Electrical Storms:
Don’t Light up your Ride
By: Gene Rigsby, Road Captain

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Last year Noelle and I were heading out to help set up the” Ride For Dreams” event, which was being held in Woodstock. It started to rain just as we were leaving our garage.  We had a feeling it was going to rain, and even though the weather report sounded more promising, we were dressed for rain. This was by no means the first time we ever rode in the rain and I know most everyone reading this article has experience with this as well.

Well on this particular day, as we moved down the road through the rain, it got significantly worse as we rode.   Eventually, though, it started to ease up and we thought we may be in the clear. But as most of you know as well, those thoughts usually are the indicators of the ‘worse that’s yet to come’! As we sat waiting for a traffic light to change, there was the sudden rumble of a nearby lighting strike! It shook both of us, not only physically, but mentally as well.  Sitting in the rain, exposed, with an electrical storm building is an intimidating thing and I felt very vulnerable.

When talking about this situation with others, I heard many people compare riding exposed ON a motorcycle to the old traditional thought of being protected from lighting while riding IN a car, I started to research how true this thought truly is. As you can imagine, there is a great deal of information about this on the internet.   Google this topic, and see firsthand, the variety of information on this topic.

Here is a summary of one article, by James R. Davis, which gives a general idea of the things you need to consider when riding… with thunder and lightning!   James R. Davis is a recognized expert witnessin the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics. The article is entitled, “Electrical Storms Riding out from under them could be a big mistake” and the full article can be found at: http://www.msgroup.org.

James begins with looking at a common myth….

“No doubt you have heard that because your tires are made of rubber, and because rubber is not a good electrical conductor, so long as you keep your feet on the pegs lightning will not hit you since it cannot find a path to ground through you and the bike. WRONG!!!   Though rubber is a pretty good insulator of the normal voltage levels we mere humans deal with, it is not very effective against the voltage in a lightning bolt. “

Also, you may also have heard that if a lightning bolt hits a car the occupants are safe because the car is riding on rubber tires, etc. Actually, this is almost true! So long as the occupants stay away from anything metal they will more than likely survive a lightning hit without any injury whatever. What protects occupants of a cage is not their rubber tires, but the fact that they are enclosed in a metal container. If a lightning bolt hits the surface of the car it spreads around the occupants, NOT THROUGH THEM, and goes to ground.”

Now, James looks at the science that goes with this conversation…

”A lightning bolt that hits you or your motorcycle is a different matter entirely. Let me give you an idea of magnitudes we are dealing with here. The master fuse on your bike handles about 30 amps before it blows. An average lightning bolt produces a current of about 20,000 amps. Even 30 amps can easily kill you because it disrupts your heart’s electrical system and the heart then simply stops working. Your heart doesn’t stand a chance against a lightning bolt.”  

Sounds like pretty convincing information that would make you LOOK more definitely at what to do while riding in rain… and also on what NOT to do. James offers some comments on this too…

…”If you are out in the open on your bike when lightning flashes begin, and if you can hear the thunder caused by those flashes in less than three seconds from when you see the flash, it’s time to stop your bike and get off it.

  • Immediately find low ground, but NOT under a single or small group of trees.
  • Squat on the ground with your legs together, head lower than back, but NOT touching the ground. Do NOT lay on the ground.
  • LET YOUR CLOTHES GET WET!!! (In this way, if you are hit the majority of the electricity will follow the moisture of your wet clothes around your body.)
  • Do not get up until thunder following a lightning flash is AT LEAST five seconds after the flash. (Which means the lightning struck more than 1 mile away.)

Incidentally, lightning can, and DOES, hit the same place twice – frequently.

If there are more than 5 seconds between the lightning flashes, (indicating a mile in distance) and you’re hearing that thunder, head for shelter. This is the only time trying to ride out from under an electrical storm makes any sense.

Best shelter, of course, is a hard covered surface connected to ground with metal. Get under it and wait out the storm.”  

I hope this article helped to educate, inform and will motivate further research so that you will be more comfortable in making a call as to whether or not you should continue to ride. I feel it is more effective to hear news you may not want to hear by self-education.   “Lectures” are just not as effective! You know – folks with the hardest heads, are less likely to wear a helmet if they are TOLD to wear one! (that would be me).

Oh, by the way, Noelle and I rode back home after hearing the thunder and drove our car to the event.   Eventually, we were able to bring our bikes out, though too late for the actual ride. Later in the day, it was a nice afternoon and many were able to enjoy the good weather and safely ride back home.

Stay safe