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 one reason or another? Are you ready? Can you handle it? How can you prepare for when that happens?
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 many of my students face. One of the reasons I don’t mind teaching the basic level or really any rider training in the rain is that it can be very beneficial. The students will end up learning so much more than when learning in clear and sunny weather. They learn right from the beginning that riding in the rain is possible and that they can control the bike.
So on that next rainy day, go find an empty parking lot, and get to work! 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 secondary roads where you will have some traffic interactions and be able to grow your comfort level.
Now 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 can you effectively practice?”.
Motorcycle Tires and Hydroplaning
Riders must realize that some of this comes down to our own fears and our state of mind and thus how we react to different situations. Understanding of vehicle dynamics can help. For instance, 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 likely 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 wears down, cars can hydroplane pretty easily. Think of the large flat surface of a flat-bottom boat which is designed to skim the surface, not cut through it. 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, a sharp right hand curve in a downhill, a blind decreasing radius turn, or even a low speed tight turn, their own mental state can cause them to be uneasy when encountering a similar situation.
Just hang in there and continue to work forward with practice. Remember, it isn’t practice alone, but practice of correct technique that will get you to “practice makes perfect”. Eventually you will get there even if it requires the skilled eyes of a coach or trainer 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 will not allow the you to make proper decisions and take corrective actions.
Of course dispelling fear isn’t as easy as just trying not to be afraid. What will help reduce and hopefully eliminate fear is understanding. The more you understand how your motorcycle will react in reduced traction situations like rain, the better prepared you can be mentally for the situation. Now instead of imagining how you might lose traction and crash, you can envision what steps you need to take to ensure you don’t. Having that understanding removes that fear that comes from the unknown.
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 modern motorcycle (and tires) will offer more traction than most of us can use, even in the rain! You need to trust your tires. Try using your brakes incrementally stronger 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 in small increments, and only with the bike upright. You can test the rear brake to various degrees as well as perform acceleration tests to investigate the limits of available wet traction (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 available. Proper tire tread depth and tire compounds are also 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 when you are out on the road and it’s raining to not let driver (or riders) behind you “push” you out of your comfort zone in conditions that might become dangerous. Better to be slow and safe than risk your hide and ride to appease the person behind me by speeding up.
-David M. Beyer