Riding in suboptimal-traction weather conditions



I actually searched for a related thread in 1Rider but came up, to my surprise, empty. So here goes.

During my most recent Sunday ride, mid-November in Denmark (think mid-December in the Santa Cruz mountains), I was reminded of the beauty of riding on what I guess is best described as "suboptimal-traction weather conditions"... wet roads, collections of wet leaves or pine needles on certain turns, mud tracks across the road, ... you get my drift. For one, nature shows itself from a different side compared to your usual "fair-weather" riding: quieter, more serene, and still beautiful.

That, in and of itself, makes it worth getting past the knee-jerk reaction that so many of us motorcyclists have: "it's raining/ has been raining/ whatever outside, so I'll just have to ride some other time." Get past that, gear up and go out... some of the fondest memories I have of BAR(-F) are from riding around Pescadero and Tunitas creek roads in wet conditions.

But of course, if it was just about the nature then you could make do with driving up to the mountains and taking a long hike (which I can also highly recommend, by the way).

There is a second dimension of benefits of, let's call it, wet-weather riding. It can be riding as the rain falls or simply because the roads are wet, etc. And it has to do with what a less-predictable road surface (in terms of traction) demands from you as the one sitting at the controls of your motorcycle. Your riding skills WILL gain from it.

Now, I cannot talk about wet-weather riding, reminisce about those times I did that in the Santa Cruz mountains, and not at the very least mention Gary J. So let me quote him:
"SMOOTHNESS" is the common bond shared in the riding styles of all profficient "Wet Weather Riders". To watch a highly skilled rider in-action, is to observe a two-wheeled ballet of fluid motion. No sudden braking, no abrupt steering inputs, no aggressive throttle application; just a series of contiguous and minute motions, performed in a well-coreographed form. - (the beginning of Chapter 5: "General Rain Riding Techniques" in his Rain Riding supplement, part of both his books)
and link to a thread he started, entitled Real World "Rain Riding Survival Skills/Techniques Checklist"

That thread already has a chunk of useful info/tips for wet-weather riding (all of which you should take with a grain of salt... some are incredibly specific and may not apply to everyone's style), so let me just bring up a couple of points of my own, which I think are nicely brought together by one overarching benefit of wet-weather riding:

Being aware of the surface not providing optimal traction will force you into good habits.

What I mean by this is the following: whenever I go out in wet weather, or otherwise meet some conditions that I know will imply suboptimal traction levels, it becomes almost painfully obvious that my brain is telling my body to be careful. The "wrong" way for the body to react to that message is to tense up; that will be absolutely counterproductive to your stability.

First good habit reinforced: Force your body to be consciously loose on the controls.
"They're HANDLE-bars, not GRAB-ONTO-bars" -Doc Wong (if my memory serves me right; he may correct me)

The next thing is that this "be careful", which borders with plain-old fear when it's the first time you encounter those conditions after a stint of "fair-weather" riding, will force you to start at an excessively high level of safety to then slowly and gradually learn what the motorcycle is telling you about traction levels. This is, I believe, a fairly recognized good practice of "faster safer" riding; when riding on the track this gradual process will allow you to relatively safely find the limit.

Second good habit reinforced: Slowly and gradually work up to a comfortable pace, learning from the feedback your motorcycle gives you.
"Using the controls in a smooth, calculating manner is more important the faster you go and will certainly prevent crashes and bike set-up problems [...]" - Ken Hill

Finally, precision with your lines becomes paramount; many times you have to stick to the cars' tire tracks so as to not wander onto wet leaves, mud, and other possible nastiness awaiting, which reduces your "lane" to some 15-20 inches rather to the usual safe practice of "stay in your lane" which is 9 feet or so (you guys owe me a cookie for translating to anachronistic units of measure).

Third good habit reinforced: Be precise with your lines.
When I think of line precision, I think of Keith Code's approach of building your line for a turn in a systematic way using reference points on the track. But the benefits of being precise with your plan in a turn go beyond faster laptimes: you stay in control and can make much calmer and better-informed decisions about how to change a line on short notice (if you spot a cow pie or pot hole, for example) than if you're just "winging it".

I'll close off with a funny story that I was reminded about when chatting about wet-weather riding with two-wheel tramp.
It was in Norway, on my way down to Bergen from Kristiansund. I stopped at a gas station and commented that the road I had just been on was not quite what I expected for it being late April. Suddenly, one of the guys, who had gone behind the counter, yells "hey, that's you!"

Sure enough, that was me. Caught by chance by a road-conditions webcam which refreshes every 15 or 30 minutes and that the locals know to check almost no matter what month of the year it is.

That's what I have for now; we have a wealth of all-weather riders here on barf that I'm sure can add to the list of benefits.