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Changing up: wet roads

After a long dry spell there’s a change in the air. Autumn usually brings more rainfall and the transition from dry roads to wet can be particularly challenging. So here are some top tips on how to ride safely, confidently, and enjoyably through the change of season.

When the roads get wet grip levels reduce, but not evenly. In the transition from a long dry period to more rainfall the roads can become particularly slick and greasy. Reason being, the road surface hasn’t been ‘cleaned’ by heavy rainfall for a long time. Oil, diesel, rubber dust and other contaminants seep into the surface over the dry months. When it’s dry you don’t notice any reduction in grip, unless it’s a fresh patch of diesel.

But once it starts to properly rain it flushes these nasties out, giving the road surface a slippery coating. It can take a prolonged period of heavy rain to get it all out and sweep it away. So if you’re riding in the first decent rain in a while be especially cautious.

Regular Hazards

Summer rain usually dries out real fast. But that’s not the case as temperatures drop. Look out for damp or wet patches that the low, weak sun hasn’t managed to dry out.

Grip is rarely even, with some surfaces offering heaps more than others. Avoid shiny patches where you can and try to stay on well-surfaced areas. Using your positioning to put your precious contact patches on the best bit of road available to you all the time is just good riding.

Also, painted road markings and metal man-hole covers that you didn’t think twice about in the dry can now cause a skid or wheel-spin. Give yourself room for error. And, wherever possible, change your line to avoid areas of reduced grip.

Even after the rain has stopped, on roads amongst trees the surface remains compromised for a long time, as it takes a long time for leaf litter to dry out or blow away. Sometimes heavy rain even washes grit onto the road too, which stays there long after the rain stops.

Keep it smooth

Riding in the wet can be a great teacher, especially when it comes to smoothness. It’s always good to regulate your inputs i.e. braking, accelerating, decelerating. Traction is compromised by excessive braking, acceleration and deceleration, but especially so when the road is wet and slippery.

Being smooth on the bike isn’t about being slow or timid. It’s about ensuring the inputs you make and the forces you build are progressive. A prime example is braking. In the dry, bad riders can often get away with snatching at the front brake and ‘giving it a handful’. Try that in the wet and you’ll be on the ground so fast it will make your head spin.

Wet roads and reduced grip mean you need to build up the braking force smoothly and progressively. And because you won’t be able to generate quite as much braking force with the powerful front brakes you’ll be able to spread a little more to the back. The more slippery it gets, the more you’ll favour the rear because if and when it skids the consequences are a lot easier to manage.

As with the brakes, so it should be for other inputs like steering. Building force progressively allows you to feel for the limits and hold back a fraction if necessary. Any body movement should be super-smooth too, and it’s a great way to practice keeping your weight off the bars and your grip feather-light. Lock onto the bike with your knees.

Bike tips

Preparing your bike correctly can make a big difference to riding in the wet. Make sure the tyres have plenty of tread, no damage, and are correctly inflated. If they’re in need of replacement, think about something optimised for cooler temperatures and wet weather performance: the difference in confidence they can give you is worth every cent.

Suspension can make a difference too. If you search our articles you’ll find plenty of tips and links to help you set up sag, preload and damping. You may want to set the suspension just a tad softer because you won’t be pushing it so hard and it will give you better feedback and grip in cold, wet conditions.

Finally, make sure your bike’s electrics are 100%. Batteries can perform less well at low temperatures, and wet conditions can expose weaknesses in connections and insulation. Invest in a battery charger if your bike will be laid up for longish periods, and think about getting an auto electrician to give everything the once-over.

Riding in the wet can be challenging, but like anything that’s tough to master, when it goes right it’s all the sweeter. Have fun and stay shiny side up.