As I pulled out of the motorcycle parking at our building to begin my 42 mile commute home yesterday, this is what my windshield quickly began to look like. "Ugh, Rain", I thought. I do not mind riding in the rain. In fact, I carry a set of FrogTogs in my saddlebags for such an occasion. What I do mind is riding in Atlanta traffic in the rain.
Take this traffic, add rain. Mix in quick stops and un-signalled lane changes and you begin to get the idea. As I leave town and proceed northward, the highway loses lanes but the traffic stays the same density.
Fortunately for me, Dan Batemen wrote a very good article on his blog, Musings of an Intrepid Commuter on Friday addressing an issue I have struggled with for several years. I admit it. I have struggled with properly applying the rear brake on a motorcycle. It seems whenever a quick braking situation presents itself, I tend to slide the rear tire with too much brake pressure. Once a couple of years ago, such a situation sent me sliding across the highway on my face. The rear tire lock up was severe it put me into a tank slapper and down I went. With that experience firmly planted in my subconscious, I think "easy on the rear brake" every time I am faced with a quick braking situation, but was still encountering a bit of rear tire sliding be it ever so slight.
In Dan's article, "I got it!!!", he says, "...my answer would be to tell the rider to brace their knees up tight against the tank of the bike. With knees out, the large muscles of the upper leg are pressing down on the brake pedal. By pressing the knees hard against the tank, it both helps keep the rider down in the seat of the bike and forces the smaller muscles of the lower leg and foot into service. Since these muscles are less powerful but capable of receiving greater feedback from what they feel, much more control of the rear brake application is possible."
I had been mentally processing on this recommendation ever since I read it. In fact, I had rode to work practicing pulling my knees into the tank on the bike every time I reached for the rear brake. So, now riding in the rain with traffic as thick as screaming teenagers at a Justin Bieber concert, I set out on the highway with my new rear braking strategy firmly in my mind.
For the first few miles, the rain was light and the road was somewhat dry, but that quickly changed as the rain picked up and the road began to shine with moisture. The tires of the cages ahead of me were making dry tracks in the wet lane, so I concentrated on positioning the bike in the dry tire tracks for maximum traction. I had several opportunities to try applying both front and rear brakes successfully without sliding the rear tire in the slightest even with wet pavement.
Before long, the road was wet enough that the cages ahead of me were no longer making dry tracks in the lane. I made mental note, left more spacing between myself and the cages and continued using Dan's recommended braking technique. Cages continued to make sudden un-signalled lane changes diving in and out of lanes. And the cages ahead of me sped up and suddenly slowed down as is typical in my commute. I manuevered through the "choke point" where the left hand lane of the highway suddenly ends and snarls traffic without issue.
By the time I turned into our neighborhood, the rain had stopped, and I had ridden 42 miles of maddening Atlanta traffic in the rain without locking up the rear tire a single time. The experience bolstered my confidence of riding in Atlanta traffic in the rain. I was mentally exhausted but very pleased with the experience.