Article | Riding in the rain
Stephen Fry – once a motorcyclist himself – recounts an occasion when a hospital doctor noticed that it had just begun to rain outside and said “Ah, prepare for the organ donors”. “What?” asked Fry. “The motorcyclists” came the doctor’s reply.
It’s a grim little tale although it neatly captures the risks we face on wet roads. Apparently this contributed, in part, to Fry eventually giving up on motorcycling.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that I find myself writing a post about wet weather riding at the height of a British summer. What set me off on this is that I’m about to embark on a planned week of road trips on the bike that will serve as my summer holiday this year. Current indications suggest the meteorological gods have decreed this is also likely to be one of the wettest weeks of the year so far.
I’ve encountered riders who profess to positively enjoy riding in the rain; alas I’m not one of them. That’s not to say that I can’t do it, or that it provokes any particular fears for me, but between the physical discomfort and the diminished opportunities for more ‘spirited’ riding I tend to see it as something to be endured rather than actively enjoyed.
Actually, above all else, the thing I’ve always disliked most about riding in the rain is that it makes my bike filthy. And whilst I’m largely unconcerned by a dirty car, a dirty bike I find much harder to remain relaxed about.
There’s often debate about whether rain is bad for bikes; the consensus seems to be that it’s not a problem in moderate amounts, as long as chain and cables are all kept adequately lubricated, and electronic components remain dry. Although, cumulatively, long-term exposure to the elements will eventually tarnish most materials.
I recall one occasion when I rode past a large building site on a rainy day. The roads around the site had become covered in cement dust which the rain had turned into a slurry of gloopy wet concrete. Inescapable, over a matter of a few hundred yards this gloop sprayed across my bike, into every nook and crevice. By the time I got home the engine heat had baked it into a vile grey crust over almost every component. It took an age to clean it all off and I still continued to find hidden pockets of it for months afterwards. So it isn’t so much the rain that’s the problem, rather the spray that becomes a medium for depositing dissolved grime with ruthless efficiency.
Then, of course, there is the necessary evil that is rock salt, the substance used to grit British roads every winter. Whilst this is a cheap and efficient way to prevent roads from freezing, once dissolved in rainwater rock salt becomes viciously corrosive to any metal or alloy surface. If you ride through the winter then only the most immediate and diligent cleaning regime will prevent your bike from suffering for it. And it always takes a few weeks of spring rains to finally wash it all away.
And with winter’s salted roads comes what I always call ‘the great slime’ – where impacted salt traps moisture on the road surface for weeks afterwards, dramatically reducing grip levels.
But, if there are pleasures and satisfactions to riding in the rain, then these are to be found in the need for more precise riding technique, control, and risk awareness. Every rider needs to gain experience with and understand the specific demands of wet weather riding, and to be able to respond appropriately.