Riding

Better riding – how to ride in the wet

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Wet weather riding tips – the basics of riding in the wet are the same as riding in the dry. The secret is in staying smooth…

RELAX – Many riders don’t enjoy riding in the wet and most actually avoid it where possible. It’s completely the wrong approach. The reality is that the skills you need in the wet are exactly the same as those you need when you’re riding in the dry, namely you need to be smooth with your inputs and you need to be relaxed on the bike.

The biggest secret to good bike control is to ensure you’re in the right riding position. You need to be comfortable and leant forward slightly, with your arms bent – they need to be parallel to the road, and this allows you to steer the bike with the lightest of touches. This is important. If you’re holding too tight and the bike slides in the wet, this movement will be amplified and you’ll actually stop the bike from correcting itself.

CORNERING – Another mistake many riders make in the wet is that they corner too gingerly. I’m not talking about really attacking bends, but riding confidently and making progress. If you tip-toe through the corners, virtually upright, on a closed throttle, you’re not generating any cornering force and your tyres will be generating very little grip. It’s a viscous circle – the bike’s feels nervous and twitchy, you back off, the bike feels even worse, so you back off more.

It sounds crazy, but by riding more confidently and smoothly, you’ll actually be generating some cornering and braking forces, which in turn allows the tyres to grip. Still not convinced? Then try this – gently side your fingers across glass and they will simply glide across. Now try it again but this time push down with increasing force and they will begin to dig into the surface. Again the secret is smoothness.

ACCELERATING – Good throttle control is the key to wet weather riding, and I’m amazed at how few rides are able to demonstrate this basic, but essential, skill. Again, it’s all about smoothness – any big input will break traction and light the rear up, whereas smoothly winding the throttle provides drive and traction.

BRAKING – The best way to brake in the wet is to brake exactly the same as you would in the dry – squeeze the lever and apply it progressively. Never, ever grab, as any sudden input will break traction.

You won’t be able to brake as hard as you would in the dry, and this needs to be reflect in your riding, but you can still brake surprisingly hard.

The rear brake comes into its own in the wet, and by trying to provoke a rear-wheel lock up I can use it as a gauge for assessing how much grip is available – a vital tool for helping you to ride to the conditions.

ROAD POSITIONING – Wet weather means you’ll have to compromise your road position. Road markings, cat’s eyes, manhole covers and overbanding will all be very, very slippery and all should be avoided where possible.

You may also have to adjust your position on corners as gravel could be sitting on your ideal line, so keep your vision up, look as far forward as possible and try and anticipate any hazards.

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Caught by the fuzz

CBR nabbed

It’s 4.30pm in the afternoon, I’ve been riding for some nine hours already, and I’ve wasted the best part of 90 minutes getting lost on the outskirts of Prague. I’d lost the signs for Brno as soon as I entered Prague and quickly found myself snared in its ring road system – pulling over to ask for directions didn’t help either; the further east you go, the greater the language barrier. And the problem with riding with no maps or sat nav and relying on a crude set of directions stuck to the tank is that once you deviate from said route you’re screwed.

After finally extracting the CBR 600-RR from any one of the featureless roads feeding Prague’s endless industrial estates I picked up the E65 and saws signs for Brno, still some 130 miles away.

The traffic thinned out after twenty or so miles and the CBR’s tank had just been brimmed, so I decided to gun it and cover as much ground as possible in as short time as possible. The next hour or so disappeared in blur as I cut my way through traffic, comfortably cursing around the 120mph mark, happily minding my own business and dreaming of a cold pint and a hearty steak.

After draining another tank I stopped to refuel. I was now only 30 miles from Brno. And then it happened. As I overtook the clapped out red Skoda on my right, I glanced over and saw a video camera gaffer taped to the dash pointing forwards. It looked odd but as I checked out the driver and passenger, a couple of weary middle-aged men, I didn’t think any more of it and as I left them behind and they got smaller and smaller in my mirrors I forgot about them completely. Soon they had disappeared from sight altogether and my mind started drifting to getting out of my leathers and enjoying a hot shower.

Five minutes later I saw a some blue lights in the distance. I looked down at my clocks, eased off the gas and cruised to the inside lane. They couldn’t be for me – I pretty much had the road to myself. Must be an accident somewhere. I glanced in the mirrors again and they were much closer; they were clearly shifting. And then they were alongside me, a red police stop matrix sign flashing angrily in the brand new VW Passat’s rear windscreen.

I pulled over and was instructed to follow them. After some five minutes’ riding we pulled into a lay-by and were greeted by three riot vans and two marked squad cars. I removed my helmet and was surrounded by police. They spoke no English, I spoke no Czech. There’s an uneasy stand-off until I started talking German to one of the female cops. ‘This your bike?’ Well, no actually it wasn’t. It’s a Honda press bike. ‘Does Mr Honda know you have his bike?’ Yes, I guess so. After handing over my passport, driving licence and the bike’s V5 and certificate of insurance, the battered red Skoda pulls up. “You were speeding. We have film of you doing 140kph in a 80kph limit.” I ask to see the film. They decline…the camera’s not working. They’re going to impound the bike or I can pay a €350 fine. I hunt through my wallet – I’ve got €25 in shrapnel. The cops in the unmarked Passat offer to take me to a cashpoint, but I’ll have to leave the bike, the key, my Arai, my Kriega rucksack, my passport and my driving licence with their mates in the lay-by. It doesn’t feel right, but I’ve got no choice.

After some 20-minutes in the car the road we’re on is getting narrower and narrower as we head further into the wilderness. It’s getting darker too. The silence isn’t helping the mood, and I realise I’ve no idea if these are real police or not – I haven’t seen a single piece of ID yet, and the Skoda was clearly fucked. I’m trying to exude calmness on the outside but inside my stomach’s doing cartwheels and my mind’s racing away from me, my thoughts bouncing off the rev limiter– they’ve got guns, nobody knows where I am or what’s going on. It reminded me very much of when I had got carjacked in a new TT at a petrol station in Latvia when I was working for Audi…I could just sense something was going to happen.

And then in the middle of nowhere we pulled up, and there on the corner was a cashpoint. I withdrew the cash, handed it over and the mood changed instantly. The policemen’s grimaces were replaced with smiles, they started laughing and joking, and even put some music on the radio. I started to relax.

We eventually double backed on ourselves, rejoined the motorway and arrived back at the lay-by, bike and luggage exactly where I’d left it. I got out the car, asked for a receipt and they just smiled and drove off. And the others did the same. I’d clearly just been robbed, in broad daylight by the police, and there was fuck all I could do about it. Their beers were very much on me tonight.

I suited up, fired up the bike and cautiously made my way to Brno, still seething inside my lid.

When I look back on it, it’s things like this that make trips abroad. I loved that bike, proper loved it and can remember pretty much every one of the 24,000 miles we covered in the six months I had it in 2010. Yes, I’d been royally shafted by the people who were supposed to protect me, but it could’ve been worse…they could have recorded my real speed.

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