Updated: Jun 25, 2021
Doing the majority of my riding in the UK, I couldn't avoid wet weather or the bike would have rarely left the garage. Once you get used to the slight variations in technique, there really is nothing to be feared by riding in the wet. But the more you avoid it, the more that fear will rise inside you and when you're caught out it is very unfamiliar and scary; I have noticed this a lot since moving to Australia.
If you're commuting, riding for business or operationally, you have no choice but to ride in the wet, and often at speed. Wet weather riding is generally the same as dry riding but there are a few things you need to give additional focus:
Road Surface The road surface doesn't magically become like an ice rink when it's raining. In fact, the grip on the surface will reduce by around 10% when it's wet, including the slight reduction when you factor in your lower tyre temperature. Nobody should be riding anywhere near 10% of their tyre's limit on the road so, in practice, the rain has little effect on riding technique. Continuing to be smooth, looking far ahead to maximise anticipation, accelerating and braking gently, with perhaps a little more emphasis on the rear brake than normal, will keep you as safe on wet roads. There are, however, a couple of exceptions:
Rain which has just started, especially if it hasn't rained for a while, will make the surface more slippery until the rain has washed away the oil, brake dust and other particles accumulated on the surface. Depending on the severity of the rain, this will usually take between 5 and 30 minutes.
Torrential rain, which we tend to get in the summer, produces more water on the surface than the tyre can remove. This is called aquaplaning and once it happens, consider yourself a passenger and don't steer but do try to reduce your speed smoothly to regain grip! The good news is it's very easy to avoid aquaplaning by slowing down and giving your tyre a better chance to remove the water. The tyre removes more water if it's designed as a wet weather tyre (like the Michelin Pilot Road series), has more tread and is properly inflated; make sure you check yours, especially in summer.
Road Furniture Things on the road surface can become very slippery when wet, such as manhole and grate covers, painted lines, road repairs etc. By looking ahead and giving a little bit extra emphasis in your scanning for them, you should be able to alter your line early and avoid them. However, if you don't see them until the last minute, they aren't a hazard unless you're accelerating, braking or turning when you cross them so keep your bike at a constant speed in a straight line and simply ride over them, re-adjusting your line and speed once you've crossed them. If you see it too late, although it's a natural reaction, the worst thing you can do is to brake and try to steer around it as if you get it wrong you'll hit it with the front tyre loaded and starting a turn.
Visibility When it's raining, the sky is generally darker, windscreens are obscured and wipers sweep across a driver's vision. Be aware that you're harder to see and anticipate accordingly; leaving bigger safety margins. Try wearing more high visibility clothing than you usually do. Also, your own visor may be steaming up and splattered with rain so give yourself additional time and space to scan your surroundings.
Comfort If you're not prepared for rain and your kit isn't up to it, you'll become uncomfortable. Whilst this isn't an issue in itself, the distraction caused by the drip of rain running down your spine could make you miss a developing hazard in front of you. The answer is to buy the best wet weather clothing you can afford and minimise that distraction. However, having spent many thousands of dollars on kit over the years, I can assure you that nothing is waterproof and breathable forever so accept that you're going to get a bit wet from the rain or your own sweat.
Microclimates In this warm climate, the road dries very quickly after the rain has stopped which is great as you can go back to riding normally. However, the road will dry out at different rates so be aware that as you enter the cover of trees, the shadow from buildings or climb further up that mountain road, the surface may still be wet in some areas when the majority has dried out long ago.
Confidence We have all felt that the bike is much stiffer when riding in the wet; it's harder to corner and just doesn't turn as smoothly. The good news is none of that is the bike; it's all caused by you. There's a old saying that the rain removes 10% of your grip and 50% of your confidence and it's true. The change in bike handling in the rain is caused by you gripping the bars harder and worrying about how you're going to survive in this hostile environment; just relax your arms and ride as normal, bearing in mind the points above, and you'll be absolutely fine.
So next time you're thinking of cancelling a ride because it's raining, use the opportunity to practice when you're not under any time or peer pressure. You'll very soon improve your wet weather riding skills, significantly reduce your fear and might find you enjoy it, although after 28 years I still don't which is why I moved to Australia!
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