Riding in the rain or on wet roads challenge a rider, more so than in the dry and probably more so than any road user.
In principle, all attributes of riding in the wet should be the same as those when riding in the dry, however with an extra layer of caution factored in. That being the case, why do many riders not venture out in the rain or in wet conditions? What is it that the riders perceive is such the dark art of wet weather riding? How can riding in the rain and wet be fun, a good worthy challenge and a time when riders can actually improve their skill of not only riding but also hazard perception.
First, let’s address the negatives:
- It’s Raining!,…Duh!
- You get Wet!,…Duh!
- It’s Slippery!,…Duh!
- You can get Cold & Wet!
- I don’t feel confident about riding in the wet!
The list could go on and on, but much of the negatives are based upon a rider’s bias, hear say, having a better option or some well informed notion.
Second, let’s address the positives:
- It’s Raining!,…Yeah!
- You only get wet if you’re not wearing waterproof clothing!,…Yeah!
- It’s as slippery as the rider makes it!,…Yeah!
- Wearing good thermal layers and waterproofs will make the ride comfortable and enjoyable!
- Riding in the wet will build your confidence! Practice make perfect!
Still not convinced? Let’s explore this a little further.
A rider’s choice to venture out in the rain is purely a subjective one, never feel pressured to ride if you don’t feel comfortable. However, many of us live and ride our bikes in areas when rain is just as likely as the sun is shining! Even when living in areas that are predominantly dry, there are occasions when it might rain or the roads may be wet for other reasons. At some point any rider may venture out and get caught out in the rain or come across a stretch of wet road which may require some other skills, or so it might be perceived!
The following are discussion points and ‘Rules Of The Wet Road’
- Plan to ride in the wet! – Wear waterproof clothing and thermal layers where required. Look at weather forecasts and carry waterproof over clothes if necessary.
- Relax, take your time! – The mere thought of riding in the rain or wet may fill you with dread, however being comfortable and relaxed will be the first step to enjoying the ride and controlling the motorcycle properly. Always do Rule 1 first!
- Ride for the wet! – Slow down! Accelerate and decelerate smoothly and slowly! Brake smoothly by squeezing, not snatching…try to use the rear brake just as much as the front brake! Brake with the bike in the upright position! Allow a lot more room between yourself and other vehicles which gives you more time to react to the flow of traffic and changing road conditions!
- Read the conditions! – Look far ahead, look at the road surface…is it smooth or rough, does it have cracks or potholes, is there debris(twigs/leaves/stones/mud/gravel/grit/salt/etc), can you see patches of oil or diesel or fuel spills? Is there standing water, flooding, puddles? Is the high density of traffic causing water to be flicked in the air(spray) to reduce your visibility?
- Don’t Fear & Be Clear! Giving yourself extra space and time and riding more conservatively will enable a more relaxed ride. By working through and practising in the wet conditions, a rider will become more comfortable. Ride with knowledge and use this to navigate your way along routes and avoid potential hazards. Know which hazards are most probable and which hazards are not…know what to expect and when to expect it!
E.g. Continued riding on painted surfaces or manhole and drain covers, is potentially a hazard because when water rests on them, there is even less resistance, therefore less grip between the tyre and surface. However, it is only crucial if ridden over when excessively leaning on a bend or applying too much power at once or applying too much braking force. If riding in the upright position with steady power, then there isn’t really a hazard to consider, because the weight of the motorcycle is pointing straight down to the surface and this gives optimum grip. Even if there is a slight change in grip, the forces acting on the motorcycle will let it continue in a straight line, whereas if on a bend, the forces acting on the motorcycle will cause it to slide to the outside of the turn, which would cause the motorcycle to slide from under the rider…thus causing a crash. The exception is very hard braking which may cause the front or rear wheel to suddenly lock which would cause the slide. However alway refer to Rule 3. Ride & brake smoothly!
- Build Confidence Gradually – If you feel that riding in the wet and rain is something that you would like to explore and improve your skills, then build up slowly and initially use the following as a guide:
- Use a route that is very well known to you!
- Use times when the traffic density is low, avoid morning or evening rush hour!
- Wear waterproof clothes, be comfortable, relax and look at weather forecasts!
- Plan the ride! Think of a route (choose a short distance first), think of what you could expect on the route. Are there any road works, are there many junctions, are there many low speed or high speed areas…the list goes on but suffice to say, try to mentally imagine the journey before you set out!
- Give yourself lots of space and time and stick to the plan! If you planned for a short trip…then do a short trip! The idea is to build your confidence gradually and allow you to acknowledge achievements and developments.
By using all the above there is a real possibility that a rider who does not like to ride in the rain or does not have the confidence to, will actually start to enjoy it and will develop confidence and skills.
The ultimate goal is to achieve a successful and enjoyable ride, by acknowledging hazards and developing contingencies to deal with situations that may have otherwise prevented the ride or may have led to an accident occurring.
Most of the accidents in the wet conditions are caused by riders and drivers not riding or driving their vehicles appropriately for the conditions. Either by being too close, going too fast, braking too hard, etc. The art of maintaing grip in the wet is to first have the right tools and make sure they function correctly and they are used correctly.
- Make sure tyres are inflated correctly and have good tread. There are many types of tyres that are suitable for the wet conditions or for all round use. Wet tyres will usually have extra grooves or rain channels which will help to move water away from beneath the tyre. Having tyres set to the correct pressure will maintain their optimum performance and grip.
Motorcycles have a small contact patch of tyre to the road in comparison to other vehicles, so it is
imperative that the best contact patch allows the rubber to perform at its best. By riding the motorcycle
in a more upright position and avoiding excessive lean angles the rider is using a greater contact patch.
When applying power or braking in a more upright position, the rider is using a greater contact patch to
- Make sure that the motorcycle is roadworthy for the road and wet conditions. Make sure brakes are in
good working order and that the suspension and wheel alignment is set correctly as this will affect grip
under acceleration and braking. If you are unsure, then seek the advice of a motorcycle mechanic and
get the bike checked out.
- Make sure that you focus on the riding and the road. By wearing the correct clothing you will avoid being
distracted and uncomfortable. When focussed you will be able to distinguish between the changes in
surface conditions and the power required to maintain grip with greater precision. Overall throttle
control, progressive throttle changes will improve speed control and will improve reactions and the need
for harder braking.
If a rider is still unsure about riding in the wet, then there are two options remaining:
- Don’t go out in the wet! Don’t be pressured into riding in conditions that you do not feel confident in!
- Seek out further training or advanced training from a reputable organisation. Speak with riding friends
about their experiences and share advice and information.
Ultimately the rider controls the motorcycle and is responsible for their success and enjoyment. Gaining as much information and developing and improving skills through practice will be the best way to improve confidence.