Wednesday 2nd January 2013


PH BLOG: RAIN STOPS PLAY

Harris takes issue with our inability to cope with a spot of rain


Unless wind speeds have exceeded 125mph, the weather is not an adequate topic of conversation in the United Kingdom. But when it rains for a month even determined meteorological avoiders like myself find it hard not to drop 'it's rather wet out there' into the odd sentence.

Bimbling 'lemming' not far ahead...
Bimbling 'lemming' not far ahead...
Unless you are filming very powerful cars on a race circuit, rain doesn't help driving. The general reduction in grip levels can be fun in some cars (no Trent/Garlick - not an invitation to fly the flag for MX-5s...), but in general, road conditions deteriorate and, more importantly, so do the driving standards. It's all very well enjoying the added slitheryness of your little roadster, but if the roads are clogged with lemmings unable to travel at anything above 27mph, your chances of enjoying that loose chassis are low to zero.

What a month of rain has confirmed is just how little the average UK motorist knows about the performance of his or her car in the rain. The same non-enthusiast who, in the dry, will happily scratch about on trunk roads above the national speed limit and hack down the M40 at 99.8mph in his Audi A4 2.0 TDi, immediately assumes that a single downpour transforms his car into a Ford Anglia on crossplies. With faulty rear brakes.

If people knew just how effective a modern chassis, on healthy premium rubber was on a damp or wet road, they'd be astonished. Of course there's less grip, but the drop-off isn't anything like as pronounced as most of the population assume it to be, and because people have no understanding or experience of grip limits, they just slow down to laughable speeds.

Wet weather shouldn't stop your fun, in theory
Wet weather shouldn't stop your fun, in theory
A few days ago I followed a car I have seen several times driven locally at a decent lick. It was raining and this car was now barely trundling. And yes, it did contain the same driver. By all means take 10-15 per cent off your speed, but 50 per cent? That's madness.

Should this read like a rallying call for people to drive much faster in the wet, I apologise, because it certainly isn't meant to be. That would be madness. We just don't need to slow down to the degree that we do.

The most dangerous aspect of wet roads is the unpredictability of surface changes: fresh rain on dry surfaces leeches out lubricants and other slippery stuff, downpours are sometimes absorbed by the drainage system, but they also tend to leave random lakes that a 285/35 P-Zero is notably incapable of handling.

I haven't driven much over Christmas partly because there hasn't been much need and partly because of all the reasons listed above. If lemmings are a frustration on a dry summer's day, they're too much to handle in a deluge.

Car getting muddy? Get a muddy car...
Car getting muddy? Get a muddy car...
But it's the other aspects of a sodden journey that I find almost more depressing. I hate getting wet walking to the car. I hate the way that water then spreads itself over the upholstery - and leaving the door ajar for a nano second always soaks the door trim. I hate the way that water then evaporates and coats itself onto the glass. Lots of hate there.

Living in the sticks, water means mud. Everything I climb into gets muddy - it's unavoidable and quite depressing in a car with 10 grand of light grey Nappa leather. Buying a loaf of bread leaves me looking like a failed Wipeout contestant.

Oddly, none of this seems to matter as much when you're driving a shagged-out old Range Rover -my wheels of choice in these conditions. The teddy bear seats are never too cold, the mud is indecipherable on top of the seven layers of older mud and a bit of water on the electric window switches tends to make them work a little better.

But no need to get too depressed about all this. Right now I'm dreaming of summer time. Blue skies, dry roads and something fast.

The DRIVE videos resume soon.

Here's to 2013, it's going to be fun.

Chris

Author: Chris Harris
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