Friday, May 7, 2010

Pavement Surfaces and Other Things to Watch Out For

I know my little Ninja can do things that I can't yet make myself do, but one of the unknowns that concerns me is the pavement.

I am shy about pavement. One reason is that I have hit it. Another reason is that you can't trust it. Sometimes it is covered with gravel, dust, mud, or other things. At times, the surface varies for some other reason.

There are several types of pavement that are "interesting" to ride on.

One is where road crews have ground the pavement down in preparation for repaving. Here is an example.

When riding on this ribbed surface, it feels very much as though you are riding on ice. The tires squirm back and forth giving you the impression of their slipping out from under you. Fortunately they don't. Such pavement is good practice for being loose on the bars and allowing the bike to right itself. I have had that opportunity lately because they are preparing to pave several miles of the route I take to work using this method.

Oh, and listen. When you ride on pavement that has been ground down, watch for the manholes. They can't grind them down, so they stick up a few inches and you have to dodge them. If you don't you could become airborne.

Riding on grooved pavement is a bit like the feeling of riding on (in?) gravel, where the bike squirms and moves in unnerving ways. I have a tendency to try out gravel roads at times in my touring, and I have told you about a few of them: Green River Road, Musterground Road, Toccoa.

If you grip the bars and stiffen up your arms as though your life depends on it, you might end up with your life depending on it. Instead, loosening up on the bars mostly allows the bike to help you. I have tried it both ways. Loose works, stiff doesn't. Looking well ahead is also of benefit to pick out the route that avoids ruts and the loosest stone -- or those manholes on the street under construction. Remember that you will go where you look, so if you look at the ground, you are likely to end up there.

Here is a good article by Erik at Open Road Journey:
Riding Motorcycles on Gravel: Find the Real Road Less Traveled

Another interesting surface feature is tar snakes. This is where the road crew flows liquid asphalt into cracks in the pavement to seal them against moisture. Some stays on the surface, making a black line, usually two or three inches across. They can be slippery when wet, but they can also be like butter when it is very hot. I had a chance to try out riding on some when I went to the Bad Creek Pumped Storage facility up SC-130 just south of Whitewater Falls last summer. The road is nicely paved and has almost no traffic, but has plenty of tar snakes. They were slick in the heat, but since they are narrow, they gave just a little impression of the tires slipping sideways without too much danger of their doing so completely. That gave me some practice in avoiding chopping the throttle or making other abrupt moves when this slippage occurred.

This is another type of tar snake, but it is usually more localized, and therefore, not as much of a hazard. Certainly this one isn't. Black ones are usually not dangerous anyway, at least in this part of the country.

Here is another variation of road surfaces.

See the crosswalk that looks like red brick? Pretty isn't it? It is made of embossed concrete. It also has a different surface texture than the asphalt road around it, so the level of traction is different. I am not certain whether it is better or worse than the asphalt because I haven't tried hard enough to find out.

As an added attraction, the crosswalk has settled since it was installed, so there is a marked bump at both edges.

Also, do you notice the white pavement markings? They are thick and are applied to the surface of the road, and last a long time -- much longer than paint does. The only problem is that they are slippery, especially when wet.

Now couple those conditions with the fact that this is an intersection where I make a right turn every day I ride to work. I have to make sure I have the right speed to prevent any of these surface anomalies -- or the combination of them -- from causing trouble.

I am not usually very aggressive in my turns, but there is certainly a possibility of a slip. In my view, the pretty cross walk is an expensive-to-install, higher maintenance hazard -- er, feature -- that would be more efficiently provided by simple lines on the pavement.

Wait, there's more!

The state recently paved the stretch of road leading to the right in the photo above. You can see that it is blacker. I wrote earlier about some other dumb things they did on another stretch of this same road. Just a few days ago they installed the final pavement markings. The fog lines and center line are put down by melting a plastic and spraying it onto the road surface after which glass beads are sprinkled onto the sticky surface. This makes the markings reflective at night. Good idea.

Did you notice the white stuff that looks like sand in the crosswalk, extending from the centerline, and elsewhere?

Good guess. Those are excess glass beads that spilled out of the spout on the truck where they stopped or where the markings are intermittent. They are spherical in shape, and they are like riding on marbles. Slick as, ah, glass, maybe? Slicker, I think.

I stay far away from that "sand" on the road, but I wonder how many people have slipped while driving, riding, or walking.

Warning: This next section may turn into a harangue.

Our little city has also seen fit to provide other, "interesting" features in and along its downtown streets. See if you agree.

The city fathers have installed well more than two dozen of these curbed planters along the main street of town. They effectively prevent someone parking a vehicle from quickly and easily sweeping into a parking space from the driving lane. Instead, you have to stop and maneuver in just as though another vehicle were present. That backs up traffic.

The vantage point in the photograph above is the view you would get when stopped, preparing to turn left onto the downtown street. That row of trees, despite their individually being skinny, together effectively block your view of the intersection that is just beyond them.

Almost every planter curb is marked by the tires of vehicles that have rubbed against them -- or worse. This one bears the scars of something worse and has lost some chunks of concrete as a result.

The planter above is located just before that right turn I have to make. It is in front of the black pickup truck that is parking in the photo second above. More than once I have seen drivers mistake the parking places before the planter as the side road entrance and try to turn there. When they realize their mistake, they might already be on a collision course with this curb.

As I mentioned, the trees they put in the planters are skinny, but when you look down the street, they can help obscure the oncoming traffic, especially if someone is coming along at more than the speed limit or if the oncoming vehicle is narrow -- like a motorcycle.

As a bonus, they also put in some islands in the center of the street, intended to be pedestrian havens as they cross. There is one near the corner I have been describing, and to the right of the black car in the picture below.

Remember that right turn on my way to work each day? Well, those center islands make it impossible for cars to pass me easily while I am slowing for the corner (the one that has all the various pavement "features"). They sometimes try to squeeze by on my left but are crowded away from the center and toward me on my relatively soft motorcycle by the cruel concrete curbs.

Oh, another thing. The planters take up on-street parking spaces, so customers of merchants here have a more difficult time finding a place to park, and if they do find a place, they have more difficulty getting into the parking spot. And the city wonders why people don't shop downtown.

And another thing. These beautiful planters require a significant amount of maintenance. Every summer, they have to weed and tend and water every one.

All in all, they have restricted the free and safe travel of traffic, replacing the open road with a maze of hazards. Reminds me of the traffic islands in downtown Hendersonville North Carolina.

Why they would spend our tax dollars to install hazards in the street, I cannot fathom. [Yep. It did turn into a harangue.]

Anyway, these are some of the hazards you might find along the route you take on your bike.

Just in case, be sure you are dressed for not only the ride, but for the fall as well. ATGATT rules!



Charlie6 said...

I hate riding on what you called "ribbed" surface. Try hitting a patch of it at around 65mph, it'll slow you down! I was on I-70 on my '87 beemer with its narrow tires....I was not amused.

Timely reminder for riders who are getting back on their steeds after hibernating all winter.

irondad said...

Your post illustrates the value of thinking like a motorcyclist instead of a driver. Plenty of stuff affects bikes and not cars.

As to the planters? An example of the biggest lie:

We're from the government and we're here to help you.

bluekat said...

Interesting post on surfaces. I know how you feel, that the Ninja can do stuff I'm not ready for yet.

I had a chance to ride over a ribbed surface at low speed and was surprised by how well the Ninja handled it. I think because my last bike didn't handle odd surfaces so well, I thought the Ninja would be worse with it's narrower tires. Not sure how it would be at highway speeds.

I anxious to try out some gravel. I had one surprise experience - Turned into a viewpoint and Surprise! Gravel. Again, compared to my cruiser the Ninja took it all in stride. I agree with what you said, staying loose on the bars makes all the difference over unusual surfaces.

I work for a company that manufactures a reflective paint with those glass spheres. They are incredibly slippery. And if those spheres aren't deeply embedded in the coating, they'll work loose - not good! (We have a new formula that isn't so treacherous.)