Riding in the Rain
I often find that many people have a fear of riding in the rain. What would you do if you are caught out in the rain while riding or are forced to ride through rain for any one of many reasons? Are you ready, Can you handle it, how can you prepare for the day when that occurs?
This may sound funny, but if you want to be ready for a given situation you need to practice. I find when teaching that riding in the rain is one of a rider's biggest fears that many of my students face. One of the reasons I don't mind teaching the basic level or for that matter any rider training in the rain is that it can help the students out so much more than when learning in sunny weather. They learn right from the beginning that riding in the rain is possible and that they can control the bike. So find that parking lot, and get to work! (On a rainy day of course!) When you first start to practice in the lot there should be little to no traffic but it will still help you build your confidence. As you get more comfortable, work up to residential areas where you will have some traffic interactions and be able to grow your comfort level.
Now I have a good idea of what you may be thinking: "Yeah, sure, but the feeling I have is that wet surfaces don't give me any warning of traction feel or conditions, one moment you've got grip, the next it's gone. How then, can you practice ...?"
You must realize that some of this comes down to our own fears and our state of mind in how we react to different situations. Understanding of vehicle dynamics can help. Cars can hydroplane much more easily than a bike with good tires. The rounded profile and carefully designed tread patterns on modern motorcycle tires really limit hydroplaning. They are shaped such that the design can allow them to cut through the water like a V-bottom boat - you would be down very quickly if they didn't. Car tires with lots of the right kind of tread will resist hydroplaning, but as the tread gets worn, cars can hydroplane pretty easily as the large flat surface acts like that flat bottom boat that is designed to skim the surface and not cut the surface. Being on the verge of hydroplaning creates the feeling that the vehicle isn't "planted" anymore whether in a car or on your bike. When this phenomenon happens, fear can once again rear its ugly head.
You can ask just about anyone that has crashed on a motorcycle about fear. Whatever caused them to go down, sharp right hand curve in a downhill, decreasing radius turns, even low speed tight turns etc., their own mental state will cause them to be uneasy for a while each time when encountering a similar situation. Just hang in there and continue to work forward with practice. Remember it is no0t practice alone as practice makes permanent, we need to practice correct technique as only perfect practice, makes perfect and eventually you will get there even if it requires the skilled eyes of another to help you on this path.
First and foremost you have to get past the mental aspect and fear in order to have the confidence to move forward. If not fear will control you as it takes over your brain and does not allow the rider to make proper decisions and take corrective actions. I ride in the dirt as well as on the street and it can be firm, loose, slippery etc. You have to ride the bike, look ahead, think of what you want to do and do it all without the worry or fear of what “Might Happen”. If you are scared actions have changed you may not be doing many of the things that are required for safe controlled operation of the motorcycle.
Typically a bike will hold traction much better than most of us can ride it, even in the rain! You need to trust your tires. Try using your brakes in degrees when it's wet to test how much traction you have available, and work up to more and more in a safe environment. Keep in mind that your mental state can be your worst enemy. You should be relaxed and be as gentle as possible on the throttle and brakes. Trust is a learned behavior so if you acquire some experience with the available traction in the wet then your trust of your tires (and your bike) as well as your skills will improve.
When riding in the wet, explore available traction with in small increments, and only with the bike straight upright. You can test the rear brake to various degrees as well as perform acceleration tests to investigate the limits of wet traction you have (in a controlled environment of course). I was impressed one time when I was able to loft the front wheel in the wet, not that I was trying... but it's just a testament to the grip of good tires these days. Of course I have spun up the rear as well when assessing traction in the wet, but this is all part of the learning experience. This is one way in which you will build confidence in how much traction is there. Good tire tread depth and tire compounds can also be a major factor for those of us who ride in the rain!
Other than working with some trainers and performing some practice there is not much else I can advise you to do. Keep in mind though when you are out on the road and it's raining, don't let the drivers behind you "push" you out of your comfort zone it conditions that might become dangerous. I'd rather be slow and safe than appease the person behind me by speeding up.
Please feel free to share these thoughts with your friends!
-David M. Beyer
Be prepared for the Ride, Rain Gear
David, those are great suggestions and I would like to add this about preparation. I would like to suggest that if you know that there is a good chance you will be riding in the rain or if in fact you're planning on riding in the rain, appropriate riding gear is very important. The extra attention required for riding in rainy conditions doesn't need to be competing with concerns of getting soaked at the same time. When you add wet skin to the wind blast of motorcycle riding you can get cold very fast. When your body gets cold your muscles don't want to react as easily or as smoothly as they would otherwise. Since smooth and careful movement of the bike's controls are even more important in rainy conditions, being able to stay warm and dry when wet weather riding can be as important as the skills practice itself.
Now there are plenty of excellent choices in wet weather gear these days made from many types of high tech, breathable fabrics that can keep you dry when the clouds let loose. With all this gear available there is little excuse for letting yourself get water-logged when out on your bike. If you're more concerned about just keeping dry on the occasional rain event, many manufacturers offer rain suits that can fit over your current gear that will keep you dry when the situation calls for it. Frogg Toggs, for instance, makes a variety of rain suits designed for motorcycling with features including high visibility and/or reflective materials for improving your visibility in rainy conditions.
Whatever route you choose to go, staying warm and dry will definitely improve your chances of staying safe when riding in wet conditions.