Friday Fives: Road hazards for motorcycles are not all deer and pot-holes
As if its not bad enough that most drivers these days seem to be dangerously distracted by cell phones, dashboard toys, and/or a sense of self-righteous road rage, motorcyclists also have a whole slew of other potential hazards to manage. Some are commonly discussed, such as deer or rain-slicked roads. But there’s a wide variety of other situations, objects and circumstances that can cause serious problems – for any driver, really, but with likely more dire consequences for people on motorcycles. Here are a few I’ve personally encountered – you probably have too.
1. Four-legged friends - Riding through a deer-laden gauntlet isn’t the only way animals can pose a problem for a motorcycle. Be on the lookout for overly-enthusiastic dogs charging out from a farmyard… determined crows picking morsels from a fresh hunk of roadkill… wild turkeys lumbering up from the shoulder… or even turtles. Yes, turtles. Although it seems they move slow enough to safely avoid, it’s a little unnerving to spot what appears from many yards away to be an Army helmet in the middle of the road, only to realize that it’s actually moving and you need to assess its speed and position.
2. Road surface deterioration - It’s easy to misjudge the size of a pothole, so be wary of all of them, particularly after a rain when water disguises their true depth. But also look out for “vertical” holes – the kind that are long and narrow and run with the direction ot the bike’s travel instead of across its path. These can catch your tire and yank the bike right out from under you. Likewise any section of road with a vertical seam in it, where one section has settled lower than the other. A friend of mine once got her front tire up against the seam of uneven adjoining sections, which threw her from the bike – fortunately at a low speed. Also, man-hole covers. A hard rain can force an iron man-hole cover up out of its “seat” and onto the pavement as water rushes through the storm sewer underneath. Bad enough when you can see it laying in the road… but potentially horrible when you are riding through even just a few inches of standing water and can’t see that the iron disk – and the hole it used to cover – are in your path.
3. Other surface issues - It’s truly a wide world out there when it comes to what can compromise the road surface. You’ll find plentiful advice about riding in the rain, along gravel, etc. But there’s a lot more to surface compromise than water or gravel. Out on the rural roads, its common to encounter a home owner astride their riding mower, throwing cut grass out onto the highway. Grass and leaves (also patches of gravel) hinder your tire’s ability to grip the road so be very cautious traveling through these patches especially when wet and/or on curves. And give that homeowner a friendly wave just for good measure. Another possibility: street paint. Have you noticed that crosswalks aren’t always just two horizontal stripes anymore? These days they can be giant blocks of solid paint spanning the width of the roadway. I’m absolutely certain these large blocks of paint slicken the surface and reduce tire grip, especially when rain-soaked. There’s one on a curve that I pass over every time I’m coming home from the north – I make sure I ride between the painted blocks.
4. Debris - We’ve all been stuck behind a construction vehicle now and then, and felt the tick-tick-tick of dirt or gravel coming off the truck. But consider that any open vehicle carrying “stuff” can pitch items large or small out into your path – from plastic grocery bags to household goods. Also pay attention to trailers, boats, or other items being towed. I’ve seen car parts come sliding off a flatbed trailer, water pouring from a boat that had recently been pulled from the lake… and, I was once traveling behind a pickup truck towing a covered boat, and the cover on the boat came up and off. Fortunately it sailed off to the side, but it certainly could have posed an interesting visibility problem for me had it come back my way. It doesn’t even have to be actual debris to be a hazard. It can be anything in the road that’s not supposed to be there. A few years ago, a drunken pedestrian stepped out in the road directly in front of my oncoming friend. Both were seriously injured in the resulting collision.
5. Optical illusions - Some hazards are not really problems in and of themselves, but they create a visibility issue. The other day we were on a road where there was a horizontal seam about every 20 feet, and every one of them was covered with black sealant. Twenty feet goes by pretty quickly on the bike, so it became a constant stream of black stripes whizzing by. It created some issues with depth perception as well as a huge visual distraction. I call this the Willy Wonka Effect because it reminds me of that annoying scene in the Gene Wilder version of the movie where they’re traveling down the chocolate river in his freaky boat with the LSD-inspired scenery. Riding in dappled sunlight can have the same Wonka effect.
As you can see, distracted drivers and deer are not our only worries while riding motorcycles. What’s the most unusual hazard you’ve ever encountered, and how “close” was the call with you and your bike? Thoughts or tips on dealing with any of the above?