--Motorcycle Consumer News
by Ken Codon
In a car, we rarely give sand, construction plates and questionable pavement a second thought. However, as motorcyclists, we rely heavily on surfaces that provide good grip; poor conditions can be the results of bad weather, spilled fluids, loose debris and dangerous roadway surfaces.
I don't know how many times I've heard a rider blame a crash on sand or gravel that appeared "out of nowhere." Sometimes there are no clues about the presence of sand or gravel, but more times than not there are indications that the road surface may not be ideal. To predict when a surface hazard might be an issue, it is important to become keenly aware of your surroundings.
Use all of your senses when detecting possible surface problems. Sight is the most effective sense for detecting poor surface quality. Recognize surface hazards, such as crack filler or loose material kicked into the middle of the road from a soft shoulder. Look for changes in road texture and contrast that might indicate a change in surface texture and traction quality. Your nose can clue you to potential problems, such as spilled diesel fuel. Even your sense of touch can help you to identify traction quality. If your handlebars suddenly feel vague, then you may be at the edge of tire grip. In this case, it is important not to do anything abruptly that could cause your tires to loose traction.
Some surface hazards are stationary, such as potholes, railroad tracks and manhole covers. Avoid riding over these hazards if possible. If you can't avoid them, then slowdown before you reach the hazard and ride over it as vertically as possible while avoiding braking or acceleration. Many riders simply ride over these hazards without adjusting speed or angle of attack. In many cases, nothing serious occurs. But it is common for these riders too be caught out when their front tire slips or there front wheel becomes deflected enough to cause a crash.
You can begin the process of hazard detection even before you thumb the starter button. Ask yourself whether it rained the night before. If it did, then how hard? Are there gravel or dirt side roads on your proposed route that might have been washed onto the road surface? Consider the temperature. A cold surface can cause trouble if you don't recognize that traction is reduced when temperatures drop.
Surface hazards are a part of motorcycling. As riders we must master how to handle these hazards if we are to make riding safer and more fun. When in doubt, slow down.