Okay, here's the deal. Tires don't give you traction. Only the surface you are riding on has that traction. Tires only grip that traction, whatever traction is there. Whatever Mother Nature gives us for traction, our tires and our own skill have to work with it. Tires are not the savior for traction problems. Some tires are made to grip some traction surfaces better than others, but no tire grips all kinds of traction well. It really is our own skill in using traction correctly that will keep us out of tight spots.
You've learned that sometimes we have less the traction than others. We can sort of measure it. A completely dry, clean, and smooth surface has the BEST traction (yes, it does - think Drag Strip - completely dry AND clean - nothing between the tire and the ground - that's the key). We know rain is more of a barrier between the tire and ground, and gives less traction. Snow, even less, unless it's slightly compacted and we actually grip it and not the ground. Ice has even less. Black ice - that's the big goose egg for traction! And then there's the scooter's biggest nemesis - sand. . .
Traction is needed for every change in scooter "dynamic." If a scooter is moving and the brakes are applied, the tires must grip whatever traction there is to slow down the scoot. If you want to speed up, you need traction. And we need traction to turn. Three things use traction – accelerating, braking, and turning. Now we have to learn how to use the traction we have, even if there isn't much of it.
What happens when we put on our brakes too hard? We start to skid, right? (Unless we have ABS, which only the top-end motorcycles have - another subject for later.) We've used up all of the traction available to us. And if there is less traction (from snow, ice, etc.), we find that we skid more easily, right? Once you start skidding, the wheels are no longer turning, and since the wheels aren't turning, the brakes are worthless. How many of us have, when in a car, in a skid, just tried pressing harder on the brakes hoping it will somehow stop us? Or have locked the wheels up and then are unable to steer? So how do we get grip back? We do what we have to do to get the wheels to roll again, and it's completely counter-intuitive: let off the brakes just enough to let your tires to start rolling again, and maintain that maximum pressure spot. But don't "pump" your brakes - it's not efficient and makes the scoot dynamically upset - that's another topic, later.
Also, think of what happens when you brake AND turn. Let's pretend you have, theoretically, 100 units of traction. You need to use that traction for both turning and braking. So, again theoretically, you'd use 50 units to turn, and 50 to brake (or 60 - 40, or 30 - 70. . . ). For most situations, our scoots can handle that. But what if the traction is reduced due to rain to, say, 60 units of traction? Now you'd have to use 30 units for braking, and 30 units for turning. You can see that you are closer to loosing grip doing this. Imagine if it's ice, say, 10 units of traction. Just using those 10 for only braking and not exceeding that traction limitation is tough as it is! So prudence tells us that, especially if traction is less than optimal, we need to be extremely careful using our traction for more than one thing at a time. In fact, because we are habitual creatures, it is best if we develop a habit of never using our traction for more than one thing at a time (because, let's face it, when we get into a panic situation, like skidding, we tend to do what we do out of habit, and we don't have time to think about what we should be doing). If you ride with me, you will almost never see my brake lights on when I'm turning, and my speed is constant as I turn as well (no acceleration, either). This is just to help me so when I do get into a tight spot I only depend on my habit of using my traction for one thing at a time.
A note about sand. Sand is dangerous - when sand gets between your tires and the road, it's like ice. We don't notice sand so much when in a car because sand is usually congregated into a spot that only two wheels pick up, like on tight turns of a road. In a car, two wheels get sand, but two more are usually on cleaner ground and the car won't slide. Not the case with scooters. Be extra wary on your scooter around sand! Go slowly, and avoid braking AND turning or accelerating AND turning through it.
Just briefly, most of us have general purpose tires for our scooters, mainly because scooters really aren't good for anything extreme, regardless of traction. Most scooter tires have treads that are designed to handle dry, slightly dirty, or wet roads. The tread helps channel water out of the way (to help you have a connection to the ground), and have a surface shape good for gripping dry or slightly dirty ground. They usually don't have the gnarly knobs that are good for digging past things like snow or gravel. But our tires do most jobs of gripping fairly well, when in reasonable conditions. If you have less tread for channeling water out of the way, you'll find you have less grip. So take good care of your tires and get them changed when you see the "wear bars." Traction is tough already to deal with. Give yourself an edge with halfway decent tires.
Now go out there and practice using your traction correctly - doing only one thing at a time with it (accelerating, turning, or braking), and maybe play around a bit to find your traction limitations .
Next entry - we'll talk about your vision. . . .
Debbie Swanson, our Safety Officer, will provide safety tips and links from time to time. Debbie has been riding for over 10 years and was also an instructor for Master Drive for 12 years. She is a card carrying member of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation...so listen up and stay safe!