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Riding motorbikes in wet weather – a quick guide
There’s nothing better than getting your motorbike out on a sunny day, blasting off down the road and just riding. The destination isn’t that important, what matters is the journey! When the sun is shining, there’s no feeling in the world quite as liberating or as enjoyable as riding through the countryside with the wind in your hair.
But how about when the sun dips behind a cloud, or you have to ride all year round to get to work? Riding a motorbike in wet weather isn’t as daunting as it may sound. With a little bit of preparation, you may even get to enjoy it!
Why ride in the wet?
To become a better, all-round rider, you need to keep improving your skills. In the UK, we’re more likely to be heading out when it’s raining. So learning to ride confidently and safely in wet weather is a must. Even if you set off in bright sunshine, the fickle British weather can mean that you end up riding into a damp patch. If you’re not confident or experienced in riding in wet weather, you can’t simply leave the bike at the side of the road and walk home. Instead, you’ll need to know how to cope with the changing road conditions if you want to reach your destination safely.
If you’re a new rider or even an experienced rider that just hates riding in the wet, here’s a quick guide to help you cope with wet weather riding.
Check the bike
You should be doing weekly (and even pre-ride) checks. If you know you’re going to be riding in wet weather, there are a few important steps you need to consider. Bikes do behave differently in wet conditions but don’t worry, it’s not as dramatic as you might think.
New tyres have deep grooves cut into the rubber. This helps to displace the water as you’re riding and give you a better contact patch with the road. Even in dry conditions, your contact patch with the road is approximately the size of a credit card. So you can understand how important it is to make sure that contact patch in wet conditions is as good as it can be.
- Check the condition of your tyres if you’re going to be riding regularly in wet weather.
- Ensure that you keep a very close eye on your tread depth. This maximises the amount of water dispersal, and give you better contact with the road surface.
- Also, make sure that your tyres are inflated to the correct pressure. Under-inflated tyres won’t give you any additional grip on the road (and will wear faster). Over-inflated tyres will reduce the amount of grip you have.
Wet weather will, inevitably, reduce the efficiency of your brakes. Give yourself additional space and braking time (remember to at least double your usual two-second gap between yourself and the vehicle in front to allow for the conditions).
Normally when riding a motorcycle in the dry, we tend to rely more on the front brake for stopping than the rear. In wet weather ‘grabbing a handful’ of front brake could easily cause the front of the bike to twist and skid. In wet weather, balance your braking evenly between your rear and your front brake, applying the rear brake marginally earlier than your front, and squeezing both gently. Harsh braking in wet conditions is definitely not recommended!
Motorcycle electrics are exposed to the elements, and in wet weather can be adversely affected, especially by torrential rain or surface water. If you are riding all year round, silicone wrap may help to keep water off the most sensitive electronics.
In wet weather, visibility is reduced considerably. Not only does the water on windscreens reduce the amount car drivers can see, but even raindrops on car wing mirrors can almost obscure the view of other vehicles the driver has. To counter this, ride with your headlight on in wet conditions so you can be seen by other vehicles.
Wet conditions mean that the road surface can have additional hazards such as standing water. This can cause aquaplaning – when a layer of water between the road surface and the tyre causes the vehicle to lose traction. You will need to adapt your riding style to the conditions, and the most important thing to do is to slow down. You don’t need to crawl along at 5mph, but a small drop in speed will give you more time to react to the changing conditions.
What to wear
To help other drivers see you in wet conditions, a ‘Sam Brown’ Hi-Viz belt or jacket will increase your visibility. Don’t forget your own comfort, either. Firstly, if you’re wet and cold you won’t be able to concentrate properly on the road. Make sure you have adequate waterproof clothing to keep you as dry as possible. If you’re riding all year round, a set of handlebar ‘mits’ will help to protect your hands against the weather. That means you will always have full control of the vehicle. If you’re planning on riding in the coldest conditions then consider heated gloves or grips to keep your hands warm.
Unfortunately, the Holy Grail of a 100% waterproof pair of boots hasn’t been achieved yet (despite what some manufacturers may say!) An old dispatch rider’s trick of popping plastic bags around your feet before you put your boots on may help your feet stay a little bit drier!
Visibility – keeping your visor clear
Visors can quickly mist up during wet weather, so either invest in some rain repellent spray or keep your visor open just a crack at the bottom to reduce any fogging. The clearer you can keep your visor, the better.
Trust the bike!
Motorcycles are just as stable in wet conditions as they are in the dry, as long as you adjust your riding technique and ride according to the conditions. As you get more ‘wet miles’ under your belt you’ll become more confident of riding in more challenging conditions. Remember – where you look is where the bike will go. Always look well ahead and read the road conditions as far in advance as you can.
Road conditions – what could be a hazard?
One of the biggest hazards to motorcyclists in the wet is the road itself. Puddles may be hiding deep potholes that can be potentially dangerous to motorcyclists. Take care when approaching them, especially if they’re close to the edge of the road. Road markings (white lines) become incredibly slippery when wet. Cat’s eyes in the middle of the road can also be treacherous in the rain. In very cold conditions be aware that shiny patches on the road could easily be ‘black ice’. Watch out for wet leaves in the autumn, too, as these can be far more slippery than you think.
When to say no and leave the bike at home
Finally, if road conditions really are that bad, consider if your journey is really necessary. If you do have to go out, think about an alternative form of transport. There are times when riding a motorcycle in the rain stops being fun, so leave it in the garage until the sun comes back out!