How to ride safely in the wet
29 November 2006 17:05
Why would I want to ride in the wet?
Because it can improve your skills in the dry – and because whether you like it or not, even the sunniest weather can change for the worse when you’re miles from home. Wet roads require a greater level of skill to deal with than dry roads – and any lack of ability will be exposed more ruthlessly. So if you can learn to ride confidently in the rain, you’ll be a much better rider all round. In fact, next time it’s raining, stick on the waterproofs and go put the drills outlined on this page into practice.
It’s all in your head
Riding in the wet, with the reduced grip on offer, is a big mental challenge as much as a physical one. But with practice and experience, we can gain a confident feel for a bike’s capabilities, just as we do in the dry.
Sure the bike will twitch a bit over lines, metal covers and tar banding, but bikes rarely crash themselves. If you are able to stay relaxed with your eyes and the bike pointed and driving gently in the right direction, things will probably sort themselves out. It’s not always possible to suss every tyre-taxing situation in advance, but if you monitor the state of corners before you get there and pick a smooth, clean line through, you’ll find it’s easier to keep things sunny side up.
Riders having a particularly nervy time will sometimes retreat into their own helmets, thinking nice thoughts of home and a warm bunk-up – just when maximum concentration is most needed. This is a classic sign of mental fatigue. So if your mind is constantly wandering, then it’s safer to stop and have a cuppa until you’re ready to remount with a clear head.
I can see clearly now...
If you can’t see clearly, you are bound to ride nervously. So make regular stops to clean your visor (and give your lights a quick wipe so others can pick you out of the gloom). Visor treatments or Fog City inserts will reduce visor misting, but so will simply breathing through your nose rather than your mouth. If you find this difficult, then you are either scared, have a cold or have just had to pick your bike up. In the first instance slow down, in the second seek the advice of a chemist, and in the third read this page carefully and it won’t happen in the wet again.
1. The key to getting power down without spinning the back wheel is transferring weight and load progressively on to the bike’s rear tyre. Gently does it in corners, feeding in power as the bike comes upright. Once fully stood up, it’s possible to put larger amounts of shunt down – if you open the throttle smoothly and don’t snatch at it.comes upright. Once fully stood up, it’s possible to put larger amounts of shunt down – if you open the throttle smoothly and don’t snatch at it.
2. Concentrating on the finesse of wet riding is made more difficult when you’re cold and wet. So make sure you’re properly equipped. Get a pair of waterproof gloves and make sure that the cuffs on your jacket are wide enough to go over the top of the wrist section of your gloves, so water doesn’t run down into them, soaking your hands.on your jacket are wide enough to go over the top of the wrist section of your gloves, so water doesn’t run down into them, soaking your hands.
3. Fear induces tension; tension leads to jerky riding. As wet weather riding is all about smoothness, this downward spiral must be broken. But first it must be recognised. Monitor yourself – are you breathing hard and misting your visor? How is your heart rate? Do your forearms and hands ache? These are the classic signs of tension.
4. The first step to reducing tension is to slow down to a speed at which you’re entirely comfortable. Take some deep breaths through the nose, roll your head around and flap your elbows to and fro, like a damp chicken. Once you are relaxed, with the mental space to work on refining your smoothness, it’s possible to build speed.
5. As in the dry, it’s important to look well ahead. Staring just ahead of the front wheel is useless – by the time you can react to anything, you’re past it. So check out the road for potentially slippery hazards as far ahead as vision allows. Watch especially for the telltale rainbow of spilled diesel – doubly lethal in the wet.
6. By shifting your weight on the saddle to the inside of a corner, or simply sticking out a knee, you will need to lean the bike less for a given speed. Craning your upper bodyweight into the corner will do the same. If you want to shift your backside around, then get in position before the corner so you’re not destabilising the bike mid-bend.
7. As riders become more experienced, a feel for what’s happening at the tyre develops. It takes confidence and a lot of sensitivity to start exploring the limits of grip. Pushing the front is not recommended, so keep the load on the rear tyre by gentle acceleration. Placing the balls of your feet on the pegs’ ends gives added feedback and mobility.
8. Smooth gear changes minimise wheelspin, so be gentle with the throttle when shifting. Clutchless up-changes, dipping the throttle as you change and bringing the power back in progressively are best. On down-changes, blipping the throttle (raising revs briefly before the clutch is let out) to match engine revs with wheel speed stops rear lock-ups.
9. Just as with putting power down at the back, using the stoppers requires weight to be transferred onto the working (front) tyre before power can be built up. A snatch at the lever will cause the wheel to break away, but apply pressure gradually and a surprising amount of brake can be applied without the front locking up.
10. Mid-bend slip hazards are multiplied in severity by rain, so do all your braking upright and enter corners cautiously, looking through the bend and assessing conditions to deduce the best line. Go in slowly and the bike can be picked up and accelerated earlier – you’ll make up most of the time you lose to lower corner speed.
11. Bikes feel at their most composed when some power is going through to the wheel, keeping geometry stable, so try to keep the bike balanced in corners by gently ‘driving’ it through. Although you may want to ride a gear higher than usual in the wet, try to stay in a responsive cog so there is always drive there when you want it.
12. Your stopping distance will increase dramatically on a wet road surface so create more space between you and traffic in front. Extra caution is needed at junctions, as drivers’ vision will be obscured with rain and spray, so ride with lights on and move around in your lane a bit to give them a better chance of spotting you.