There's something to be said about riding in the rain. Not too many riders enjoy it, but those who do, know that riding in the wet, slippery conditions has a lot to teach us about that mystical force known as traction, going a long way in adding to our repertoire of motorcycling skills. And even for those who are not too concerned about expanding on their riding abilities, the monsoons present the perfect time to explore gorgeous locations with nature at its best in this tropical country of ours. But that doesn't mean we jump into monsoon riding without any sort of preparation, both for our bikes as well as for ourselves. So now with the rains almost upon us in full swing, here are a few tips to help you make riding in the wet just that little bit easier.
Before you ride
Even before you think of riding in the rain, you need to get some basics on your motorcycle in place.
Vehicle check-up: It's always a good idea to get a service/check-up done on your motorcycle before the monsoons start. If your bike has any mechanical issues that mildly hamper riding in the dry, they're only going to get amplified when riding in the rain.
Tyre conditions: Check the condition of your tyres. If they're near the end of their life, it's best to just replace them before the rains really kick in, even if you believe they've got a few hundred kilometres of rubber left in them. Tyre tread is designed to disperse water, so having good tread depth is critical for riding in the wet. Of course, just having good tread depth doesn't ensure good grip in the wet. If the tyres are too old, chances are that the rubber has gone hard, and these hardened tyres will end up being as bad as bald ones in the wet.
Tyre pressure: It's generally a good idea to run tyre pressures one or two psi below the manufacturer's recommendation. The increased contact patch gives slightly improved grip on wet roads. Just make sure that you don't drop the pressures too much, as that has a converse effect on grip.
Waterproofing: Get yourself some waterproof gear or some rain gear that fits over your riding gear. Your rainwear needs to be loose enough so that it doesn't hamper movement on the bike, yet snug enough that it doesn't flap about or snag on any part of the bike. This becomes especially critical on rain pants. The more comfortable you are on the bike (read: dry and warm), the easier you'll find riding in tricky conditions.
Get booted: Boots are often the most ignored part of riding in the rains. Invest in a good pair of waterproof boots. You'll find that dry feet go a long way in keeping you comfortable on the bike.
Gear-up: While you might prefer darker colours, it might be a good idea to invest in some brightly coloured rain gear as it makes you more visibly in rainy conditions.
Visibility: Generally avoid using dark or tinted visors on your helmet in the rains. Clear visors give you much better visibility in the gloomy conditions of the monsoons. Also, make sure the visor is clean and scratch-free before you start riding. Avoid using any substances like wax in the effort of making the visor hydrophobic, as this can damage the visor and hamper visibility. If you think your visor is too scratched, just replace it.
Maintenance: It's a good idea to carry a clean and dry microfibre cloth with you to clean your helmet visor if it gets wet or muddy. If it's muddy, pour some water on it to clear the mud before wiping with a cloth, as not doing so will scratch-up your visor.
On the bike
Here are a few pointers to keep in mind while riding the bike during the wet season.
Better control: Rain on the road means your tyres have low traction, so avoid any sudden actions on the motorcycle, such as rapidly opening the throttle, applying the brakes really hard or steering the bike aggressively. Such sudden movements can very easily overwhelm the traction available to your tyres, causing you to crash. Be smooth and progressive with your inputs.
Right techniques: Proper braking techniques become all the more critical in wet conditions. While a bike with ABS will let you slam the brakes hard on wet roads safely, if your bike doesn't have ABS, you have to be extra careful. Again, it's important to be progressive with your inputs. Learn to feel what the tyres are doing when you apply the brakes. The moment you sense the tyres about to give, ease the pressure on the brakes a little. When riding in the dry, we primarily rely on the front brakes to provide most of the required braking force. However, in the wet, it's best to use both front and rear brakes simultaneously so as to not overwhelm any one tyre under braking.
Kill speeds: One needs to be extra careful when riding during the first rains of the day, as these tend to leech out the oils and grime from the road surface, making it extra slippery. Keeping a lower speed than normal in such conditions is recommended.
Unsafe lines: Road markings such as lane separators, zebra crossings, and even manhole covers tend to be extra slippery when wet. Avoid riding over them as far as possible.
Keep distance when wet: Maintain more distance from vehicles ahead of you than you normally would. This gives you extra room to slow down, as your bike needs longer distances to brake safely in the wet. Plus, it helps you to avoid the spray of mud from these vehicles' rear tyres.
Headlights on: Ride with your headlight on (not just your parking lamps), even if it's just an overcast day. The gloomy conditions in the monsoons reduce contrast, so running your headlights helps to make you more visible to other road users.
No splashes please: While it might be fun to splash through a puddle, avoid it as much as possible. If the puddle is deep, the sudden slowing down your bike experiences might make you lose control. Plus, you never know if there's a deep pothole lurking under all that standing water. If riding through standing water is unavoidable, then it's best to keep a slower speed in a lower gear, and ride with a consistent throttle. This will help avoid a big splash that might just allow water to creep into either your spark plugs or exhausts.
What about corners?
The same principles of smooth and progressive inputs are involved when cornering in the wet.
No sudden movements: Make sure you don't make any sudden movements on the bike and things should be just fine. Your brake, throttle and steering inputs have to be as smooth as possible to maintain optimal traction.
Optimise grip: You are not going to be able to carry the same lean angles in the wet as you do in the dry, so choose lines and speeds through corners which will allow you to keep your bike more upright, ensuring that you have more grip in the turns.
Avoid braking: Avoid braking into corners even if your bike has ABS. Suddenly slowing down when your bike is leaned over on a wet road can cause the front end to tuck in and can result in a crash. As far as possible, scrub off your speed in a straight line before pitching your motorcycle into the turn.
Go slow: In the end, it's best to ride slower and less aggressively than you usually do. It's better to ride a little slower, but more often in the rain, rather than crashing or scaring yourself into not riding in the monsoons. As they say "If you don't ride in the rain, you don't ride!"
After the ride
Don't forget these tips even after you reach your destination. They will go a long way in maintaining and expanding the life-cycle of your bike in the years to come.
Clean-up: During the monsoons, it's a good idea to get your bike pressure washed more often than you would during other seasons. Mud that gets sprayed into your bike can damage components over time. Washing all the little nooks and crannies of your bike regularly will ensure a longer life for all its components.
Chain care: These days, a lot of bikes come with exposed chains, and these chains need more attention during monsoons. When you wash your bike, pay particular attention to the chain, and lube it generously once washed and dried. This will improve the longevity of the chain, and will allow your bike to run smooth for a long time.
Maintenance: WD40 is your bike's best friend during the monsoons. You can use it to lubricate various parts on your bike such as the ignition lock and switchgear as water can jam-up these components once it dries.