Riding Skills 101

Improve your motorcycling skills
with Survival Skills Rider Training

Start your journey into better biking here!

Survival Skills|FREE better biking tips for all motorcycle riders

Learning biking Survival Skills isn't expensive...
...because these tips are FREE for all bikers

Eleven Essential Tips for riding in the rain

Rain means wet roads, and wet surfaces means less grip than in the dry, and so we'll have to reduce our throttle openings, lean angles and increase our braking distances accordingly. The question is "how much?". Unless we have some idea of how much grip there is, we don't really know how hard we can accelerate or brake, or how much lean we can use. And we can end up being excessively cautious and then we'll be harrassed by other drivers. There is nothing wrong with taking care in the wet, but too much caution and we start causing ourselves even more problems. So let's have a think about the issues.

HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN RAINING - this should be our first question. Prolonged rain flushes surface contaminants away and given a decent surface, wet roads usually have plenty of grip. . But if it's only just started raining, particularly after a prolonged dry spell, expect the surface to be super-slippery. Oil dripped onto the road mixes with the worn rubber on the surface, creating a slick.

HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN RAINING - this should be our first question. Prolonged rain flushes surface contaminants away and given a decent surface, wet roads usually have plenty of grip. . But if it's only just started raining, particularly after a prolonged dry spell, expect the surface to be super-slippery. Oil dripped onto the road mixes with the worn rubber on the surface, creating a slick.

KNOW WHERE TO FIND GRIP - a wet surface that is in good repair and clean, modern tyres should have good grip - it's a bit hard to put a figure on it, but at least 70% of dry grip should be available. And high grip 'Shellgrip' style surfaces give near race track levels of grip even in the rain.

AND KNOW WHAT'S SLIPPERY - but what about the road that's not in good condition or is contaminated? Some surfaces which are fine in the dry are appallingly slippery in the wet. Now the problem is that no matter how good our tyres, they won't grip if the road surface cannot deliver its half of the deal. And the quality of the surface has been steadily deteriorating for the last three decades and right now finding a perfect surface is now the exception rather than the rule. So be on the alert for surfaces which are slippery when wet:

  • metal manhole covers
  • cats-eyes
  • white lines and road markings
  • bitumen tar seams where tarmac is sealed
  • polished and worn road surfaces
  • oily surfaces
  • leaves

Here's a clue. Most things that are shiny when wet - even leaves - are slippery! So treat any shiny patch on the road as potentially slippery and something to be avoided if possible. 

KNOW WHERE IT'S SLIPPERY - and then avoid or take care in those places. A big fear for bikers is spilled diesel. Although figures published by FEMA (the European rider rights organisation) claimed that 10% of all motorcycle accidents were caused by diesel, UK figures suggest it's less than 3%. Whatever the truth, there's no need for us to become one of the statistics by being cautious where spills of fuel and oil are most common:

  • roundabouts
  • near industrial estates
  • by garages
  • on bends and at junctions
  • between the wheel tracks at traffic lights or stop signs

Treat dark shiny streaks or rainbow patterns with care, and use your nose - you will often smell diesel before you spot it. And remember petrol is JUST as slippery as diesel.

SPOT SURFACE CHANGES - as I mentioned, we may ride from a grippy surface onto a less-grippy one, so we need to spot that as early as possible. Look up the road and try to spot a change of colour. It's almost always a change of surface. We won't know whether it gets better or worse, but at least we're on the alert. A visible line often warns of a change. Oblong shapes are usually road repairs. Irregular areas of a different colour could be a damp patch, a pothole or loose gravel. Streaks are often a fuel spill.

BE ALERT FOR SURFACE WATER - there aren't too many around but on minor roads, we could come across a ford. Take it cautiously and upright and don't brake or accelerate hard - they are often slippery with algae under the water.

After a thunderstorm, watch out for surface water beyond the norm! After prolonged or heavy rain, expect flooded surfaces. Avoid riding through puddles as a matter of course - they may conceal a pothole or debris. There's a minor risk of aquaplaning on standing surface water but watch out deeper water which can cause a loss of control if hit at speed. Any depression is likely to be filled with deep water. Underpasses often flood to surprising depths. Look to see where the kerb disappears to get an indication of how deep it might be.

Watch out for mud, gravel or debris carried into the road. I've had to dodge a sizeable log before now. Streams may burst their banks and flow into the road, and we not only have to be careful about the depth of water - look at fence posts or the hedge - but there could well be a strong current. It might be wiser to find an alternative route than attempt to ford it.

KNOW WHEN TO SLOW - in wet weather, many riders will slow down unnecessarily, even when it's safe to maintain a decent rate of progress. It's stopping distance we mostly need to worry about, and whilst it increases with speed, if we stretch our planning and open up our following distances, then it should be OK to maintain speed to go with the flow to avoid being tailgated by impatient drivers.

AND WHEN IT'S MORE IMPORTANT TO KEEP A GAP - one of the biggest wet-weather faults I see is following the vehicle ahead too close, too fast. Braking distances increase in the wet, but it's not just stopping distances we need to worry about. We need to understand how changes of surface affect our ability to stop and maintain control. We really don't want to find we're braking over a wet metal access cover that just popped out from under the car ahead.

AIM TO BE SMOOTH - what breaks traction in the wet is often a sudden application of brakes or throttle. Whilst modern bikes have ABS and traction control is becoming common too, kicking either in is not a good idea as it's disconcerting. And without these aids, there's a risk of a loss-of-control. Aim to be smooth, but also to be minimalist - the fewer control inputs that achieve a particular result, the better.

Aim for progressive braking. Once the suspension has compressed we can build the pressure - most riders are surprised how much grip is available if we don't grab a big handful of brake.

Don't make the common mistake of trying to stay off the brakes then finding you need them at the last moment. Brake early and positively rather than late and harshly - it not only improves stability but gives us options. If we brake earlier than necessary, it means we can release the brakes again if we are unable to avoid crossing a wet metal cover or a painted arrow. That takes away the fear of locking a wheel as we ride over it, and we can reapply the brakes on the other side. It's not very difficult IF we look ahead and think about what we are doing.

Know how to corner in the wet - there's no real difference in technique, but it's more important we get it right. Don't try to turn in on a closed throttle or on the brakes - if we do, we're loading the front tyre with deceleration forces just as you want all the grip for steering and it's easy to lose the front if we hit a slippery patch. Instead, get the braking done upright, get off the brakes in a straight line to let the suspension settle THEN turn in smoothly.

Just as in the dry, the best way to enter a corner on a wet road is back on the throttle, keeping steady power on through the turn, which means using the Point and Squirt late apex approach I teach on Survival Skills Performance Courses through the corner. The biggest steering errors are to turn in too early which guarantees we'll run wide on the exit, then probably touch the brakes mid-corner to try to lose speed - in the wet this is even more a recipe for disaster than in the dry.

In fact, mid-corner, we can probably lean over further than we might expect, which is the way to deal with a tightening bend, but try to avoid sudden or jerky motions. We don't need to corner at walking pace but just a modest reduction in speed means we can make our direction changes a little more gentle, and use a little less lean angle mid-turn. open out your lines a little and make them smoother. Err on the side of 'slow and smooth in, and faster out' - it's not that important to ride fast in the wet.

Don't try to open out the exit to the turn by taking a wide, sweeping line. We may need to change line to keep off tar seams, access covers or white paint mid-corner. If we're on a line that gives us no way of changing position should we need to, then we're potentially in trouble. If we're on a sweeping line and aiming for the extreme edge of the lane, and we do experience a slide, we've no room to recover.

In the wet, I avoid extreme cornering lines - so I can compromise my perfect line to avoid slippery areas. I usually ride in the middle third of the lane, so I have some room for error.

If we must brake in a corner - perhaps because the road ahead is blocked - then use BOTH brakes lightly. Remember - if you've not already crashed, there is SOME grip at the front. As the speed comes down, our lean angle usually comes up, and so we can brake progressively harder. The important thing is not to grab at the front brake. With no ABS we'll probably crash (I've bought that tee-shirt), with ABS we'll have a moment to recover. Although it may be easier to catch a rear wheel lock-up, the rear brake alone won't offer much braking.

Don't try to accelerate mid-corner when the bike is still leaned over. A surprising number of crashes in autumn, when the roads are first wet and cold, happen when riders accelerate whilst still leaned over, often when turning right at a junction or a roundabout. The combination of lean and throttle breaks grip and the rear. The answer is to get the bike turned completely THEN open the throttle. Even with traction control, it'll still make for a smoother turn.

UNDERSTAND HOW TO USE THE GEARS - don't make the mistake of believing the old advice to ride in a high gear on a slippery surface either. Whilst that might have been effective on a low and slow-revving 50s and 60s Triumph, modern sports bikes will spin up the rear wheel the moment it breaks traction. Wheelspin in a straight line is controllable, just a gentle wag from the rear of the bike. If we've not got traction control and we wheelspin in the wet whilst leaned over, we may not get the throttle shut again in time to prevent a crash. Let the engine rev, but accelerate gently - don't open the throttle so far as in the dry.

And one final piece of advice - KNOW YOUR TYRES - if you intend to ride all year round, fit sport-touring tyres for the colder months of the year. The soft compound sporty tyres really only work in warm weather, and will never get hot enough to grip effectively in cold rain. Sport-touring tyres may not have the ultimate level of grip but they'll work better on wet roads at any time of the year, and they generally slide more predictably than the grippier tyres that just let go suddenly.

Having just listed all the problems of riding in the wet, you may be surprised to know, I actually enjoy riding in the rain. It can be a lot of fun!

Kevin Williams
Survival Skills Rider Training

...because it's a jungle out there


If you have enjoyed these Survival Skills articles, you can help me stay awake and keep writing. Just click the button below to buy me a coffee!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

* follow Survival Skills on Facebook and find new tips every week.
* discover Survival Skills books 



Subscribe to our Newsletter

Book a training course

What is Survival Skills all about?

How are Survival Skills Courses put together and taught?
The Making of a Good Instructor - musings on my Driver Education course

Would a National Standard for advanced training be appropriate?
Writing a riding tip - what detail is necessary?
What to do if you've had an accident
Accident Statistics - dispelling some myths

Improver or advanced, pragmatism or perfection?
Piling on the miles
Compartmentalisation & Practice -  the key to learning new skills
Countersteering - Question and Answer

Braking Rules and Tips
Over-confidence and Riding at the Limit
Practice makes Perfect
The Danger of Misunderstanding
Learning from your Mistakes
A Moment of Inattention
Staying Warm
Staying Awake
Don't just ride for yourself, ride for others
Filtering - what's legal and how to do it
Cornering Problems 1 - Lean or Brake?
Springing into Summer - polishing off the winter rust
Group Riding - Rules and Tips
Awareness of Risk and Risk Management
Cornering Problems 4 - Stability and the "Point and Squirt" technique
Cornering Problems 3 - Staying out of trouble! Pro-active Braking or Acceleration Sense?
Cornering Problems 2 - Staying out of trouble
What is Risk?
Avoiding Diesel
The Vanishing Point - is it enough?
Posture - the key to smoother riding
When the Two Second Rule is not enough
Riding in the Dark
Roundabouts - straight lines, stability and safety
Slow Speed Control
Aquaplaning - what it is and how to deal with it
Rear Observation - when to & when not to!
Staying upright on icy roads
KISS - 'Keep it simple, Stupid' or Low Effort Biking
Overtaking Safety - avoiding vehicles turning right
Proactive versus Reactive Riding
Living with  Lifesavers
Which Foot? The Hendon Shuffle - Question and Answer
Carrying a passenger - Question and Answer
Riding in the rain
Riding in strong winds
Sorry Mate, I didn't see you - an analysis of SMIDSY accidents
Ever gone into a corner too hot and had it tighten up on you?
The Point & Squirt approach to corners
A time to live...
Target Fixation - Question and Answer
The Lurker, the Drifter and the Trimmer
The five most important things I learned as a courier
Overtaking - Questions and Answers
Precision riding - or keeping it simple?
Wide lines, tight lines, right lines - the law of Diminishing Returns
Surface Attraction
Euphoria - when your riding is just too good to be true
Straight line -vs- trail braking
Sit back, close your eyes, relax... and hope for the best
Before you overtake, do you...?
Do you need to blip the throttle on a downshift?
Holiday Riding Tips 1 - Dealing with hairpins (a new occasional series)
Holiday Riding Tips 2 - The (drive on the) Right Stuff
Why SMIDSYs happen
Avoiding dehydration - riding in hot weather
Riding errors - and avoiding them
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness - riding in fog
Where does Point and Squirt come from?
Overtaking - lifesavers and following distances
Offsiding - what is it, and why you should think before you do it!
Anger Management - dealing with "red mist" and "road rage"
That indefinable gloss
Overtaking on left-handers - experts only or best avoided?
Apex or Exit - what's important when cornering?

Developing 'Spidy Sense'

Armchair Riding - how to improve summer skills in winter

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 1

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 2

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This archive of articles is provided free to read and download, but is not for commercial use. Contact me for re-use rights.

IMPORTANT: The information on the Survival Skills website is for your general information and personal use and should be taken as a guide only. Survival Skills Rider Training provides no warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness, clarity, fitness or suitability of the information and materials found or offered on this website for any particular purpose and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this website meet your specific requirements and you acknowledge use of any information and materials is entirely at your own risk, and that neither Kevin Williams nor Survival Skills can accept responsibility for your interpretation or use of this information or materials. The content of these pages is subject to change without notice. 

 Copyright © 1999 - 2019 Kevin Williams and Survival Skills Rider Training