New Zealand doesn’t have one climate, it has many. So not only is the weather generally changeable at this time of year, there can be massive differences from the country’s top to bottom, east to west and sea level to the high country. This means a journey can start out in mellow sunshine and end up in snow.
Coping with these variations is the key to riding in Autumn. It requires a shift in mindset when it comes to how you prepare, what you wear and how you ride.
If you’re digging out riding kit that hasn’t been used all summer, check it over carefully. Look at the seams and zips on clothing for corrosion or degradation. Waterproofs might need a once-over with water repellant spray.
Leave the tinted visor at home. With varying light levels and early dusk, you can’t beat the flexibility of sunnies (preferably polarised to cut through glare) under a clear or yellow-tint visor. A pinlock visor, breath guard or anti-mist spray will help in the cold and damp.
When giving your bike the usual pre-ride check pay particular attention to the tyre tread depth. The legal minimum is 1.5mm across the entire surface. Even close to this minimum is risky: on dry summer roads you might only risk a puncture, on wet roads, grip will be reduced and the chance of aquaplaning is much higher.
If you’re likely to use heated grips, seat or clothing, check the battery for fluid and charge levels. An overnight trickle charge is a good idea.
Dress for success
With temperatures not yet down to winter lows, and nothing severe in the forecast, you can probably get away with just one extra layer versus summer.
If you know the weather could get wet or cold you’ll want the complete kit: proper waterproof suit (with hip, knee, elbow, shoulder and back protection), boots and gloves. Stow something extra in case you do feel the cold. Even a fleece throat tube can make a difference.
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Pace, positioning and positive thinking
There’s a lot to think about when riding in poor conditions. Wet roads change the game. Lower temperatures and a lower sun angle can leave damp patches even when the sun does come out. Sections of road surface that offer ample grip in the dry can be very slippery when wet.
The trouble is, thinking about all this can be a double-edged sword. If you accept it, slow down a bit to give yourself extra time and an extra margin of safety, then relax into it, that’s a good thing. But if you tense up and become target fixated on surface imperfections, it can be very bad indeed.
So remember the mantra: Pace, Position, Positive Thinking Pace:
Reduce it, particularly on corners and most particularly on corner entry. You’ll also need to reduce the pace at which you apply inputs - acceleration, braking, steering. Ultimately, you may still be able to apply full throttle, brakes and steering in places, but the speed at which you build up those forces will be less. It’s smoothness, in essence: building up the force gradually rather than suddenly. It’s important in the dry and essential in the wet.
Don’t be a slave to a line or road positioning you use in summer if it includes painted markings, overbanding or polished smooth tarmac. All might be fine on a scorching summer’s day but extremely slippery in the wet. Compromise your road position or your line slightly if you can roll your wheels over a more grippy surface, and adapt your pace to suit.
Worrying about grip is negative thinking. You can end up focussing on the road surface immediately ahead, gripping the bars and tensing your upper body. As a result, you will be less aware of what’s happening ahead and less sensitive on the controls. You need to reverse this process with positive thinking. If your tyres are in good condition and you ride smoothly, there’s almost always plenty of grip available. Focus on the fact that your tyres are not sliding rather than the risk that they might. How often have you worried about leaning too far or braking too hard but everything turned out fine? Trust your bike and your tyres, ride within yourself and enjoy the ride.