This being Southern California we don’t get to practice riding in the rain too often, thankfully. But that means we have less experience in that area when it comes time to put our knowledge to the test. If we can remember a few key points that become embedded in our riding memory, then when it comes time to hit the road in the downpour we relax and can focus on the ride.
The most important thing to impress upon new and less experienced riders is to slow down give yourself time. Time to react smoothly to obstacles or dangerous situations. Time to smoothly navigate turns in complete control. Time for your eyes to adjust to the conditions.
When the ground is wet, grip is drastically reduced. If a bike loses traction, it’s easy for a rider to lose control. Visibility is also dramatically reduced, from rainfall, road spray and our visors fogging up. We need to be extra alert to spot dangers lurking in the mist. Remember, visibility is reduced for other road users too, they may not see see you coming so give them plenty of time to notice. We have to adjust our riding style to keep ourselves and those around us safe.
Cornering, braking, accelerating, even our road positioning needs adjusting for the wet. A bike steers by leaning into a turn, using a part of the tire often with less tread pattern. And the gyroscopic forces that push down and out from a cycles rear suspension work to push the tire sideways. Obviously in the wet, with too much throttle, a tire can be pushed sideways with greater ease leading to loss of traction, slides and possibly a crash.
The key is to entering the corner smoothly and in control. Gently tip the motorcycle into the turn with neutral throttle, and gradually increase the throttle as you exit the turn and bring the bike fully upright. You want to avoid shutting the throttle completely and snapping it open. This jerky throttle action could cause the bike to lose traction as the suspension loads and unloads sending energy to the tires. Feather the clutch and be judicious with the power delivery and the bike will be in your control through the turn.
Obviously speed through the turn has to be significantly lower as we are unable to lean the bike as far as we would on a dry street. Brake earlier, and brake smoothly, avoid grabbing fistfuls of front brake that will see you on your butt in a flash. Similarly, accelerating by whacking the throttle open, even on a modest 250cc bike can cause the rear tire to lose traction. Slamming the throttle shut to compensate can lead to a snap or a jerk in the bikes posture, sending the rider on a rollercoaster ride wrestling for control. Open the throttle smoothly, changing gears with smooth, deliberate actions and you will pull away with absolute control.
Of course, having a rider stay in control is one part of the puzzle. We’ve all seen the sigalerts on rainy mornings thanks to car drivers incapable of driving within the limits of the conditions. As motorcycle riders, we are vulnerable at the best of times. In the wet we have to be extra diligent to pay attention to the less alert and more dangerous motorists we have to share the roads with. We have to adjust our road position to avoid manhole covers, oil slicks and overbanding in the streets. All of which are as slick as ice in the wet and need to be avoided.
Jeff Hawkins, Director of SkillzDays, a riding clinic that focuses on safety and understanding of motorcycles, has the following advice for wet weather riding:
1 – Awareness: It pays to heighten our awareness when riding in the rain. Whether it’s your vision, or your hearing, it can give you the edge that you need to avoid that out of control driver. The further that you look ahead, the sooner you’ll spot a problem and the more time you’ll have to avoid getting involved with it. Advance notice of painted road surfaces, manhole covers, wet leaves, and trash on the road enable you to cross them upright and without fear. Self awareness is a part of it as well. Knowing that the cold and wet are making you hypothermic can save your life. Hypothermia makes for poor decision making.
2 – Time: Take a little more than usual to do everything. Slowing down both your bike and your hands will give you more to work with when things get a little sketchy. Taking more time to go through a curve will save some of your precious traction for any braking that might be needed.
3 – Space: Give yourself more room than you normally do. Reduced traction on wet pavement means that it will take longer to stop, so doubling your following distance will improve your chance of making it home. Staying a lane or so away from other vehicles can buy you the time that you need when things start to go sideways.
4 – Smoothness: Add gobs of it to your riding. It’s easy to slide in wet conditions, but staying within the traction-limits by being smooth will help you get the most out of what your tires have to offer in the rain. Whether it’s the brakes, the bars, or the throttle, moving them slowly and smoothly will make the bike a much happier machine. A gentle touch is the best way to manage traction in the wet.
5 – Corner Speeds: By cornering at lower speeds you’ll give yourself a bigger margin of safety. Turning requires traction. Having less means using less. The people in the vehicles around you may not understand that you’re slowing down. A few light taps on the brake lever to flash the brake lights can get their attention.
6 – Check your traction: Turning your bars as you sit at a light and feeling the amount of resistance will give you an idea of just how much traction you have. Trying it on dry pavement, wet pavement, painted and other surface will give you a pretty good idea of where the limits of traction are.
The common theme throughout is riding smoothly to retain traction and stay in control. Every aspest of riding a motorcycle needs to be run thorogh this filter as we ride in the wet. With modern advances in wet winter riding gear now able to keep us drier than ever in the rain, we can arrive at our destination comfortably warm and dry. And by following the tips and strategies outlined here, we stand a better chance of arriving in one peice. And that, my two-wheel fanatics, is the goal of every journey.
Until next time, ride safe, whatever the weather.
For more info on SkillzDays training click here http://www.skillzdays.com/