10 tips for motorcycle water crossings

Water crossings flooded

Water crossings are possibly the most fun you can have on an adventure or dual-sport motorcycle. They are a blast and I still enjoy it, even after countless water crossings.

In all that time, I’ve only had two failures and only one of those resulted in a drowned bike. Yet, I’m still extremely cautious and would advise others to also exercise caution.

I don’t want to be a damp squib (pun) on your fun, but the best way to negotiate water crossings is to go around them, if you can. Unnecessary water crossings can cause bike damage, injury and can slow you and your mates down as it can take a good hour to de-drown a bike.

However, if you do have to cross creeks or even rivers, these are the top 10 precautions you should take: Water crossings

  1. Let your bike cool down. You wouldn’t wash your bike as soon as you get home, so you shouldn’t ride a bike with a hot engine straight into cold water.
  2. While your bike is cooling, walk through the crossing to check the bottom of the crossing for mud, sand, clay, submerged rocks, slime, logs and deep holes. Water always looks shallower than it really is, so use a stick to give you a proper gauge of depth. If the water is murky because 4WDs or other bikes have just been through, wait for it to clear. If it isn’t going to clear, you will need to spend longer probing with that stick.Water crossings
  3. Don’t assume you know the crossing just because you’ve been through before. A recent flood may have gouged out some holes, while long periods without rain may have increased the growth of slime in stagnant or slow-moving water.
  4. Never underestimate concrete causeways. They look benign, but they can hide slime which has as much traction as ice. I should know; despite crossing heaps of craggy creeks my only two failures have both been on concrete causeways because of slime. One second you are up, then next you are down!Water crossings
  5. If it’s flooded, forget it. That’s the word from the authorities who don’t want to waste their time and lives rescuing people from flooded waterways. Flooded water is the most unpredictable. Is the level still rising, how fast is the water flowing, is it flowing at different rates in different parts of the crossing, is a sudden surge of more water on its way, what objects have been washed down and are now submerged underneath such as barbed wire? There are too many unknowns. One of my failures was in a low-flooded causeway.I was riding a big Yamaha Super Tenere through on the clear wheel tracks but the water was flowing faster where there was a gap in the weeds upstream. Even though it was a low level ands the bike is substantial, the water velocity was enough to push my front wheel slightly off track, into the slime and down I went.Water crossings
  6. If you have to cross, but are still unsure, get off and walk it through. Have at least one other mate help you. The best method is to stand on the left with your mate on the right, engage first gear and work the clutch slowly.
  7. Never cross water on your own. If something goes wrong, you may be stuck. A heavy adventure bike is even heavier when it is under water and your footing is affected by a slippery surface.Water crossings
  8. It looks great standing up, front wheel high in the air and spraying water everywhere as you sprint through the water. However, if you have a wobble on a slippery submerged object, there is no way to stop your fall. Best precaution is to ride through with your feet on the footpegs, ready to use your feet if you slip. However, don’t go into the water dragging your feet. They will act as rudders, pushing you and the bike around.Water crossings
  9. Measure how high your air intake is and whether it is in danger of being submerged. Remember that if you ride in with any pace, a wave may rise up over your front wheel, higher than the water level, and go into your air intake. If it looks risky, you can place a cut-off water bottle over the air intake while you cross.
  10. Always carry a toolkit to help de-drown your bike should you take a dive. You may need tools to remove the spark plugs, header pipe, sump plug and air filter.You should also carry rags for drying, a spare air filter and extra oil to top-up if you have to drain some out to remove water.

Take care and have fun.Water crossings

As you can see from these photos, I haven’t always taken my own advice. But I have had some fun!


  1. You haven’t mentioned a vital task to prevent destroying your motor!
    Before leaving home, check all the hoses coming out of the bottom and middle of the bike. Most road bikes have engine breather hoses, that will suck water into the engine and destroy it! These can be re-routed up under the seat, or to the airbox. Some hard enduro bikes have this arrangement from the factory, but many soft-roaders and regular dirtbikes do not.

  2. You can have the most fun at water crossings when you don’t have to worry about how to pustph a two hundred kilogram bike home.

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