Liquid sunshine brings out the best and worst of all riders. Riding in the wet requires you to be aware of the low friction conditions that exist between the tyres and the road. This can be dangerous but if you are cautious and aware of the hazards, it is no more dangerous than any other normal day. And it is only through riding in the rain that you become aware of your own capabilities and limitations and those of your bike and its tyres in such weather. Tyres have grooves in their tread and their purpose is to remove water from under the contact patch. Obviously, if the tyre is worn smooth with no grooves left, water on the road stays trapped under the tyre and it slips. Tyres in good condition with sticky rubber inflated to the recommended pressure go a long way in improving the grip.
Apart from good tyres, the trick to maintaining traction when riding is smoothness. All transitions i.e. acceleration, braking, gear shifting and turning should be accomplished smoothly. Be gentle in braking and acceleration and follow the widest possible arcs during cornering. Remember road grip is already fighting a losing battle with slippery conditions. Your tire traction is cut by as much as TWO-THIRDS on wet roads. Don’t make it worse for the tyres by demanding too much from them and in too short a time. Retaining your traction in the wet is far easier than regaining it. a slide that can be corrected in the dry will almost certainly take you down in the wet.
Brake gently, using more of the rear brake than the front (just the opposite of what you would do in the dry). Keep checking your brakes for effectiveness when riding in heavy rain or through deep water. Drum brakes, though difficult to get wet from inside, take time in drying and become effective again. If wet, ride a while with the brake applied partially. The heat generated due to friction between the brake shoes and the drum will soon dry it out. Discs usually work fine though there may be a tiny delay before full effectivity as the pads wipe water from the disc surface.
The roads are at their slipperiest after a light shower. Rubber powder from tyres along with dust and oil, when mixed with water, forms a very slippery concoction. Let consistent heavy rain wash off the roads clean before expecting respectable amounts of traction. Oil droppings from four-wheelers are concentrated around the middle of the road, at stoplights, near petrol stations and toll collection booths. Large trees, whose inviting shade is a great stopping zone for vehicles are also virtual oil reservoirs. Take it easy with the brakes and the throttle when passing through any of these. Better still get in touch with the traction available by testing in safe conditions. On a straight flat road, make sure you’re not being followed by another vehicle and slow down to 20-25 kph. Tap on the rear brake hard enough to make the rear wheel lock. Assuming you are familiar with how much of braking force on the pedal is needed to lock the same wheel in the dry, you’ll get a proportional idea of how much less traction you have in the wet. Painted strips, old metal manhole covers, wet leaves and railroad tracks at crossings are very slippery customers even in the dry and more so when wet.
The key to riding safe in limited traction conditions like when the roads are wet lies in being smooth in all you do on the bike. Avoid abrupt changes in direction, braking and accelerating over these. Get on the throttle progressively and take a turn in a gear higher than you would in the dry. Allow yourself more braking distance and do the same for other road users around you. The car driver behind you might be a late braker and might lock up his tyres and slide for a longer distance than what’s available between you and him. So keep a very sharp eye on those RVM’s for tail-gaters.
Vision is another thing that’s pretty adversely affected by rain. The low contrast lighting, fogging of windows and wind-shield and a moving target like a motorcycle makes you almost invisible to that slightly inattentive driver. So prefer bright colored helmets and rain-suits, ride with your lights on and be almost paranoid about those drivers who begin getting too close to comfort to your bike. Check how difficult it is for you to pick out other motorcyclists and cyclists and you’ll get a fair idea of what it would be like from the inside of a 4-wheeler with fogged up glasses. You have the advantage that the water droplets on your helmet visor are close enough to the eye to be blurred compared to the rest of the world in front. But it is not so for the car driver with his wind-shield at least a couple of feet in front.
Avoid, I repeat ‘avoid’ riding in the rain after dark. The lights from the oncoming vehicles scatter and dazzle even with the cleanest of helmet visors. Even the brake lights are at times bright enough to become a problem. Adding to your ‘visual’ woes is the gunk thrown up by other vehicles that splatters on your visor and cuts down visibility drastically.
Hydroplaning is the result of your tires moving fast across a wet surface – so fast that they do not have sufficient time to channel that moisture away from the center of the tire. The result is that the tire is lifted by the water away from the road and all traction is thus lost. Skimming stones across a pond or water skiing are great examples. The tyres on the bike work like skis and the rider has no control over direction. Tread design, tread depth, weight of motorcycle, tire pressure and depth of water all play a part in determining at what speed the tire will begin to hydroplane.
In the event of hydroplaning, do not apply your brakes or try to steer the bike in any direction but the straight-ahead. If you know that you are going to be riding in the rain, add some 3-5 psi of pressure in your tires. Increasing the tire pressure makes its contact patch smaller. In other words, it increases the weight per square inch of the contact patch so that it takes more ‘uplift’ by water to cause hydroplaning. And just as increasing pressure makes the contact patch smaller, it also tends to spread out the tread grooves which, in turn, makes it easier to squeeze out water away from the contact patch.
Monsoon & your Motorcycle
Tips for Riding Safely During Monsoons
- Wear a proper rain suit and helmet while riding in the rain. The discomfort of being wet distracts the rider from paying full attention to his riding. Also, raindrops can be very painful when they hit an unprotected face. A good clean visor keeps this unnecessary pain away and you don’t have to squint your eyes against the rainy onslaught. Squinting the eyes cuts down the much-needed peripheral vision. The gloves will stay dry on the inside longer if you put the gauntlets under the cuffs of your rainsuit or jacket. This keeps water from running down into the cuffs.
- Use reflections on a wet road to your advantage. Walls, electric poles, overhead cables and parked vehicles all work as reflecting surfaces that can enable you to see around corners. But avoid all shiny spots on the road like plague. They could mean either a puddle, slippery paint or oil.
- Wrap your clothes etc in polythene bags before putting them in the luggage. Day long rain when encountered at highway speeds makes water penetrate into the best of waterproofs and it’s a real nightmare to find all your stuff soaked, especially on a cold evening.
- Wear your rain suit before it starts raining. The view on the open road usually is wide enough for you to be able to see the certainty of heading into rain ahead. Wearing the suit over already wet clothes is not much help is it? Use the new GoreTex treated rain-suits. They are rain repellent, don’t smell like rubber and allow the fabric to breathe unlike rubberized rain suits.
- Carry a 12ft X 16ft plastic sheet. It works as an emergency rain shelter. Put it across the seats of two bikes parked parallel with a 5ft gap in between for you to sit. You get an instant roof and the luggage gets added protection from rain. Keep a stout rope, about 15ft long, for emergency towing.
- Avoid riding through deep-standing water. Find an alternate route. But if you have to, watch a couple of cars or bike or even cyclists wade through and follow their tried path.When riding through deep water that submerges the exhaust pipe, keep the bike in first gear and those RPM’s up. If the engine stops, water will enter the tailpipe and maybe enter the engine. Do not attempt to re-start the engine as the water inside can severely damage it.
- Slush will be an important part of your on-road adventures when you ride long distance in India. Broken roads in rains, remnants of landslides in mountains, absent roads at places or just a leftover from severe water logging in the past. Slush is slipper and slimy, not too good for balance on a bike. For tackling slush, look for a path used by heavy vehicles. Get down into first gear, use partial clutch to control wheel-spin/wheel jamming, stick those feet out like out-riggers and ride slooowly through the patch.
- Standing water poses a multi-faceted threat to the motorcyclist. From unseen submerged objects, invisible road surface condition, hydroplaning and the water spray adversely affecting the electrical of the bike causing the engine to shut down altogether.
- Stopping distances increase as the road gets wet. The discs respond a trifle late (as water gets wiped from the disc before the pads can grip), the tyres loose grip quicker and so everyone brakes more gently and the reduced visibility adds adversely to the reaction time. So increase your following and trailing distance as the road gets wet. The heavier the rain, the greater should this distance be. Trailing distance means that if you see someone driving too close to you in your RVM’s, let him pass by. He could run you over due to insufficient stopping distance in those conditions.
- Wear good rain gear when riding in rain. Getting wet and soggy on the inside is not just distracting but also unsafe as you could catch a chill if the weather is even moderately cool. Above all, physical discomfort is a great attention grabber and the distraction could spell trouble in a tight situation. Try Gore-Tex™. It’s the trade-name for a water-repellent fabric and makes for great rain gear. A trifle expensive but more effective and longer lasting than the usual rubber-coated fabric.
- Learn to assess weather. Dark low rolling cloud preceded with strong gusts of cool wind could mean hail-stones along with heavy rain. Seek shelter. Such storms come it fast and go out fast.
- Wind, evaporation, thin clothing and sustained riding can chill you to the core. The water splashed from the road by passing cars will feel deliciously warm. Rain-proof is usually wind-proof. Keep it on even after the shower stops to avoid chilling.
- Tyre treads are there to pump out water from under the contact patch so that the rubber grips dry road. No tread means the tyre rides on a film of water meaning low or no grip. Even in the dry, the treaded portion of the tyre is made of grippier compound, the rest being hard and strong tyre carcass. Tyre pressure not only affects tyre life but also your life. Keep it within the recommended limits.
- When there’s a lot of water on the road as it has rained heavily or is still pouring, keep away from those 4/6 wheelers. Not only do they raise a spray, can brake quicker than you and have just forward visibility working for them, they will also raise a heavy spray of water sideways as they plough through the accumulation on the road. This sudden deluge will completely blind you momentarily if you get caught in its middle and riding blind even for a few seconds can be extremely dangerous.
If you’ve gone on a ride this monsoon, do share it with your fellow bikers at www.Power1BikingRoutes.com