Riding Skills Series: Slippery When Wet

1. Some riders think when the rain starts to come down, so should the garage door, tucking the bike away until the sun shines again the following spring. Unfortunately, they're missing one of the best motorcycling experiences. Riding in the rain can be fun as long as you know what to expect and how to change your riding accordingly.

First of all, clothe yourself properly. A good rainsuit, gloves, boots, and perhaps an electric vest, can keep even the most persistent storm from soaking you. But most importantly, you must change the way you handle the motorcycle. Throttle adjustments need to be made smoothly and in small increments; use less lean angle; gradually apply your brakes and get your braking done early.

2. Be wary of intersections when riding in wet conditions. We all know about the oils in the pavement that surface after a rain, but what about the oil that was already there? Any place in the road where cars come to a stop will have a higher concentration of the slick stuff. The rain makes it worse. You may not be able to spot this while riding, so it's best to decrease your speed when approaching intersections. Don't run yellow lights, because if you have to turn or brake quickly chances are you'll encounter a traction problem. When stopped at a red light, check the rear-view mirror for cars that could slide into you from behind. Also, double your following distance so as not to be surprised by cars stopping suddenly in front of you.

3. Two things we've noticed that drastically reduce traction during wet weather are manhole covers and sealer pavement. Both of these are like black ice when it's raining. When traveling in a straight line they pose less of a threat, but be sure to scan well ahead before you turn the bike to enter an intersection. Get off the brakes early and take a line that's clear of traction-limiting obstructions. Sealer pavement is usually darker than the surrounding blacktop. It can be found in town or on rural roads, and it comes in large patches or smaller sections where it's used for crack repair. If you encounter either of these traction inhibitors resist braking or accelerating hard. If you have to change your line or turn over a greasy section, keep your hands relaxed on the clip-ons and don't lean the bike any more than necessary.

4. Although this may seem obvious, it is amazing how many people we see riding in an area of the lane that is wet even though an adjacent area is dry. Dry pavement offers superior traction and maneuverability, so make sure you continually place yourself in the driest section of the lane. If you can force yourself to slow down and be relaxed, you will find that rain riding (and even touring) can teach you how to be a better and more confident rider. City riding in stormy weather is by far the most nerve-racking, but just because the clouds roll in doesn't mean you can't ride almost every day. Remembering a few pointers can make riding in the rain easier and safer than you think. And besides, who wants to garage their motorcycle for five months out of the year?