Skids, slides and even the odd crash, we all have our tales from riding two-wheelers in the rain. While keeping your bike locked up under a garage and enjoying a warm cuppa waiting for a downpour to move on remains a most enticing option on a rainy day, you sometimes can’t help but get out in the wet, especially in India, where it can rain days on end during the monsoons. Preparing for wet roads then, is a smart riders best bet.
It’s imperative to have your bike rain-ready before venturing out in the wet. First and foremost, examine your tyres. While you may get by riding on old, well worn rubber in summer, this becomes dangerous in the monsoons. Ensure tyres are still soft and crack free with ample life in them, and that tread depth is adequate. If in doubt, immediately replace the tyres as a set with a good brand such as MRF which can easily make the difference between life and death in the event of an emergency.
If your bike uses drum brakes, check the shoe liners for wear, and buff or replace as needed. Have the brake operating cam and lever opened, cleaned and lubricated. This is critical for safe stops as water entering a brake drum, or dirt and grime can seriously compromise brake efficiency.
A wet spark plug will similarly leave you stranded in the middle of a flooded road, an increasingly common occurrence on India’s many drain-less roads. Check that the rubber gasket on your bike’s spark plug is firmly in place to prevent rain seeping in. Keep the motorcycle chain properly adjusted, well lubricated and frequently cleaned in the case of an exposed unit. Electrical wires and fuses need to be properly insulated with no cracks or exposed wires, for even the slightest contact with water can cause a short circuit. Always keep the headlight, indicators and brake lights clean, ensuring maximum low-light visibility. Check the exhaust for patches of corrosion, or rust which may lead to a breakdown.
Riding in the wet calls upon thorough attention to your riding gear. Being uncomfortable and riding when cold or wet is sure to distract you from the more important task at hand, to keep safe. As always, helmets remain absolutely must-have kit, with full face lids offering the best protection from water droplets which pack a surprisingly mean sting for exposed skin at high speed. Wipe your helmet visor squeaky clean after each ride.
A waterproof riding jacket and lined pants are ideal to keep dry and warm on a bike. If you find these cumbersome to lug around, lightweight jackets and waterproof pants provide adequate rain protection for short distance riding. Waterproof gloves that tuck under the cuffs of your riding jacket are always a boon in the rain.
It makes sense to invest in a pair of sturdy gumboots for heavy duty and regular wet weather riding. Once suitably kitted, its time to hit the road. Smooth is always key to riding in the rain. Gentle, progressive throttle inputs, steering and brake operations become imperative when riding in the wet. Overzealous acceleration will have the rear wheel of your bike spinning out of control on wet surfaces, while hard braking can result in an inadvertent lock-up. Any sudden steering can cause the bike to lose traction. Mentally factor in increased braking distances and maintain a sufficient gap from vehicles ahead of you, as well as other obstacles. As far as possible, stay out of the polluted spray that rises from vehicles in front of you. Feather the brake levers/ pedal as a habit routinely to keep the brakes dry, warm and a little better primed for action.
Keep an eye out for low traction surfaces. Asphalt offers the best grip in the wet. Concrete roads on the other hand are to be treated with caution. Be careful while entering paved buildings, mall parking lots etc. as these often become slippery when wet. Remember that the first rains tend to leave a lot of mud on the road. A muddy road offers less traction, relative to a rain soaked, but clean surface. Ride on clean road as far as possible, and avoid clinging too close to the road shoulders as this is where mud can accumulate.
Similarly, maneuvering over railway tracks, painted road markings and steel manhole covers can have you slithering and off balance. Slimy leaves that often scatter across roads after a storm are another hazard. Harmless in the dry, these have the same ‘oops effect’ in the wet as a banana peel.
Look out for ‘Rainbow’ patches on the road. These warn you of oil or other slippery fluids deposited from vehicles. Aquaplaning, the out of control skidding on puddles are another common hazard after a fresh downpour. Likewise, try not to splash, instead riding slowly through puddles to avoid loss of control. Don’t fight the bike steering, or hit the brakes when aquaplaning. Simply maintain firm hold of the motorcycle controls, and let the bike/ scooter find its own way through without allowing panic to grip you.
Look out for water-filled potholes, as these sometimes sink deeper than they appear. Riding at night poses its own set of challenges in the rain.
Make sure to clean your headlight frequently, as spray can deposit and dirty the lens and severely compromise the headlight beam. Routinely wipe your helmet visor to dispel water, to prevent the dispersion of light from oncoming traffic. Likewise, show concern for your fellow road users and avoid using high beam unless really required.
It is sometimes best to tail vehicles with brighter lights at a safe distance in really reduced visibility. And remember the best time to hose down your rain drenched and mud splattered scooter or bike is immediately after you stop, before the grime and mud is allowed to cake up and dry on the bike.
In conclusion, remember that riding in the rain requires less of being a gifted rider, more of preparation, caution and the right experience. Some practice and common sense are other good assets to have here as well. The right kit and a bike in fine fettle are just what will ensure the monsoons don’t rain on your parade.
Tips for driving through flooded areas