Let it rain
Some riders loathe riding in the wet and will do anything to avoid it. But it can be a great riding experience, offering a challenge and a valuable way to hone your skills.
Are you a duck or a chicken? Ducks love the wet, chickens not so much. So if you want to be a fully-fledged duck, what do you have to do?
The starting point is attitude. Many will simply cancel their ride if the weather is going to be wet. But that’s really limiting. What if you want to go away on a trip? The weather can change, forecasts can be wrong, so being comfortable riding wet roads–even relishing it–can really boost how much you get out of your riding.
We’ll come to the specific skills that play a part in acquiring that attitude shortly, but the first step is clothing and accessories. Riding in the wet is different, and what can turn a lot of people off it is getting wet themselves. As in actually getting soaked where the water comes through to your clothes or skin. This will make you uncomfortable (and possibly cold), which plays havoc with your control. This can knock your confidence and set off a negative spiral.
So how to keep dry? A good contribution can come for the bike itself and a few accessories. A full fairing will really help, smaller fairings somewhat less. Then there are accessories like handlebar muffs and brush guards which can keep water off your gloves, helping your feel for the controls.
When it’s wet it’s often cold, and heat gets sucked away quicker when gloves or clothing are wet. Things like heated grips can make a big difference, and so can heated gear plumbed into the bike.
The next thing to concentrate on is clothing. It should be waterproof, obviously, but there’s a huge difference between the good stuff, which is waterproof, and the others, which aren’t.
As ever, MotoCAP is your friend here, testing water resistance as well as breathability on jackets, pants and gloves. If your current gear is poor, invest in something that works. And layering is key. Sometimes it can be wet but humid and sweaty, other times bitter cold. So have at least two layers on under your outer clothing to adapt to the temperature. Undergloves are a good tip too.
Waterproof boots are a must. MotoCAP is possibly going to review them but in the meantime rely on the reputable bike magazines and your dealer’s advice.
When it comes to helmets, many riders neglect or don’t know how to optimise them for wet-weather riding. Number one tip is a pinlock visor. It makes all the difference in the world, effectively preventing the visor misting up, so make that a priority.
Also, make sure the chin vent is open along with the top exit vent. Two other things that might have come with your helmet and have lain in the bottom of a cupboard ever since are a breath guard and chin curtain. Definitely use the breath guard and see how you get on with the chin curtain. The latter will keep you warmer and it can help visor misting, though some people find it does the opposite.
Finally, give your visor a good clean and finish with a spray of polish and a wipe on the outside–it will help bead away the water.
You’ll undoubtedly have been told to ride smoothly in the wet. But what does smooth mean? It doesn’t necessarily mean gentle and it definitely shouldn’t result in nervousness.
Instead, smoothness is about steady, progressive build-up of force rather than sudden or snatchy inputs. This allows the rider to feel for the limit much more safety and surely, as its approach is relatively slow giving the rider time to smoothly reduce the force. Braking, cornering, application of throttle: each is approached in the same way.
One of the most important things to focus on in wet-weather riding is one of the easiest to lose sight of: being relaxed. It’s essential to riding in the dry but its importance is heightened in the wet, in part because it makes us more vulnerable to anxiety.
When you get anxious or nervous on the bike, inevitably you become more physically tense. You stiffen up and this has at least two bad effects.
One is that your inputs begin to fight one another. Take turning in, for example. You can find the side of your body that should be entirely relaxed and accommodating to the inputs from the other side is stiff and resistant.
Or in braking, rather than holding the bars gently and squeezing with your right hand you end up gripping the bars, putting in tiny but unwanted inputs that make it harder to get a real feel for grip.
This nervousness and associated tension can also manifest itself in riders failing to move their upper body around freely when cornering. Again, this is counterproductive. Instead, maintain that free-flowing ability to move your upper body down and into the inside on a corner. That way you’ll keep the bike more upright on the fatter part of the tyre and have more grip available.
You’ll learn and practice all those things on any Ride Forever course, but applying them in the wet is more important than ever. It’s why many of our instructors encourage riders to do the course on a wet day. You can learn even more.
With less grip available, and possibly reduced vision and visibility, your ability to read things and react accordingly takes on even greater importance.
Negotiating intersections, for example, comes with even more challenges. Painted road markings that become much more slippery when wet, oil drips where cars have sat idling, increased braking distances–these are some of the factors you’ll have to deal with.
Luckily there’s one simple way to make it all easier: slow down. Be very cautious at intersections. Ride confidently and use road positioning properly to increase your presence on the road but be sure to knock off speed.
Roundabouts are exactly the same, they can reveal themselves as especially slippery in the wet, and they often have adverse camber making things worse, so slow right down.
Talking of positioning, getting it right in the wet becomes even more of a challenge. Things like wet road paint, tar snakes, standing water, fallen leaves and manhole covers can be extremely slippery. Positioning is often a compromise between vision and visibility on the one hand and road hazards on the other. In the wet, you may want err more on the side of seeking grip.
Even on the open road, stay alert for the potential differences in grip between one part of the road than the other. If you can take a dry or drier line, do so. And if you do have to ride over anything potentially slippery, slow down smoothly before it, then ride over it as upright as possible. Stay totally relaxed and do not put in any inputs.
Knowing what to do in wet riding is one thing, but nothing beats putting it into practice under the guidance of an expert. So book yourself in for some Ride Forever coaching. And make it on a wet day.