I am so done with rain! I show rain the finger! Rain, kiss my pipe, you don’t scare me (much)!
I have said that riding in rain has become “nothing but a thing” anymore. People who ask me if I rode into work today, when they’ve obviously seen my bike sitting in the parking lot getting the redneck bike wash treatment, think I’m completely nuts when I nod a “Yes, I did. I have to, I don’t own a car,” in response to their question. I don’t even know why they bother asking anymore. I certainly didn’t push the mother here. How else would it get here? This makes me think that all they are trying to tell me is, via small talk of the stating-the-obvious variety, that they believe me to be completely mental and I should really get a grip and trade the thing in for a car. Please! When hell freezes over; then, maybe, we’ll begin negotiations.
I have gotten the “don’t rely on that” hand-waving dismissive “you-are-soon-dead” reactions from veteran bikers in response to my standard reply of “Rain is just God’s way of giving us clean roads and 80% traction.” Yeah, I’m such a squid! Please bury me just like that dude who reaped Internet fame of epic proportions posthumously by his family posing his dead corpse on his sport bike. Yeah. Bury my ass sitting on my Beemer in a race tuck, dragging knee around a… wait. I want to be cremated and turned into a diamond for Mr. Slow to wear as a necklace… on second thought, scratch that.
It came to me the other morning, when I had an incident on the way home from work, that I have pretty much experienced all the major “Holy Hell” categories of Crap Weather Riding 101 and 201. I have lost traction both front and rear; fishtailed; slid it sideways; almost lost it by putting my foot down in an oil-water mixture at an intersection; have slipped on lane markings; slid across a patch of ice on a curved onramp; been cut off while turning right at an intersection and had to get on the brakes so hard while leaned over, I was sure that I couldn’t possibly remain on my contact patches; I have had to fly by instruments alone, it was raining so hard at night, the water couldn’t evacuate fast enough off my face shield, and the lights refracted off the road surface so badly, I was basically blind. One thing I hadn’t experienced yet.
I was on my way home from work, I was tired and it was raining pretty steadily. It had been raining all night and most of the previous day, which meant I had at least clean roads, since most of the junk had already been washed off the road surface. I was passing most everybody, as is my custom when it’s raining. Two reasons I have for this, one of which is that most seem to want to creep along below or right at the speed limit, which is something I really don’t get. Maybe those people need new wiper blades and some new tires? This is a far cry from the 15+ over they usually employ to get to work on time. No bother, this does me just fine. It’s not like I want to hang out around cars and trucks, they spray more dirty water into my path, limit my sight distance even more and make it a generally unpleasant experience. Traffic in crap weather is unpredictable to me, I rather not attempt to read them for fear I might be wrong. I take the “the more distance between us the better” approach when it’s unfavorable in the weather department. But I digress.
I was in the left lane roughly doing my usual standard speed of speed limit +9, traffic was extremely light. I see a bus up ahead and once I get close I decide to speed up, which is also a standard practice of mine. Big vehicle getting passed by small vehicle makes small vehicle go through the danger zone in a hurry. I don’t like to hang out. As I am roughly two-thirds of the way past the bus, I hit standing water in the left wheel track. Using the left wheel track is also standard practice when passing huge vehicles. I recognize the danger at about the same time I feel both of my tires “driving up onto glass.” I really have no other way to describe the feedback I got through my tires. It felt different. Not as “rough”, not as “connected”. Like being picked up? As if my contact patches felt smaller. I don’t really know how to put this in words. At that fraction of a second my heart was in my throat, beating fiercely. I had the bus spraying a fine mist of dirty water all over me, to my immediate left was the concrete barrier separating the westbound lanes from the ones going east. I lose it either way, I’m toast. I was staring down the gauntlet into the possibility of coming out the other side in the World of Pain.
I felt the rear give first. I practically had to scream at my tendons not to move and snap the throttle shut. Boy, did I want to. I’m glad the thought of hitting the brakes never raised its ugly head; kind of proud of that one, if I may take this opportunity and pat my own self on the back. This is the first time I was scared while riding in the rain in a long time. I didn’t like it. I told myself out loud, so I could hear it and believe it: “Keep calm! Easy does it!” and with that I pinned the throttle and rode it out, while looking way ahead into the distance, trying to ignore the kill zones to my left and right. The whole incident couldn’t have lasted much longer than a few seconds, if that long. Time always seems to slow down when stuff happens.
Hydroplaning is only fun on a wakeboard at the beach.
What in the devil is wrong this morning? Traffic is pretty heavy, but moving along at almost the pace of a Georgia Super Speeder, which is highly unusual for a Wednesday on both counts. It’s raining, has been pretty much all night from the looks of things. I’m running late, so I’m pretty much in a hurry. Business as usual on I-20. I’m passing most everybody, a few get to pass me. Yeah, you’ve read right. It’s a privilege, one which can be revoked at any second. 😉
Once I merge onto I-520E it’s a different story, as is evident at the merge point of the two opposing I-20 ramps feeding into I-520E. It takes some seriously creative riding to get in between all the slowasses, the hesitant mergers, the leadfoots, the space holders, the distractedly engaged, and the mobile jabber junkies. Yes, I have categorized the crowd by their default behaviors when driving becomes more complicated and the brain starts running the risk of overloading. Inconveniences such as intersections, on/off ramps, cloverleaf ramps, and merge points are all prime spots to observe the Common Cager (incola communis rotae cavea) in their natural habitat.
I make my way towards another day filled with opportunity of earning Pirate Coin (read: I’m going to work to make the bike payment) through the succession of merge points that is Augusta’s own scaled-down version of Atlanta’s infamous Spaghetti Junction or Columbia’s suicidal Malfunction Junction. After slicing and dicing and duking it out with a cager crowd that is denser, faster, and more aggressive than usual, which makes the situation also more unpredictable than is the norm; I finally find myself some empty-enough asphalt I can settle into and go with the flow of traffic.
My bliss, however, doesn’t last long, and as the wild bunch behind me catches up, I find myself surrounded again. Damn! I hate this. I can’t stand being around this much metal. That goes against my rule of riding as if invisible. I don’t like being caged in (pun intended), it gives me few to no outs and not enough time to react to set an escape in motion if it became necessary. I like to control the situation. And I do that with the throttle.
I have planned my escape and am working my way towards the freedom that is a much airier stretch of asphalt not too far ahead. As I see an opening to escape the imminent clutches of a semi-truck spraying me with grimy rainwater its tires sling off the road surface and a tailgater in an SUV, and risking getting stuck there, I take it and quickly change lanes, squeeze in between two cars, ride the left side of the white line, then gas it a little too enthusiastically to take advantage of the next opening. I slide the rear wheel, it starts stepping out to the right. I don’t even have to think about it; nor is it an event that registers even the slightest twinges of panic in me, nor does it upset the Pirate, as is evident by the DTC light remaining dark. A simple acknowledgement, followed by trained action.
I pin the throttle, then dive left with a quick nudge on the left grip, aiming for the left wheel track of the left lane; as I do, the rear wheel hooks back up. I straighten myself out, pass the semi truck, and after one more set of rolling road blocks (two cars pacing each other slightly offset, taking up both lanes and backing up impatient caffeine-deprived, half-asleep morning commuters for miles) I am finally free. I feel like putting on blue face paint and showing my arse while yelling “Freedom!”.
I was kind of proud of myself. I smiled. It wasn’t too long ago where I would have had to pull over and dig out the emergency pair of replacement panties. And here I was complaining not too long ago that I can’t improve my skills on public roads anymore. That street riding has become mostly mundane, boring and uninspiring. I guess I underestimated the power of constant and conscious repetition of isolated skill practice. I definitely have increased my crap weather riding skills and my confidence must be solidified.
I noticed another thing, I have reached a milestone of sorts in my riding: I haven’t been singing in the rain. That means I am not nervous or anxious anymore and the need for intense concentration has passed. I still sing on occasion when I drag knee though, I’m pretty sure of it. 😉
As a side note: I’m rolling Dunlop Sportmax Q2s, the rear in Hayabusa size (a leftover from some long-ago tire sale): 190/50 as opposed to 190/55. I can reach the ground better in my race boots, but I think I lost 6 mph off the top end… *giggles* and my speedo reads about 5-7 miles slow now. Oh well… it won’t be on there forever. I really do love those tires. I think I might even like them better than the Metzeler Racetec Interact K3 (K3s are medium-hard) that came on the bike; and they are cheaper, too.