Jul 17, 2007

Wet Riding: Read the Road

Reading the road is a very important part of turning yourself into a good rider. And practice for that, especially in the wet, begins at home. Sit down at any convenient place in the house and look around. That's all, just look around. Actually no, sit somewhere were getting up repeatedly will not be an issue. Beanbags, for instance, are a no-no. Where was I? Yeah, look around. You will see a sea of surfaces around you. The walls, that newspaper fluttering away, table cloths, the TV screen and so forth. In your head, try and feel what they would be like to ride a bike on. Don't imagine yourself crashing through your TV screen, just imagine what would happen if all the roads in the world were made of the same material as your TV screen. Close your eyes for a moment, and you'll see what I mean. Mentally, you should be able to construct that image and get a realistic feel for the smoothness, slippery-ness and grip levels of that surface.

And if you can do it at home, you should be able to replicate this on the street, right? The little exercise should help you judge road surfaces. All roads were not born equal, and even a well-surfaced, grippy patch of tarmac has slippery and grippy areas.

In the wet, this can mean a lot. Smoother tarmac is generally more slippery than rough looking. I mean this in texture terms, not surface finish quality terms. Concrete too, can be judged. Older tarmac usually has had its grooves (that appear during the casting) worn away by vehicles and tends to be slippery, while newer concrete can be quite grippy. How can you tell beyond this reasoning approach? Just look at it. The more mirror like it appears to be, the more the chances it is slippery.

There is, of course, an explanation to that. Grip in the wet is a function of the tread on the tyre and the irregular surface of the road allowing space for the tyre's design, contact patch and weight to squeeze the water out. Once the tread rubber meets the road, it contorts and adheres to the road surface, giving you grip. Simple. The more mirror-like the surface is, the less irregularities it has (a 'frozen' glass surface, by definition is finished so that a totally irregular surface gives 'anti-mirror' sort of properties), and therefore, the less space for your tyre to squeeze the offending water out.

So, what happens when you do end up in a situation where the tyres fails to squeeze out all the water. Welcome, to the greasy, scary world of aquaplaning. Because of the small contact patches, this is a hard to do on a bike, but not impossible. If it does happen to you, your panic reaction will be to either brake or steer. Since both inputs require traction (something you don't have), all that does is upset the fragile equilibrium you're passing through and cause a crash. So what do you do? Take a deep breath, pray and do nothing whatsoever. Let the bike handle it. Most of the time, you'll regain grip with nothing more than a scare to show for it. Also works for oil slicks, spilled diesel and plain stupidity in the wet.

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Rahul said...

Right said there rearset. However, let me put in my little bit of experience:
1) Be very careful of silt on the left sides of the road. The center and right sections are generally cleaner than the left hand side of the road. This is is where cars and other heavier vehicles do not ply, leaving the stretch wetter and dirtier. So if you are going fast and take a quick left suddenly, expect traction going down tragically!

2) While carrying a pillion if you suddenly feel your rear going out of line, gently twist the throttle. It will in 90/100 cases get you back to safety after a little wheel speen. However, keep your pillion informed about one thing. That he/ she needs to trust you completely. Acrobatic movements from the pillion may just put more water on your plans!

3) Ride Slow! becuase more often than not, a crazy squeeze of the front to evade that car/ ditch/ waterlog may lock up your front, which is much more dangerous than a wagging tail!


Treasure Trove said...

A couple of other things - painted surfaces are much more slippery than the road surface in the wet. So whenever you want to change lanes you make sure that you don't pass over those painted strips too fast or for a long period .

This is especially true for the markings on the centre of the road - the long white ones are crap . They always cause trouble on a two wheeler.

Having good tyres will help . While mags claim " the stock tyres are good in the wet too " I wonder if they really tested that coz in some of those cases , the stock tyres absolutely suck . Case in point is the stock MRFs on the p200 . Many people think good performance in the wet just means that having a good feeling while riding in the rain .

Thats not it . You need to have confidence to take turns and use the throttle as the road demands . The tyres are important here . I am afraid the stock zappers on the P200 are below par in the wet - causing a lot of aquaplaning on most occasions.

rearset said...

Can't agree. I don't think all stock tyres actually suck. I've been riding on stock tyres for aeons now, and I really could not complain. The wet is never a place to ride as hard as you would in the dry and if the stock tyres are creating problems, that simply means you probably aren't either smooth enough, or trying too hard.

Yes, some aftermarket tyres do work better in the wet (and dry) than stock tyres, but there is always an extra price component. The obvious component is a more costly tyre, the less obvious one is faster wear and significantly shorter tyre life.

I have had the pleasure of riding both the 200 and the 220 in the wet and really, while I think equivalent Pirellis would probably be a heck of a lot better, the MRFs aren't as bad as you make them out to be.

That's intensely a personal thing. You can differ hugely on this rather subjective parameter. Sometimes, and this has happened to me, a small slide or spin-up during the first ten minutes with a bike will dent my confidence in that bike forever. It's very hard (at least for me) to recover from something like that... it can be done though, but it takes a lot of time and conscious effort...

Rahul said...

@ treasure trove
The MRF rubber which the P200 comes shod with is a hard compound rubber meant to last more than the bike itself.
However, there is very good 120/80 from Dunlop that we have tested in the wet and can vouch for. Maybe it wont last that long, but its grippy in most situations.
MRP: 1860 bucks in cold cash!

rearset said...

And totally agree on the white painted lines. Even worse are manhole covers. And still worse are the painted lines, when the paint is the glow in the night variety. It actually is almost a centimetre higher than the surrounding surface... not only is it slippery, it causes muchly upsetting movement from the bike...

Rahul said...

@ rearset
The MRF Zappers are generally all round tyres. And Indians here arent exactly going to change rubber once its wet and then dry.. So I guess thats the tradeoff! See your point. The 100/90s on the Xtremes feel very planted.. And I am sure, the suspension plays a major role in keeping that traction going.
Most people who upsize their P180 rear rubber to 120 sections, completely roger the handling and the fun. trust me on that!

Arpan said...

comment on how to handle paver block /concrete road transitions when its running in the line of the travel not across the road.

I like the zappers which have come stock on the 220.much much better then stock zappers which came on the 180..but then the difference would not be just tyres alone i guess:)

Hrishi said...

Recently unsized to a 120 Zapper Q. Has a cool tread pattern, and more importantly, it is so much better in the wet than the original Zapper Y.

Now, is it because of the increase in width, or the rubber quality?

rearset said...

Any grooves that run parallel to the bike are potentially an hazard. Rain grooves are not – they just make the bike feel squirrely. Rain grooves are closely spaced grooves, about a centimetre wide set a centimetre apart, that run along the road and are supposed to help drain the rain water. All others are potential problem areas. The only trick is to attack them as perpendicular as you can to minimise slippage. I once got my Fiero's front wheel trapped in a groove between two concrete slabs around the Haji Corner. Scared the crap out of me. Remembered msgroup.org/some dirt bike website saying that in grooves you basically can't do much except relax... I tried. Extricated the Fiero when the groove ended... at 60+ kph. Elevated my heart rate for sure...

Unless I am very much mistaken, all the Zappers are effectively made from the same rubber. If you feel like you have more grip, it is probably just the slightly larger contact patch the 120 affords

delrond said...

I agree with all your advice. The only time i ever seem to make mistakes is in areas where i dont expect a risk ie:Car parks.

Not sure why but as soon as i least expect trouble is the time that i slip! But at least it aint happening whilst i'm riding at 60mph!

Great blog btw..I have just started a new one relating to Vespa's and Lambrettas http://modvespa.com any advice to a new blogger would be greatily appreciated.


Tandilwali said...

1. @ the painted bits... totally agree with all said so far. The glowy ones are baddd in the wet.

2. Having warmed your tyres on a dry surface, if possible, helps.

3. Watch for an amazing loss of traction if you are exiting a pool of water during a turn.