Riding in the rain

The big problem for many riders when riding in the rain is that they have no idea of the limits of the tyres or how hard they can use the brakes. As a result, they are often excessively cautious. Many reduce their speed unnecessarily - on a deserted straight road with a good surface and a good view, it's usually safe to maintain a decent rate of progress even in the wet. Perhaps not quite as quick as in the dry, but not that far off. In traffic, you may well have to go with the flow to avoid being harrassed by other drivers - but remember to compensate by opening up your braking gap and planning ahead. There is nothing wrong with taking care in the wet, but too much caution and we start holding up other drivers. If you understand the limitations and dangers of riding in the rain, a wet ride can be a lot of fun!


Searching for Grip

Think about how grip will be affected by rain. Use common sense - look at the road surface, has it been raining long? Wet surfaces clearly have less grip than dry, and you will have to reduce your lean angles and increase your braking distances accordingly. However, on a wet surface that is otherwise clean and in good repair, a bike on modern tyres has surprisingly good grip.

Problems arise when the surface isn't good or clean. There is nothing that you can do about the road surface. You have to take it as it comes. The quality of the surface has been steadily deteriorating for the last twenty years or so, and finding a perfect surface is now the exception rather than the rule.

Look ahead up the road. Note changes of surface early and try to spot whether it gets better or worse - a line across the road often warns of a change. Note changes of colour or discoloured patches - they may be wet patches, potholes or polished patches at a distance.

You have probably found that the bike will slide more on some surfaces than others, some surfaces which are fine in the dry are barely ridable in the wet, others give near race track levels of grip. Some surfaces offer average grip wet or dry. It helps to know which is which, before you find out the hard way...

Think about which surfaces are slippery when wet:

    metal manhole covers
    catseyes
    white lines and road markings
    tar seams
    polished and worn road surfaces
    leaves
    oily surfaces

They are all shiny when wet! A good general rule is to treat any shiny patch on the road as slippery and to avoid it if possible.

Avoid places where accumulation of oil and grease is most common:

    between the wheel tracks at traffic lights or stop signs
    to the outside of a lane in a turn (ie the right side of the lane when turning left, the left side of a lane when turning right
    roundabouts

The biggest danger is spilled diesel. Figures published by FEMA, the european riders organisation show that 10% of all motorcycle accidents are caused by diesel. Use your nose - you will often smell diesel before you spot it, but treat dark shiny streaks or rainbow patterns with a lot of care.

In general, the roads are at their slipperiest after a short shower during the summer, immediately after a dry spell - oil dripped onto the road mixes with the worn rubber on the surface, creating a slick. Prolonged rain washes all the oil and rubber away and given a decent surface, the roads actually have quite a lot of grip.

Watch out for surface water beyond the norm! Expect flooding and the slight possibility of aquaplaning on standing surface water after a storm. Streams may burst their banks and flow into the road alongside leaving mud and gravel behind or under the surface water - don't be surprised to find a slippery surface at the bottom of a hill after heavy rain. Dips may well be filled with deep water which can cause you to lose control if you hit it too fast - look at things like fence posts or where the kerb disappears to get an indication of how deep it might be. Avoid riding through puddles as a matter of course - they may conceal a pothole or debris.

The name of the game is compromise. The key to finding grip in wet weather is to look for it and to compromise your perfect riding plan to take advantage of it. Most importantly don't pick lines that give you no options. Keeping away from extremes of position allows you to change your line should you need to. Keeping off tar seams and white lines in corners allows you to corner without worrying about a slide. Braking either side of a manhole cover or a painted arrow that you cannot avoid stops you worrying about locking the wheel as you ride over it. Not very difficult if you look ahead and think about what you are doing!

The key rule to riding in the wet is be smooth. Avoid sudden changes in speed or direction. Smoothness is all - pure minimalism. The fewer control inputs to achieve a result, the better.

Speed in the wrong places or following to close are bad ideas. Your braking distances are doubled or more, so remember to leave good gaps. When you brake, do so smoothly and progressively - you will be surprised how much grip is available if you allow the suspension to settle. If you grab the front brake you will lock it - in the wet, it will tuck under faster than you can react. Just as in the dry but even more importantly in the wet, the best way to enter a corner is with the brakes released and the weight transferred to the rear with a gentle application of throttle.

When you accelerate, do so smoothly and consider changing up early. This reduces the probability of the back end breaking loose when opening the throttle or, equally likely but often overlooked, on the overrun if the revs are high. However, you should not make the mistake of forcing the engine to run at very low revs either. Most motors are reluctant at low revs, and need more throttle than usual to keep spinning. If you hit a slick patch and the rear wheel spins, this extra throttle will spin the motor and wheel unexpectly hard, and it may not grip again on the far side. Keep the motor in its "happy zone" but towards the bottom end rather than the top.

The correct technique for corners is the same as recommended in the dry, but it is that much more important to get it all correct. Get all the braking done in a straight line, off the brakes, let the suspension settle, turn in smoothly, keeping a little power on through the turn (this obviously demands a line that allows you to accelerate gently along it, which in turn means picking a late apex through the corner), this loads the back wheel and allows the front to get on with steering.

Accelerate very gently when leant over, just enough to avoid coasting, applying throttle carefully as you chase the exit only apply more acceleration when upright. Wheelspin in a straight line is controllable, just a gentle wag from the rear of the bike - wheelspin in the wet whilst leant over leads almost instantly to a high side.

You can almost certainly lean over further than you expect, but try to avoid sudden or jerky motions - in the dry we have talked about late turn in points and quick steering to turn quickly and square off turns. You can still use this technique in the wet. It is still safer because it opens out the exit to the corner, but slow down and make the steering manoeuvre a little more gentle, open out your lines a little and make them smoother.

This does not mean turning in too early - most riders turn in far too early even in the dry which means they run out of road halfway round the turn, and touch the brakes mid corner in an attempt to lose speed - in the wet this is even more a recipe for disaster than in the dry. Err on the side of 'slow and smooth in, and faster out' - it's not that important to ride fast in the wet.

If you have to brake in the corner, use the rear lightly, and be very careful with the front. You may get a good amount of grip from it, but you if you lock it, you will probably crash. You can often catch the rear if it locks by releasing the brake and pulling in the clutch to disconnect drive from it. It may waggle but if you are quick enough you will not highside.