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Road Hazards

Safety Corner logoby Eli Post


Every so often you hit a stretch of freshly paved road, experience the feel of a silky blacktop, and enjoy an enhanced pleasure to your ride. Unfortunately, this is New England and we more commonly ride on imperfect roads and in uncertain weather. Listed below are common road hazards with suggestions on how to deal with them.

Slippery conditions, including ice, sand and wet leaves are best dealt with by not braking or turning, but coasting over the slippery surface in a straight line. If you must brake, use the rear brake gently rather than the front one. The rear brake is recommended in slippery conditions as you can’t balance or steer with locked-up front wheels. If the surface is only wet, not icy, you can use both brakes, but don’t use the front brake hard. Avoid any sudden moves on slippery surfaces.

Potholes may come up without warning, and can cause broken spokes and wheels. If you notice a pothole, rock or other such hazard too late to check for traffic and change your line of travel, you may perform the “rock dodge”—a quick weave of your front wheel. Steer it quickly left, then right to restore your balance. Your bicycle leans to one side, then the other under you while your body continues traveling straight ahead. This takes some practice. An easier technique is riding over potholes in a relaxed position with your weight off the saddle.

Drainage grating with slots that run parallel to the direction of travel can easily swallow a cycle wheel and cause a crash. Waffle plates and other alternative bicycle-safe designs use holes that will not grab a bicycle wheel. Your best bet is generally to ride to the left of drainage grates
Steel-decked bridges also require caution, and in many cases dismounting and walking is the wise course of action. Always walk your bike if the steel deck is wet.

Railroad tracks crossing the road combine polished metal surfaces and deep channels that can trap a wheel and throw the rider off the bike. When crossed perpendicularly they usually cause only a jolt, but tracks crossing the roadway at an angle are much more apt to grab the front wheel. Cross tracks at a right angle, or nearly so. Check for traffic before maneuvering to cross at right angles.

Steel plates in construction zones can pose multiple challenges. Wet, they can be very slippery. Gaps between plates can grab a cyclist’s wheel. Edges of plates parallel to the direction of travel can steer a bike out from under the cyclist. Either maneuver around steel plates or cross with care while hitting the edge of the plate straight on.

Speed bumps used as traffic-calming devices can present a hazard to cyclists, especially those with an abrupt edge that can cause a bicycle front wheel to turn sharply and eject the cyclist. Slow down when approaching a speed bump and take most of your weight off the saddle while maintaining a relaxed grip on the handlebars.

It is generally helpful to warn riders behind of road hazards in the path of travel by pointing them out, calling them out, or both. Pointing out hazards generally provides more information to those following because you show them exactly where the hazard is, but calling out is safer for you because your hands stay on the handlebars.

Safety is about choices—what choices will you make?

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