Are you afraid of the lightning storm? What about riding your motorcycle during a lightning storm?
It can happen to anyone, being caught by a lightning storm while driving your motorcycle—especially if you are using your motorcycle often as a daily commuter. However, how good of an idea is it to ride a motorcycle during a lightning storm?
Is it safe to ride a motorcycle in a lightning storm? It is not safe to ride a motorcycle in a lightning storm. Motorcyclists are not safe during thunderstorms because they are exposed to the elements, and lightning can directly strike them. The lightning usually strikes the rider on their head, which is extremely dangerous and can be lethal.
This is the short and sweet answer, and if you are thinking of riding your motorcycle during a thunderstorm—don’t.
However, there are a few common myths and misconceptions that I believe should be set straight, and in this article, you will find all the important information on this topic.
Can you get struck by lightning on a motorcycle?
You can get struck by lightning on a motorcycle. The motorcycle does not provide any protection or insulation against lightning strikes. The lightning will usually hit the motorcyclist on their head, pass through their body, and go into the ground. If there is a lightning storm, you should not ride a motorcycle.
Why do people get struck by lightning while on the motorcycle?
Some people believe that cars, because they have tires, cannot be hit by lightning. However, this is not true. As it stands, this is a common myth.
The tires do not really provide any insulation or protection.
When the lightning hits the car, it usually hits the antenna or the top of the car. When that happens, the car’s metal body will direct the lightning to the ground, avoiding and protecting the passengers.
In other words, the passengers are essentially surrounded by a metal cage that works like a Faraday cage.
It is worth noting that a convertible does not provide the same protection, and the lightning can hit the people in the convertible.
Although convertibles and motorcycles are very different, they are very similar in that they do not provide a cage that will protect the people driving them.
After all, we already have cases of motorcyclists being struck and killed by lightning while riding their motorcycle. This also means that the motorcycle tires will not provide any insulation or protection against lightning strikes.
So a motorcycle will not protect against a lightning.
What makes matters worse is that the head of the rider will usually be the highest point and thus the point where the lightning is most likely to strike.
How many people get struck by lightning on a motorcycle?
In the US alone, about 51 people are killed by a lightning strike each year. It may seem like a small number, but there is no need to play with fire.
About 9% to 10% of the people that have been struck by lightning will die.
However, despite the high survival rates, those people will usually suffer from other health problems, life-long pain, burns, or other types of severe disabilities.
Based on those numbers, we can also calculate a very rough average of about 500 cases of people getting struck by lightning each year.
Despite the very low number, it is worth mentioning that there are indeed motorcyclists that have been struck by lightning.
According to the data from the National Lightning Safety Council between 2006 and 2019, 418 people in total were hit and killed by lightning. Of those, 5%, or about 21, were people that were riding a bike, a motorcycle, or an ATV.
What happens if you get struck by lightning while riding a motorcycle?
A lightning strike will cause cardiac or respiratory arrest. (In some cases, even both.) Both of these can be corrected by proper CPR.
Lightning bolts last fractions of a second, however, the lightning can heat up the air around it up to 50,000 °F, which is five times hotter than the surface of the sun. This makes burns a frequent type of injury.
A lightning strike can also cause permanent or temporary hearing and vision loss.
The most common type of injury caused by a lightning strike is a brain injury, which can be even more severe for motorcyclists as the head is where the lightning will most often strike.
Muscle, ligament, and bone injuries are also possible to occur.
Lightning strike survivors may often suffer from chronic and life-long pain, dizziness, headaches, memory impairment, decreased cognitive abilities, sensory loss or impairment, and more.
What to do if You have to ride your motorcycle in a lightning storm?
Even if you have to ride your motorcycle during a lightning storm, don’t. This puts you in danger.
“When the thunder roars, go indoors”
If you want to stay safe, the best way is to avoid riding your motorcycle. The safest place during a lightning storm is indoors. Houses and other buildings built today have built-in paths and systems that divert the current safely to the ground.
Hard-topped cars are also safe. However, while inside, make sure not to touch any electrical or wired devices in the car. Avoid touching the windows or metal the metal frame. Keep the windows rolled up as well.
You really do not want to stay outside with your motorcycle during a lightning strike.
The lightning will not always strike the highest object in the vicinity. If you are outside, there is no place that will be 100% safe, as lightning can strike almost anywhere. Even worse, railroads and metal fences can bring current to you from far away from where the lightning may have struck.
Although smaller metal objects like bicycles and umbrellas may attract the lightning strike only if it was already going to strike a few feet away from them, the motorcycle may be big enough of an object to draw a lightning strike in general.
See article: Will rain damage a motorcycle?
What to do if you cannot go indoors?
This is the situation that you should always aim to avoid to the best of your possibilities.
But sometimes people can get off guard. So what should they do?
If you are outside and cannot find shelter, you are not safe. It is as simple as that.
However, there are a few things that you can do to lower the chance of getting struck by a lightning.
Get to low grounds. Avoid hills and other tall or clear spots. Low and unexposed grounds are best as lightning will usually seek the highest ground point. Stay away from water, wet items, rocks, and metal conductors like fences, wires, and railways.
Leave your bicycle somewhere safe and move away from it.
Stay away from tall objects and buildings. Tall buildings, lone trees, antennas, and other tall objects and structures are extremely dangerous, and you should stay away from them.
Find a low spot like a ravine or valley and crouch, do not lay on the ground. If there is no such spot, look for an area with smaller trees surrounded by taller ones. Keep your heels touching, keep your head between your knees, and cover your ears. Make sure to minimize your contact with the ground as much as possible.
See article: Is it OK to leave a motorcycle outside?
Signs of an imminent lightning strike
If the odds of a lightning striking in your immediate surrounding are high, there are a few telltale signs. Some of those or all of them will happen just before a lightning will strike. In most cases, you will not have time to react as the lightning will normally strike in a matter of seconds or less.
- Tingling sensation all over your skin.
- Your hair is standing up.
- A metallic taste in your mouth.
- The smell of ozone (Ozone smell resembles chlorine).
- Buzzing, cracking, or hissing sound.
- Vibrating or cracking of metal objects.
- Metal objects emit a blue-white glow.
How to avoid riding a motorcycle in lightning storms
The best protection is prevention. What you want is to avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Keep an eye on the weather forecasts. Nowadays, we have very detailed and accurate forecasts that can be used to prepare your motorcycle ride accordingly.
Storm clouds can be easily spotted as they start to develop a darker bases. Storm clouds can often range from deep dark blue to bluish or even greenish-black. Storm clouds are also fairly tall because they build upward and usually are flat at the top.
Other signs of storm activity are dark sky, strong winds, thunders, and flashes of lightning.
To avoid putting yourself in danger, you should also understand how storms are formed and how they move.
The lightning can travel through the air between 15 to 25 miles away from the storm. So if you are riding your motorcycle at least 30 miles away from the storm, you should be, generally speaking, safe. But just because you are far away from the storm does not automatically put you out of danger.
New storms can form and develop near or above you, putting you in danger faster than you might have expected. If there is one storm in the area, the circumstances are normally good enough for other new storms to form and develop in the vicinity.
Lightning storms can also move very fast. Even though the storm may seem far away at first, it may not take too long before it overtakes you if it starts moving your direction. Typically storms move at speeds of 12 mph, but some can move as fast as 50 mph or even more.
Since a storm can move quite fast and you are also riding a motorcycle at the same time, you may get too close to the storm faster than you might have expected, which can also catch you off guard and put you in extreme danger.
The time that it takes for a thunderstorm to pass can vary from 30 minutes to more than an hour.
To measure the distance between you and the storm, count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder. Then divide the seconds by five in order to find how many miles separate you and the lightning storm.
The sound of the thunder can sometimes travel and be heard from as far as 30 miles depending on the atmospheric conditions, which oftentimes will mean that if you can hear the thunder, you may already be too close.