Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Wet weather riding

Riding in the wet is something that most motorcyclists dislike doing to a lesser or greater degree. Indeed, some just don't do it at all; if there is the slightest risk of a light shower in a 200 km radius the bike doesn't come out of the shed/workshop/garage.

Personally, I've always ridden all year round, and in all kinds of weather, but I must hold my hand up and admit that for a long time was something that I cordially disliked. Mainly it was because for a long time, I didn't really have any proper rain clothing, so I'd get thoroughly soaked and miserable, which isn't conducive to enjoying a long ride. But there was also the fear factor. As soon as it started raining, roundabouts, corners, stop/give way signs, traffic lights, all became a source of potential danger, injury, and possibly even death. I would sit there on my bike, tense and rigid, handling the brakes and throttle as if they were live snakes that might bite me hard. The concept of leaning into a corner was instantly washed away by the first drops of rain, and I'd sit bolt upright on the bike and steer the machine rigidly round corners with a minimum lean angle. An overtaking manoeuvre was something I carried out with the deepest misgivings.

So, for many a long year, I lived in awe of motorcyclists who managed to ride in the wet as if it wasn't that big a deal, and wondered if one day I'd learn to be like them, laughing in the face of storm clouds, riding gleefully through standing water... and gradually the change happened. I couldn't say exactly when or how I lost my deep dislike of riding in the wet, but the case is that I now barely bat an eyelid, even when the horizon is almost black and criss-crossed by spears of lightning. So, how does one approach riding in the wet? Let's have a closer look.

First of all, you have to have decent rain gear. And of course you have to carry it on the bike and be prepared to stop and put it on. If you're soaked to your bone marrow, wearing gear that has doubled its weight because it's waterlogged, there's no way that you're going to ride well in the wet. Of course, one doesn't really look like a hairy-arsed biker with a rain suit on. Rain gear is all about function over form, so naturally your sex-appeal plummets as soon as you don it. Then again, seen from the outside, you must cut quite a dash, sitting astride your bike and fighting hand-to-hand with the elements, only protected from the onslaught of rain by a thin layer of waterproofed nylon fabric! So when I'm on the road, I have my rain jacket and trousers (the latter only for extreme wetness: my cordura riding trousers have a rain membrane that offers very good protection, and they dry out within minutes once I'm back in the dry) and my rain/winter gloves.

Now that you're protected from the rain, you have to ride the bike. The first thing to understand is that yes, your tyres will grip, even in wet conditions (that's what street tyres are supposed to do, anyway). Once you have assimilated that fundamental point, the rest is quite simple and straightforward. Don't brake hard and late; instead brake earlier and gradually, evenly. Instead riding the power curve, ride the torque curve; find a gear that allows you to ride the bike like a twist-&-go scooter and roll off the throttle and use engine braking to slow you down before going for the brakes. Use all of your lane in corners: ample, flowing lines will allow you to keep up a good rhythm. Stay well wide of the vehicles that you overtake so that you avoid their spray and have a good view of possible oncoming traffic.

And above all, RELAX! DON'T PANIC! The tenser you are, the more likely you are to have a moment, or even to come off.

Right then, off you go: find yourself a wet day and go for a ride!

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