Riding your bike in the rain is one of the trickiest things you’ll ever have to do. You could ride your whole life and still be caught off guard when the road is damp.
While some motorcyclists may preach against ever riding in the rain, sometimes that just isn’t an option. The only way to ensure you stay upright is to always up-skill and actually get out there and ride when it’s wet. You can never guarantee that it won’t rain on a ride, especially in a country like New Zealand where we can have all the seasons in one day. I’ve had many a ride where I went out in leathers and came home soaked to the core.
So here are some good pointers to get you started:
This is simple and straightforward. If you ride with shoddy tyres, you will regret it in the rain. Make sure your tyres have at least the minimal amount of tread and are pressurised to the right amount, always. Nothing gets an insurance claim rejected quicker than bald tyres.
Plan your journey, know what route you’ll be taking and avoid going through unfamiliar routes if possible. Try remember any hazards and sections that may create a problem. When the road is wet, the smallest things can turn into huge hazards. My prime example are manhole covers. I always disregarded advice that manhole covers are extremely slippery, I never had a problem coming to a stop whilst rolling over them. Until the one day I did have a problem. I almost ended up on my ass in rush hour traffic. Manhole covers, road markings and those shiny tar snakes you see are some of the worst. You may get away with riding/braking over them 10 times, the 11th time may be your last!
Keep your distance
Contrary to popular belief. Motorcycles have less ability to brake than cars. You only have two tyres for your contact patch and very small patches at that. Your braking distance will increase noticeably in wet weather, remember the 4 second rule! The easiest way to make sure you have a 4 second gap between you and the vehicle in front is to choose a marker such as a street light ahead of you, start counting when the car goes past the light. You should only reach the light in 4 seconds or more. Another trick is to try never end up behind large vehicles such as trucks or vans. It is very difficult to brake carefully when you see the brake lights of the car in front. If you are behind a car (say car # 1), you should be looking at the next car in front of that (car #2), which is easily possible if you can see through the windscreen of car # 1 or have kept a decent gap. Begin braking or slow down and get ready to brake when the car #2 starts braking. Ideally you want to see at least 3 or 4 cars ahead of you. I also like to move towards one side of the lane and check my rear view mirror. This is in case the car behind me doesn’t brake in time and locks up at the last minute and may slide into me, I’ll have a chance to move out of the way.
Do not ride through deep puddles! It may look fun but this can be extremely unsafe. Aquaplaning is when your tyres glide over the water rather than cutting through it. When you aquaplane, it is like riding over ice. You have absolutely no control over braking and accelerating until you finish what you started. If you do aquaplane, try remain calm and just keep upright.
Be extra careful when it rains after many dry days. The oil, dirt and grime left on the road makes it extra slippery. You’ll have to be particularly weary of rainbow coloured trails of liquid which could be diesel or other oils that have been spilled. One part of the road in particular to watch out for this is towards the outside of corners, if someone leaves their petrol flap open, going around a corner would cause the liquid to splash out of the filler hole and spray out onto the outside of the corner.
Inevitably you will at some point experience a loss of grip when riding in the wet. Always remember the following!! The bike always wants to remain upright, even in a slide. It will correct itself once you gain even a small amount of grip. This is why sometimes you see motorcycles on the racetrack furiously flick a rider off during a highside and then continue to correct itself and run off down the road until it loses momentum and falls over. Your job is to stay light on the handlebars, let the bike always correct itself, look where you want to go at all times and try your best to keep yourself upright, if you try keep yourself upright, the bike will too.
Brake very gently and in a controlled manner. Never ever grab at the brakes! If you have a habit of doing it in the dry, you’ll do it in the wet. The front end will wash out in the blink of an eye. The rear is more forgiving. I often hear people say they never ever use their back brake. This is foolish and utterly ridiculous if you want to be a decent rider. Brake 50/50 to begin with when slowing down in the rain.This maintains an even balance of weight and prevents the front from overloading. If you have braked early, and calmly, you may be able to get away with easing off the front and braking on the rear when coming to a stop. The rear tyre locking up is a lot less risky and more controllable than the front giving out. If however you must brake hard on the front, move your body forwards and ease on the brake pressure. The more weight you apply to a given tyre, the more grip it will have and the less likely it is to slip out.
Final quickfire tips
- Accelerate gradually.
- Brake gently and get progressively harder.
- It isn’t a bad idea to drag the front and rear brakes for a few seconds every once in a while, this keeps the discs and pads warm and will give a quicker response when you need to brake.
- Try wear decent riding gear, waterproof. You want minimal distractions when riding in the rain, sometimes water dripping off your helmet and down your neck is similar to someone putting ice cubes down your top.
- Don’t be afraid to move your body off the bike a bit when cornering, the more off the bike you are, the less it has to lean, which ensures you have some decent contact patch on both tyres.
- If it’s shiny, it’s slippery.