Riding in the rain

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Many riders don't ride when it's raining, and that's all right. But just because the road is wet doesn't mean you have to stay home, or take the dreaded car to work. This piece will show some of the key tools that will allow you to survive when the weather isn't perfect.

Learning to ride in the rain is just like learning to ride. It just takes a little time to get accustomed to it. A lot of the traction 'lost' in the rain is actually psychological. Commuters (who get stuck in the rain regularly) are usually quite comfortable in the wet.

Things to definitely watch out for:

  • Greatly increased stopping distance
  • Road oils rising to surface when rain first starts
  • Manhole covers, painted lines, steel grates and railroad tracks
  • Reduced visibility (for you and other vehicles)
  • Hypothermia (cold weather and/or long trips)
  • Puddles: in the slow lanes (near the gutters) and elsewhere (can hide potholes)

Other stuff:

  • Replace your tires in a timely manner (rain or no rain)
  • Get some Rain gear
  • See these articles for helmet-related rain tips:
Helmet Hints & Tips
Defogging the visor

Pick a rainy Saturday and go to an empty parking lot. Practice turning, leaning, and (very) slow (rear wheel) skids.

Bike control inputs

The most important part of wet weather riding survival is paying close attention to what you're doing, so you can eliminate sudden increases in load transferred to the tire's contact patches. To aid this, be very smooth and seamless:

  • Going on the throttle
  • Coming off the throttle
  • First applying the brakes
  • Letting off the brakes
  • Steering inputs
  • Body movements
  • Shifting
  • Clutch release
  • Lane changes

Avoid a “death grip” on the bars, keeping your hands consciously loose and relaxed at all times. Think of your grips as if you’re holding a marshmallow.

While Cornering:

  • Support 90% of your weight with your legs (your butt should be just skimming the seat) via your feet on the footpegs. Done properly, a day of riding hard in the rain will leave your thigh muscles aching the next day.
  • Focus on keeping your feet and ankles locked into the bike at the pegs as the primary contact point for rider-to-bike connectivity and control.
  • Consciously maintain tight "pulling inward" pressure on the inside of the thigh area of your outside leg. Tuck it firmly against the bike, for slide prevention and control.

Bike and body positioning

Keep the bike as vertical as possible while cornering. Use less bike lean angle by getting your body position shifted an exaggerated amount off the inside for turns. Only do this if you already know how in the dry. Practice. Despite some body shifting off the bike, keep your shoulders square with the handlebars while making steering inputs.

Position your inside shoulder low and pointed to the inside of the turn, stretching forward and inward towards the desired target for corner exit. Consciously position your outside forearm and elbow up high ("Ben Spies style") for better steering control during cornering.

Ben Spies Sears Point 2005.jpg

Again, get comfortable with this, so you know how to do it when you need to.

Tightly lock your ankles and heels to the heel guards, frame, or chassis of the bike, to provide a low center-of-gravity bike contact point for controlling tire slippage.

Steering

Use extremely subtle steering inputs at the handlebars, done very smoothly and gradually. No "quick-flick" countersteering. Make steering inputs through the bars in more of a “tricycle” steering fashion, easing the front wheel to become pointed in the desired direction of the turn.

Bike operation

Keep the bike in whatever gear will allow the motor to work at an rpm that provides the most even and linear delivery of power to the rear wheel. No bogging the engine, no quick revving. This provides more linear throttle control, for improved throttle steering and front/rear weight distribution control.

Minimize shifting while riding contiguous corners. Use smooth roll up and roll down, keeping the engine in its sweet spot and minimizing instantaneous tire loading.

Braking

Do all actual slowing-down braking while the bike is straight up and down (no trail braking).

Be 100% off the front brake before turning into corners.

Intermittently lightly drag your brakes to clear water and keep some heat in them, to be at the ready.

Moderate rear brake can be utilized in the rain. This complements the overall smooth braking process.

Brake enough to reduce your speed to below your desired cornering mph before entering turns. This allows for light maintenance throttle without exceeding your target speed.

To calibrate the rider’s brain for current traction limits, you can occasionally test for traction levels using a deliberately increased level of rear brake pressure. Do this while the bike is straight up and down in a safe area until you just break tire/pavement contact, then immediately release the rear brake. Do not do this with the front brake, and do not do this unless you have some dry parking lot experience and know the traction limits of your bike already.

Throttle

Be SMOOTH.

Maintain a light maintenance throttle roll-on all the way through turns. This prevents overloading the front tire. Never chop or reduce your throttle position once committed into a turn. If a need to slightly reduce speed once in a corner does arise, don't reduce the existing light maintenance throttle. Instead, use a subtle ease-on/ease-off application of the rear brake to adjust your pace. This is the smoothest method to decrease speed, and the one which will least affect the front/rear weight transfer.

If the bike starts to lose traction by pushing the front tire, apply a slight increase in throttle (a light roll-on) to help transfer some of the suspension load to the rear tire. However, the whole point of this article is to use good riding technique so you don't get to this point. If the front tire slips, there's a very good chance that you're going to crash.

Line selection

Look far enough ahead to put the bike on a path that avoids passing over these poor-traction zones:

  • Painted road markings: centerlines, arrows, outside edge marking, etc...
  • Metal grates or manhole covers
  • Tar snakes
  • Pavement seams/bumps/patches

If crossing over any of the above is unavoidable:

  • Do so with the bike as vertical as possible.
  • Don’t touch the brakes until past the obstacle.
  • Stay loose on the bike and controls.
  • Maintain a smooth maintenance throttle; don't accelerate or decelerate.
  • Look ahead past the obstacle to where you want to go. Don't fixate on the obstacle, as you tend to go where you look.

If crossing railroad tracks, do so at as close to a 90 degree angle as possible.

Regularly scan well ahead to identify road obstacles (such as rocks, branches, or wet leaves) early enough to have time to adjust accordingly. Also scan road surfaces just ahead of you for previously undetected “gotchas”.

Never fight physics. Immediately upon sensing the slightest of tire slippage while cornering, give physics what it wants by allowing the bike's line to drift slightly outward - just enough for that extra energy to release. The moment the tire regains grip, return to focusing on keeping the bike on a slightly adjusted version of the original target line.

Bike setup

Raise tire pressures 2-3 psi from normal dry weather 'cold' settings. Rain splashing on the tires will usually keep the tires cooler than on dry days. Increasing the tire pressure will result in approximately the same tire pressure while riding, since the tires won't heat up as well. This optimizes contact patch-to-rider feedback, improves rider control, and maximizes water dispersion from tread sipes.

If you have a bike that has suspension settings, soften them up: Decrease compression damping and consider decreasing spring preload.

If it hasn't rained in a while

Be careful the first time it rains after a dry spell. Oil will come up out of the road surface, especially in the middle of the lane and more especially at corners. This makes not only for slick conditions for the tires, but also for your boots when you come to a stop.

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