Riding in the rain can often diminish the joy of the occasion. Slippery road surfaces and raindrops down the back of the neck can be less than enjoyable, so our special correspondent looks at a few hints and tips for wet weather riding.
Q. What's the biggest problem of riding in heavy rain?
A. To keep yourself dry
When you have a wind-stopper collar around your neck and it is half under the collar of your jacket it will get wet and it will transport water to what you wear beneath your jacket. Water can enter your gloves from your sleeves, or, when your trousers are too short, it can enter your boots. And an even more depressing thought, getting soaked if your kit isn't waterproof and you forgot to bring along your rain gear. There is not much you can do about it, apart from trying not to forget to bring your rain suit along, to re-proof your gear and checking the length of your trousers when you buy a new pair, and by checking the cuffs of the sleeves to see whether they have storm-cuffs and how they will prevent the rain from getting into your gloves and making your life miserable.
During the winter, you will often wear a kit that is warm as well as waterproof. During the summer we often wear something which is not waterproof; a leather suit for instance and in such a case, you should bring along a special rain over suit.
Wet tarmac is not by definition slippery. In principle, most of us ride how we ride on dry tarmac, because on the road you will probably not ask everything you could ask of your motorcycle and your tyres. Just take a look at MotoGP in the wet; they lean far more than most of us will ever reach under dry circumstances (but of course, their tyres are better as is the tarmac of the circuits). But, unfortunately there are also places and times when the tarmac is slippery when it rains.
The first rain following a long dry period.
If it has been dry for a long time, remember that the roads will be slippery during the first rain. Dirt and oil from tyres will have been deposited on the road and it takes some time before the rain will have washed this away. Especially on the approach to sets of traffic lights where there will almost always be (some) oil. When it has not been washed away, you'd better be careful when you brake and if you need to put your foot down when stationary. It can be pretty hairy when waiting to go through autoroute Peage in France due to this and can catch-out the unwary.
What you can't see
Another problem of a wet road in the rain is that you can't see what the road surface looks like.
When it's dry you can spot slippery looking places, but in the rain you can't make these out anymore.
These patches of bitumen are cheap "sticking plaster" repairs to tarmac which had surface cracks/fissures. You can see them in the form of black stripes, and when it rains they shine a bit but in heavy rain can become difficult to discern against the surrounding wet tarmac.
The big problem is that these bitumen stripes give no grip and can be very slippery in the wet. Sometimes tyres will really let go when they cross such a stripe and be warned this can happen when it's hot and dry too and the stripes are melting (I recall a guy just in front of me one hot summers day in Austria just coming out of a fast open left-hand bend at a safe speed for the road and the conditions. He steered to avoid a strip with his front tyre, but due to the radius of the corner his rear wheel, which naturally took a shorter line, tracked directly over the patch. The rear of the 'bike slipped-out and the laws of physics took over. The 'bike which was already canted over span and spat off both rider and pillion).
Other slippery spots
Other infamous spots are the paintwork on roads, white stripes and arrows etc, especially those made of plastic that are stuck on road surfaces as temporary fixes before the road-gang are detailed to go out and paint them properly; regularly seen at roadworks on A and M roads. You should try to prevent your 'bike crossing them in a corner. Painted white stripes in the UK are less slippery, but they are more slippery than plain wet tarmac. In France the paint on roads can be lethal to motorcyclists; in the damp and wet it can be akin to riding over black ice. So ride between the white blocks at pedestrian crossings where the tyres will get the grip of the tarmac
Work on the road
When traffic is guided to another part of the road because of work on the road, be prepared that white stripes may have been painted black temporarily (so you can't notice them).
Whoever has experienced it once in a car, aquaplaning, will want to know whether that can happen on motorcycle as well. Aquaplaning happens when there is so much water on the road that the tyres cannot guide it to the sides, which means that the tyre no longer has contact with the surface of the road, and the bike rides, as it were, on water.
Fortunately, the risk of a 'bike aquaplaning on a wet road is much less than for cars due to the tyres of motorcycles being round instead of flat, which means their capacity for moving water to the sides is much bigger.
But if you ever see the rpm rise quickly, you know that you should adjust your speed. And if you ever would consider broader tyres for your bike because you like the look of them, remember that the risk of aquaplaning is higher with broader tyres.
When your visor is not clean, it will have a bad influence on what you can see when it rains. Raindrops will stay separate drops instead of flue together to form a single film. All those raindrops work as a multitude of distorting lenses, and on top of that they spread out lights of cars or street lamps, so they will hinder your view tremendously. So keep your visor clean, and keep the surface polished. You can use a household spray polish with beeswax, but remember spray onto a cloth then wipe and polish. The propellants in the cans cause helmet and visor damage if the polish is special sprayed straight on and polished off, and car polishes generally have ingredients that damage visors. When you ride in the rain with a polished visor you can get rid of the raindrops simply by turning your head to the side, from time to time.
Don't be tempted, even for a moment to use RainX. Yes it's a great product on the glass of car windscreens but then ingredients include petrochemicals which attack and degrade plastics and will strip the anti-scratch coating from you visor faster than you can say "Darling, have you seen my keys?"
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