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.
I finally made it happen. And it wasn’t as glorious or dramatic as I expected it to be. As a matter of fact, the whole affair left me feeling a little miffed. Left with the thought: “I so could have handled that myself!” I was on my way home from work, the roads were wet, but clean, since it had rained pretty much all day. It was still a little drizzly, but it ain’t nothing but a thing anymore. The light is green and I take the left onto the onramp that leads uphill to dump us working stiffs onto I-520W to make our merry way home at an average rate of about 70 in a 55. The S1000RR’s stock tires, which are Metzeler Racetec K3 Interact (K3 are medium-hard) are confidence inspiring in the rain. I have developed trust in their crap weather performance rather quickly. Not even the Dunlop Sportmax Q2 rear that I rolled on the Hayabusa earned my trust this easily, and I loved them puppies so much, I still have two full sets stacked in my hallway closet. (Anybody want to buy some rubber?) Anyhoo, I was making the left turn a little faster than I normally would in this kind of weather, and decided to throw an upshift in the mix, while still coming out of the lean and accelerating briskly up the ramp. Of course, I miss the shift. Doh! Blip. Click. Rip. Clunk. The rear hops and steps out and the DTC light flashes on, and the hopping and sliding stops immediately and the bike is back online and continues its accelerated journey up the ramp. This happened in a split second. As soon as I realized what was going on it was over. My muscles didn’t even have time to take their accustomed corrective action that would have been necessary on The Fat Lady. Wow. How unceremonious that whole ordeal was. And here I was kind of scared of it and dreading the moment it would come on. Yeah, I screwed up and “Arr! Arr! Matey.” said The Pirate and put things right. I was in ‘Rain’ mode. I think I’m done with ‘Rain’ mode in wet weather. I think I’m going to leave it in ‘Race’ mode from now on. I like it the best of all the modes that don’t require the coded plug, besides, the Hayabusa never saw anything but ‘A’ mode after the break-in. Given, the ‘Busa’s modes only flattened the power curve; the S1000RR’s modes change DTC and RaceABS behavior and only restrict power delivery in ‘Rain’ mode. But for some reason I find it easier to finesse the throttle in ‘Race’ mode, even though the manual says it’s more aggressive (I think they used the word “direct”) than ‘Sport’ in throttle response. *shrugs*
Got crapped on by the Weather Gods yesterday evening on the way home from work. It’s been steadily raining all day, moderately heavy. The kind of rain that shows up light to dark green on the sat map the weather frogs give us to look at when we’re curious about outside conditions. Dark and wet and rainy: my favorite combo; it could only be worse if it had also been cold, but I lucked out: it was comparatively warm at 48˚ Fahrenheit around 18:30hrs. I decided to shove my iPod Shuffle into my waterproof breast pocket on my riding jacket, instead of its accustomed place in the front pocket of my mil-spec hi-viz vest. Didn’t want it to get wet, even though I do have a two-year replacement warranty on it. That was a mistake. As I roll along the Interstate, at about 70mph indicated; I guess that would be in the neighborhood of 63mph actual… I need to get that fixed. I hate subtracting 9.9% in my head… well, I do round up, but it’s a nuisance. Why do they do that? It’s another one of those stupid things corporations do in the name of… what? Politics? Lawsuit prevention? Gentlemen’s Agreements? Meh. Fuck you, Suzuki! I don’t need some corporate joker or dumbass politician saving me from my perceived idiot self, I can manage that on my own, thank you very much. I value the (dying) concept of personal responsibility. Harleys have accurate speedos… why can’t imports? It’s another one of those things that I need to rectify as a matter of principle. Add that one to the list of derestricting the bike, and replacing the top triple clamp with something that has holes in it big enough to slide fork tubes through. * crosses arms in front of her chest * I’ve had my say. Rant complete.
Anyway, shoving that Shuffle down my coat wasn’t a good idea as I am about to find out. Apparently the chest strap of my backpack is hitting the buttons on the inline control module when I move. The first indication of bad-idea-ness comes in the form of a voice-over announcing the song currently playing. Hot Doggie! It enunciates German properly. Cool beans! Kudos to Apple, I suppose. Then the volume gradually rises, one bump at a time. Ohoh! I try to remember if I have the volume limiter set and I think I do, but I set it with the Apple earbuds and I’m wearing my Big Ears now… Oh crap! It’s really blasting my eardrums now. I can’t hear anything anymore! The world has drowned in a German ‘80s Punk Rock song. I debate on whether or not to pull over to fix it. I quickly dismiss the idea, since that would mean having to stop and taking one of my gloves off, in the pouring down rain. And when one stops on a faired sportbike, the water droplets that usually get pushed up the sleeves and blown off have a chance to make their leisurely way down your arm and into your previously dry gloves. I get enough of that at the red lights. I try to adjust the chest strap, but don’t really know whether to go up or down with it. I don’t experience any more volume increases or voice-overs, so I either guessed right and moved the strap in the proper direction or my little iPod has reached its noise limiter. Either way, I’m definitely down with that.
I hate Gordon Highway in the dark when it’s raining. The entire road looks weird. It looks as if there’s standing water everywhere, but I’ve been down this road so many times, it’s just the coloration of the asphalt, something about the texture, and it tends to show up in the wheel tracks mostly. It’s also smooth in spots and water and light refracting off its surface makes it look ominous. But who’s to say that some of these areas haven’t actually collected enough water to make for a nice hydroplaned sideways trip to the hospital? When I have to concentrate and be at the top of my game, I either talk to myself or sing out loud into my helmet, depending on the skill level required of the task at hand. For instance, I talk myself through unfamiliar twisties; I sing in the rain, off-key I might add. I sing in heavy traffic when I’m engaged in what I refer to as ‘combat commuting’. I can’t sing worth a hoot. My singing voice is so embarrassing, I stop singing at red lights for fear the cager next to me might hear me. Anyway, I’m almost to my turn-off, I’ve already decelerated to 45/55 in preparation to get into the right turn lane that will open up shortly. I’m in the right lane, nobody behind me, somebody’s passing me in the left lane, and there’s a car waiting to pull out up ahead. I don’t see a turn signal, so he must be going right. As soon as I notice him, he pulls out in front of me. Asshole! I get on the front brake. Hard squeeze, release, hard squeeze. I am unsure of myself. A fleeting thought of doubt rears its ugly head and sticks it through the mental formulation of my escape plan. My body wants to tense, but I order it not to. Stay smooth, relax. Stay smooth, relax. The passing car is out of my way and the left lane is clear. I’m in the left wheel track and the emergency has left this situation, other than the would-be frustration of having to miss my turn and going straight. But I don’t have to evade. I manage to slow down to the car’s speed before I even get close to kissing his bumper. I opt to hold my position and give the asshole the finger instead; not that he can see me, it’s dark, my headlights are on, and he’s probably not even aware I’m even behind him. Had it been dry I would have swerved, gassed it, and swerved back over, cutting his inattentive little tail off while initiating a hair-raising right turn, and giving him the single-digit salute with my left hand all the way through it, in a blatant display of my utter dissatisfaction and as the perfect excuse to get my kicks in and my lean on at an intersection. I may have done that… if it had been dry… and daylight. Traffic was light, favorable; it was the perfect setting. Had it been dry… and daylight… DAMN!
However, this whole mess revealed to me one VERY IMPORTANT deficiency in my riding skill set: My crap weather skills are not up to snuff. They are not honed to the point where reactions are automatic and spot on. I need to work on that. Seriously. This just won’t do.