I see a lot of riders intimidated by rain when they visit the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. It’s something we all try to avoid, yet its inevitable that someday you’ll be caught in a downpour or ride through the wash of one on your motorcycle travels. The key to riding wet roads with confidence is being super smooth with the throttle and the brakes.
We all know to slow down and take it easy in the rain. Still, I come up on too many riders who put themselves at greater risk by riding hesitantly and overcautiously. That car looming up on you also has less grip and his visibility is reduced. Don’t become a hazard on the road when it rains. The crop of tires available for your motorcycle has never been better and the wet grip from a good set of rubber nowadays is amazing. On decent pavement you can usually match the speed of other traffic. Corner with the confidence your tires are up to the task by practicing flowing smoothly on/off the throttle and the brake. See post – Tire Testing at Deals Gap Here
To fully exploit your tires wet weather capabilities load and unload them gently. There’s a surprising amount of grip available to be used, but sudden or abrupt actions will overwhelm it. A smooth and even approach puts the load on your tires gradually so the reduced limits of grip on a wet road are not exceeded. Demanding less grip for hard braking and aggressive throttle input leaves more grip available for the tire to use cornering. You can and should still use your brakes and throttle in a turn, just use less of them and apply them more slowly and evenly.
The real challenge is getting some lean on in the turns. There’s only so much tire grip available. You can only brake or twist the throttle so hard before you exceed the total grip available and the tire skids. In a straight line, all the weight of the motorcycle and rider is straight down on the tires. All of the tires available grip is used to either propel the bike forward or slow it down. Once you lean into a curve, some of that total amount of tire grip is used up fighting the sideways push on the tires. The more you lean, the harder the tire has to grip the road to hold on as the sideways push gets stronger and stronger. That leaves less tire grip available to work on stopping the bike as it’s taking more and more of the tires capacity to work against the sideways force. At the extreme, 100% of the tire’s grip is being used to just to fight the sideways push on the tires and keep the bike from skidding off the road. The slightest touch of the brakes or gas at 100% lean demands more grip from the tires and there is none left to give.
Since there’s less tire grip available on a wet road, we all know you can’t lean as hard nor brake as hard. But if you’re smooth and easy with your throttle and brakes demanding less grip from your tires, you’ll have that much more grip left to use leaning into a turn. Find the balance where the grip needed to accelerate or decelerate plus the amount of grip used by the leaning bike doesn’t exceed what your tires have to offer, and carve sweetly and confidently through the curves even in a downpour.
Practice on the dry days. Learn to judge the entrance speed at which you can cruise smoothly into a turn without using your brakes while holding the throttle steady through it to maintain a constant speed. Do this over and over and you’ll find your confidence improves and you’re comfortably leaning deeper through the curves. Then practice using closing the throttle to slow you into the turn then gently rolling it on to maintain your lean and pull out of it. Next practice gently feathering your front brake well into the turn, during the turn, and to slow on exit. Play with gently using both brakes. Focus on being smooth, gentle, and flowing.
The experience you’ll gain will make your next mountain motorcycle ride in a downpour a lot easier. You’ll be using the skills you’ve gained to ride more confidently and safely at speed. Knowing how your bike behaves in the curves will give you the ability to make the most of the surprising amount of rain grip a modern tire has to offer. The smoother you are, the easier it will be.