Chris Vermeulen’s wet riding tips

Chris Vermeulen - australia day

We may not like riding in the rain, but with the weather as unpredictable as it has been you are bound to get caught in the rain at some stage.

Rather than give you my tips for riding on wet roads, we went to 2003 World Supersport champion, 10-time World Superbike race winner and MotoGP winner Chris Vermeulen for some expert advice

Chris won the 2007 Le Mans GP in the rain, so he knows what he’s talking about.

Q & A on wet riding with Chris:

Q: Why are some riders better in the rain?

A: I put it down to the fact that a lot of Australian and American racers came from a dirt track background compared with the European racers so it gives you a lot more bike feel. A wet track is a great leveller for equipment, so it comes back to how the rider adapts to the situation.
Chris Vermeulen
Q: What’s your top tip?

A: The most important thing in the wet is to be smooth with everything you do. There is obviously less grip and the bike is less forgiving so you have to be smooth on all your inputs into the bike such as throttle, brake, clutch and moving your body weight. Every action you do on the bike upsets it more.

Q: Where is the most grip?

A: You’re going to have more grip and control on the bike in the wet when it’s upright. On the track you can still brake quite hard and accelerate quite hard, so long as you do it smoothly. In fact, you can still brake with the same maximum pressure but you have to apply it smoother. But you have to load the brakes while the bike is still upright.

Q: Do you take different corner lines?

A: You need to keep the bike straight for as long as possible and spend as little time on the edge of the tyre. That means different lines to riding in the dry. You don’t arc through the corner as much; you want to stop and start the motorcycle more in the rain and keep the corners shorter. On a wet road you don’t want to use all of your lane because there can be slippery gravel, moss and leaves on the edge of the road.
Wet ridingQ: Is it different on the road?

A: I think a lot of it comes across from the track. You want to be smooth riding on the road in the wet because it is even more difficult because of oil, diesel spills and debris. My suggestion is to enter the corner even slower than you expect you need to, so you have plenty of time to assess the situation. You can always accelerate harder out of the corner to make up time. I try not to use the full amount of the road because you are going into somewhere that’s blind and if the bike does slide, it’s good to be able to react or run wider or turn tighter to change your line.

Q: Do you lean off the bike in the wet?

A: You move your body off the bike as much as possible to keep the bike upright. The way to make a bike turn while upright is to get your arse off the seat further. When we’re racing on top quality tyres you can still get your knee on the ground as a feeler and a gauge, and as a third wheel. It gives you confidence if you can feel the condition of the ground through your knee. Also, if the tyre slides a little you can save it with your knee.

Q: Do you get out of the saddle on the road?

A: If I’m riding an adventure type bike you don’t get off the bike because of the ergonomics, but if I’m riding a street bike I still like to get the weight off the side of the bike as it helps it turn. You might look silly because you are a long way from getting your knee down, but the wind resistance in higher speed corners actually slows you down and makes the bike turn slightly.

Q: Do you change where you look in the wet?

A: No, you still have to look where you want to go. If you think you are going to quick for a corner in the wet, don’t look at the gravel at the side of the road, but look where you want to go. It also keeps you smoother on the bike if you don’t move your head around as much but just look where you are going.

Q: Would you change bike set-up for a wet road?

A: I wouldn’t make any bike changes. It’s usually not raining when you head out for a ride, but then it starts to come down and you probably don’t have a chance to adjust it so you need to know how the bike feels with your usual set-up. In the rain on a racetrack we are about 10% slower than in the dry and we soften the suspension also by about 10%. Now, if you are riding a bike like the BMW F 800 GS that has ESA (electronic suspension adjustment) you can change it on the fly, so I’d definitely soften the suspension.Chris Vermeulen
Q: What about tyre pressures?

A: If you are riding in the wet all day you might lower your tyre pressures a little bit so you have more grip. I’ve done that on the track, but I’ve never done that on the road.

Q: Do you use traction control?

A: I had traction control throughout my GP career and it’s very handy in the rain. When I first went out on a wet track, I would wick it up and gradually turn it down as you get more feel for the grip levels. I would basically use the traction control to understand where the grip is. I wouldn’t do that on the road. Traction control, like ABS, is a great safety barrier. It lets you make a mistake without crashing. If it’s cutting in all the time you haven’t learnt where the grip is. But you never can fully know grip levels on the road, like you can on a racetrack. We go round lap after lap on the same circuit and there are track marshals there to warn us if there is an oil spill. We know what is in front of us. On the road, you have no idea what dangers lie ahead.

Q: One last wet riding tip?

A: Yeah, stay away from white lines and manhole covers.

6 Comments

  1. Chris has called it dead right on all his advice in my opinion, I get IOM riders complaining about my road position but I like to allow a bit for a slide rather than sitting on a white line getting ready to get hit by corner cutting cars.

    On a big bike I also hold the back brake on a little while accelerating out of slow corners and roundabouts to lower the chance of highside unless it’s a corner I’m confident on and want to slide the back out a bit off the power.

    Never rode a bike with traction control but I’ve survived over 20 years without and don’t like the idea of trusting sensors and electronics. Can’t see the point of ABS either as I would think it would take away feel at the lever and it won’t work while cornering anyway which is where you would need it. All these aids do is promote reckless riding which will catch riders out sooner or later.

  2. Sorry but there wasn’t much good advice for anyone but boy racers. If you want God street advice you should ask a seasoned motorcycle currier but how many of them are famous?
    My tips
    Use your nose, diesel smells so if you get a whiff of it expect a spill.
    Look for the tell tail sheen on the road especially at intersections and bends.
    Keep extra distance from cagers
    Pay attention to the road surface for debris , potholes, polished sections, ruts and spills.
    TRAM TRACKS
    Pick your path with care even in the dry, try to avoid slight angles especially when leaning
    To do a turn Stay straight and upright for as long as possible then cut across the tracks at a sharp angle be ready to put a foot down to arrest a slide. Beware of cars and trams when dealing with tram tracks they don’t know that you can’t just drive over them and will cut you off rear end you or pretend you don’t exist especially in Melbourne.
    Breaking
    Get on them earlier but softer front first then rear and increase to full pressure until you’ve slowed or stopped.
    Moving off
    You can still beat most cars off at the lights but only if you don’t drop it in the process
    Pick your spot it may actually be the middle of a lane if all the oil and gunk has washed away because the tire tracks are too polished and slippery be prepared for the tire to spin slip and skip sideways Don’t panic just ease off a little and keep upright you may have to put a foot down or keep them down as you move off.
    Turning at intersections
    Same as going straight but also there are more painted bits which can be very slippery and you have to turn across them ,they are different to tram tracks as you are better off attacking them in the most upright position which can mean a very slight angle.
    Be prepared for the back wheel to jump out even at low power.
    Never get on the power until you are well away from the corner and fully up right
    And last but not least BEWARE NEW TIRES!
    Especially in the wet

  3. I still remember watching the wet Le Mans MotoGP race Chris Vermeulen won. Beating Rossi and Casey Stoner in pouring rain on a Suzuki is an awesome achievement!
    I’ve got one more wet weather tip. Go back to bed and see if the rain has stopped the next day.

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