When it rains ball bearings….
What does that even mean? Allow me. Monsoons are here. And honestly, riding in the rain or wet conditions or in the snow up north or even in the sleet never really bothers me; no matter how onerous the condition is, be it on or off the tarmac. In fact, I think I am addicted to it. I realised it early on when it used to rain ball bearings (I did not wear protective gear during my initial days of riding), and I would still keep riding, as long as the spirit (no pun intended) or the rubber ran out on me. Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you all that in those days, I had a nearly-borrowed Kawasaki 4S Champion which was my only mode of transportation.
Now, what I’ve said above about riding in the rain not bothering me may mean that I might be a proficient rain rider or not, but what I really meant is that I feel comfortable on two wheels in the rain. It is like comparing apples to apples for me. Well, as long as I can see where I am going, be it on or off the tarmac and live to tell the tale. But that's me. What is riding through a frog-strangler for me, could be tarmac for you. Like, let’s say, slush or sleet used to give me pause at a point in the past. Not that I feel invincible in the sleet now, but different terrains demand different experiences. So start building experience on different terrains. The point doesn’t lie in being fearless, but being confident.
And while I say the aforementioned and that it isn’t particularly bad, unless you are riding through torrential downpour under certain conditions, it isn’t that riding in the rain is downright pleasant or safe like it is in sunshine. Sometimes you may freak out by just listening to the rumble of thunder that you don’t even peep out the window. Even our group rides have got canned. One of the main reasons being that one guy whining ‘the bike will get dirty’. I appreciate that a day in the wet can make a mess out of your ride. I’ll also confess that when I ride in the rain I’ll take a demo if it’s available or my “everyday” bike if it isn’t, which is a luxury that most people don’t have. That said, I’ve been caught in the rain on every motorcycle I’ve ever owned more times than I can count, and I’ve yet to see one melt, or even suffer irreparable damage.
Like for anything else, there are a few tricks to have fun in the rain. And I am not talking about the usual ‘how to ride in the rain’ stuff here. I am sure that you already know it. However, the most important thing to ride in the rain is your focus or concentration. Find the things that hinder your focus. It could be your fear of your iPhone getting wet or even your body temperature which you might not be aware of. I am comfortable riding in the rain but when it comes to harsh sunlight, I cannot take it. And I have my own ways to fight it. When it comes to riding in the rain, the reason that makes my ride long enough is that I use riding gear with waterproof liners. It keeps my body warm and helps me keep up the focus for hours. It is not only as tight as a duck’s hide, but it protects me against road rash should the unfortunate occur. That way not only am I keeping my body warm but also shooing away the fear of my smartphone getting wet and taking a fall. And if you wear matching over mitts and pants you will be good even for a gully washer. Bonus point: You might just end up looking like one of those World War dispatch riders!
Now let’s talk about the wet roads. Tone it down a bit at the start of the ride, every time you ride, especially during the first few minutes of rain. Why? Because all the debris, gunk and all sorts of possible dirt floats up to the surface, making the tarmac very slippery. Be particularly cautious about riding in the middle of the lane where all those motorcycles, cars, trucks….anything with an IC engine have been taking a ‘leak’. In fact, it takes at least around half an hour for a steady rain to wash that away, so keeping your head over the shoulders when it comes to throttling is crucial, even when the roads have been dry for a while. Then there’s aquaplaning. Now, it might sound counterintuitive but increasing the tyre pressure by a couple of PSIs will avoid it from making the motorcycle ride on top of the water, than pushing it aside. Increasing the tyre pressure narrows footprint and helps its sides squeegee the water out from under the tyre’s contact patch, consequently increasing the traction.
‘Riding in the rain should never be taken lightly.’ That’s the first thought I make sure crosses my mind every time I saddle up for riding in wet conditions. What I’ve realised is visibility and traction are crucial while there will be many times when fatigue can become a real factor, there should be no place for fear. Whatever I’ve said above is a result of cautious saddletime. Get used to this. I did and I was amazed at how much better I got at riding in the dry then. After all, whatever doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.