Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Not Rain!

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.

Thanks, Dan!



RichardM said...

I don't know how you do it. The last time I was in Atlanta, even the cab ride from the airport was terrorizing. Like you mentioned, quick un-signalled lane changes and lots of hard stops had me convinced to avoid cities.


Bill (cycleguy) said...

Ask me if I miss that type of traffic. lol I would not want a 45 minute commute in that traffic unless it was on my bicycle off the interstate (although riding in the rain is not fun). Glad you were safe Allen. Sounds like you learned a cool lesson.

redlegsrides said...

Your description of Atlanta traffic reminds me of my caging days in the DC Metro area and the beltway traffic...horrific at best.

Great to hear confirmation re Irondad's sage advice and your successful application thereof....


Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

Allen Madding said...

This is my second "tour of duty" in Atlanta. This one is at 11yrs and counting. I am yearning to get out of this traffic.

When the day comes that we move, I will not miss this traffic.

I get to DC once a year. I honestly cannot tell any difference in the traffic there and here. Maddening to say the least.


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Mr. Madding:

I read IronDad's article with interest as well. I too can hardly wait to try that little trick regarding braking in the rain. But I have another challenge. The arthritis in my right leg has slowly angled my right foot slightly outward. Now this is not a big deal for most thinbgs... But the brake pedal on the K75 is as small as an aspirin.

It is my intention to buy two additional brake pedals, have a metal shop cut the foot piece off one, and weld it as an extension to the other. This would give me a brake pedal that was at least 3 inches long, that I could get easily under my foot.

Fondest regards,
Jack • Reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Mike said...

Nice confirmation on Dan's recommendations. I noticed that point about pulling the knees in too.

That traffic reminds me of LA. You are brave, my friend!

I also hear that Atlanta gets more rain than Portland. It's just that we get a little bit everyday instead of big dumps like there.

God's speed.

Allen Madding said...

My friend I hate to hear how hard the arthritis is being on you. Wish I was a bit closer, I'd weld that peddle up for you. I used to do a lot of fabricating when I was racing and enjoyed it a great deal. I sincerely miss my welding machine.

Take care of yourself!

I don't feel any braver on the Harley than sitting in the pickup. But at least the Harley is more nimble working through traffic when people don't want to keep things flowing. I won't complain about rain as my friends in Texas are in drought. So, I'll shut up and consider my blessings.

Thanks for your support.


Unknown said...

I hate both traffic and the rain. I don't know how you do it in Atlanta. I've thought that if I move to a big city I may not ride, and riding is pretty much my only passtime.

I like this technique for rear braking and may try it. I have a hard time applying even braking to the rear because I have three bikes, all with very different rear brake systems. The Kaw and BMW both have ABS, which makes me extremely happy, though the Honda goes from 'gentle braking' to 'extreme lockup' in a damned hurry. It's taught me to keep my distance and engine brake when possible.

Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life

Allen Madding said...

Hi Brady,
To be honest, commuting on the bike is the only thing keeping me sane working downtown and dealing with the traffic. With the bike, I have the acceleration, manueverability, plus it fits in smaller spaces. Where driving the truck, I am usually forced to sit behind people determined to drive 45 in the left hand lane not keeping up with traffic ahead of them.

My previous job was a shorter commute to the office but had me flying all over the country 8 months a year and working 14 hojur days. Everything is a tradeoff.

Thanks for stopping by and writing in.


Webster World said...

But you get to ride the the commute lane.

Allen Madding said...

Webster - afraid there is no "commute lane" on the highway I have to use. Sure would be nice.


irondad said...

Thank you for the post. Glad you found value in what I wrote. For whatever reason I have a passion for sharing with riders. Posts like this keep the fire burning.

Guess we all need to feel useful in some way!