Compare a touring bike with a large fairing, saddle bags, and larger highway-capable engine to a standard with a small front fairing and smaller engine. A touring motorcycle is less likely to be pushed around by wind due to its weight. A standard motorcycle would be able to escape the path of the wind more than a taller motorcycle. A motorcycle with a full fairing may channel the wind around the rider more than a little or no fairing option. So is there one motorcycle that would work better than others? No, not necessarily.

Motorcycle Riding Techniques for Windy Conditions

Wind can come from all directions, and your motorcycle can help alleviate the effects of the wind pushing your motorcycle around the road. Another significant advantage you have while riding is your body positioning. It can counteract the wind’s force on you and your motorcycle, which can make it less hazardous on a gusty day.

As we said, the wind can come from all directions. In front, from behind, and from either side. Let’s take a look at each of these scenarios and determine how to ride safely in each:

Riding in Crosswind (wind comes from either side pushing your left or right)

Crosswinds will have a dramatic effect on your riding as it can easily push you off the road or into another lane of traffic with a strong gust. Your frontal area can make a difference in how much the wind is able to push you. Think of yourself as a sail, and the larger area you have for the wind to contact, the more you will feel its effect.

The best way to handle crosswinds is to ride at a slower speed, loosen your body up (think about relaxing your grip, knees, etc.), and don’t panic when you feel the wind moving your body. Ride behind the windscreen as best as possible. You can also stick a knee out in the direction the crosswind comes from to catch oncoming wind flowing around the motorcycle. If the crosswinds come from the left, stick your left knee out. It produces a sail that will pull your body (and motorcycle) to the left and counteracts the effect of the crosswinds. The same can be said for a crosswind coming from the right. Over time you will learn to judge how far to stick your knee out to counteract the crosswinds.

Beyond sticking your knee out, you can lean the motorcycle in the direction of the crosswind to counteract the effects. It will require a slight pressure on the handlebars in the direction of the crosswind, but it will have a similar effect to sticking your knee out.

You can also try to counterweight in the direction of the crosswind. With a crosswind coming from the left, you could adjust your sitting position to the left side of the motorcycle seat which will move your body weight slightly to the left. Apply any of these three methods to help counteract the crosswind for safer riding!

Riding in Headwind (wind coming from in front of the motorcycle)

Headwinds are a little easier to deal with on a motorcycle than a crosswind and can be less dangerous when riding a motorcycle. The key to minimizing the risk of a headwind is to reduce your frontal area that the wind can push against. It’s best to ride low behind the windscreen and front fairing and tuck your arms and legs in close to the motorcycle. Be as streamlined as possible and reduce the friction of the wind against your body. A headwind will slow you down, so be cautious that it doesn’t compromise your safety. If it slows your riding down enough to inhibit smooth traffic flow, you may want to take a break or choose a different route to avoid impeding traffic.

Riding in Tailwind (wind comes from behind the motorcycle)

Tailwinds may be the easiest of the three to ride in as it doesn’t usually push you around like a crosswind or slow you down as a headwind does. Tailwinds will come from behind the motorcycle and cause you to ride a little faster than you intend. They are great for gas mileage, but will require a little extra stopping distance since they push you forward. You will want to ride in a similar position to a headwind, low and tucked in. Be careful that they don’t cause you to ride too fast for traffic or road conditions, and be sure to stay within your comfort zone.

6 Tips for Riding Your Motorcycle in the Wind

The wind isn’t the only thing to keep in mind concerning safety while riding. There are other factors that can aid in your ability to ride in the wind or also make it more dangerous to ride on a windy day. These are other considerations to be cognizant of:

  • Tank and saddle bags can add drag – Tank and saddle bags can add frontal area that wind can catch on. Saddle bags add extra area with a headwind or tailwind and can cause extra drag as air moves around the motorcycle. It can have the same effect with a crosswind as it hits you from either sides. Be cautious of adding larger bags on windy days.
  • Be aware of wind blocks – Large trucks, buildings, hills, and mountains, etc. will shield you from the wind temporarily, but can create wind tunnels when you ride out from behind them. Be cautious that trucks can push a lot of wind around them that can either suck you in toward them or push you away and into another lane. Buildings and landmarks won’t suck you in, but they can definitely give you a rush of air as you ride out from behind them. Be prepared.
  • Choose the safest lane – Is there a best or safest lane to ride in? There isn’t going to be one-size fits all answer with lane choice because it is going to depend on the road, other traffic, and weather conditions. On a two-lane piece of road you may choose the middle or left as oncoming traffic may push you to the right (or road shoulder) as they pass. The left or middle would give you room to move to the right as needed. You may choose to bias to one side of the lane to counteract crosswinds and traffic, so there isn’t a perfect section to stay in. On a multi-lane section of road, traffic may dictate that you need to bias to one side of the lane or ride in a particular lane to stay away from big trucks, counteract crosswinds, or stay safe around other traffic.
  • Check the weather – Before you leave on a ride, be sure to check the weather forecast. If it is projected to be a windy day, pick a route that will be less likely to have the wind. If there isn’t a best route to avoid the wind, perhaps choose to stay home. It may not be worth the risk to ride in hazardous conditions.
  • Combat wind fatigue – One side effect of windy conditions that most riders don’t think about is fatigue. Fighting to stay in your lane, counteracting crosswinds, riding slower than expected, and continually adjusting your riding position can wear you out quickly. If you’re on a longer ride, stop after a period of time to relax and allow your muscles to take a break. It will help mentally and physically to relax your mind and body.
    Protect your eyes – You are hopefully following ATGATT (all the gear, all the time) and already wearing eye protection, but windy days are especially hard on the eyes. Winds carry small debris like sand and small rocks that can be blinding at speed. These are the days that a full face helmet or wrap around motorcycle eyewear can really pay for themselves in safety and security.

Key Takeaways

  • Wind can come any direction while riding. Make yourself small by tucking behind your windscreen or front fairing to allow the air to travel around you as best you can. Crosswinds can push you from side to side and you can counteract that by extending a knee into the crosswind to make a sail. That will direct you into the crosswind and help to negate its effect.
  • There isn’t a perfect motorcycle for windy riding days. Smaller motorcycles have less frontal area to catch wind, and heavier motorcycles are less likely to be pushed around by wind. Choose the best for your body size and within your riding skill.
  • Don’t add large saddle or tank bags for your ride on a windy day. They add frontal area that makes you a larger surface for wind to push against. It may be a good choice to leave them at home on windy days.
  • Watch out for larger objects that can temporarily block wind like trucks, hills, and buildings. The wind pushing around them will push you away from them as you pass.
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