Street Savvy - Parting the Waters: Riding a Motorcycle Through Water

MC Garage

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by BMW, Courtesy of KTM

What do you do when some unforeseen rivulet interrupts the road ahead? Or a river? Or a soupy XXL puddle? First, don't panic. Second, don't grab a big handful, loft the front wheel and part the waters like Moses or Malcolm Smith. Your skills may well be less than legendary, and the body of water in question may be deeper than it looks, harboring anything from a scaled-down Stonehenge refugee to a '67 Volkswagen transaxle. In water, as in life, it's the snag you don't see that ruins your day.

A clear, shallow stream shouldn't be much of a problem if there's not more to it than that. Slow down enough to get a clear picture. If there's a dry (or at least damp) way around, take it. Otherwise, stop for a closer look. What's the current like? Fast-moving water can push you off-course and downstream in less time than it takes to yell "man overboard!" How's the bottom? Big rocks? Small ones? Roots? Stumps? VW transaxles? Seek the path of least resistance. And beware the submerged concrete crossing. A layer of algae makes innocent-looking cement slicker than an oiled skating rink.

Still not sure? Wade around. Wet boots beat a cylinder (or lung) full of water 10 times out of 10. If the water looks shallow, stand up on the pegs, maintaining just enough momentum to regain dry land with smooth throttle and brakes. If it's somewhere between ankle and airbox-deep, consider sitting down. A quick dab can save you from total immersion. Speaking of which, it'd be good to know how deep your bike can be submerged without drowning. If the airbox intake dips below the surface and the motor dies, hit the kill switch before the engine hydraulic-locks with a lungful of water. Once you're in, use enough throttle to maintain precious momentum, but don't close it. Exhaust flowing out makes it harder for water to flow into the muffler.

Puddles are a different story-especially big, muddy ones. Going around doesn't sound like as much fun as wheelying through, but it beats sinking in some broad expanse of bottomless muck. If you can't skirt the bog completely, minimize your exposure with the shortest, most direct route to terra firma. Those edges are usually shallower than the middle, and closer to solid ground if you do get stuck. Tree-huggers don't like us "lensing out" puddles like that, but they'd like a 500-lb. mud-encrusted memento in the middle of the trail even less. Stay away from deep ruts if you can, but if you do slip into one, follow it until you can slip out easily. And make sure you keep both tires in the same rut; getting cross-rutted is an invitation to impromptu swimming lessons.

Just don't let your guard down on the other side of said rivulet/river/bog. The far bank is liable to be slippery, especially if a few bikes have plowed through just ahead of you. Plan ahead, maintain proper position on the bike, hold the throttle steady and factor in sub-par stopping power until those recently submerged brakes dry out. Since recently submerged humans often may not perform up to scratch right away either, a quick self-check isn't a bad idea. Once you're satisfied all's well, get back on the gas.

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