Nothing makes you more alert to a dodgy surface than riding a bike or scooter through the winter, especially on wet and greasy urban streets. Rain, frost, dead leaves and loose grit, we see them all, sometimes even snow, though when the white stuff appears it really might be the time to hang up your helmet and take the bus instead.
But scary as it might seem, many thousands of us ride right through the winter and don’t crash, or even come close to it. Just follow T&G’s Top Ten Tips to survive another British winter.
Yes, the same advice we gave in the last issue on slow riding, but exactly the same thing applies to poor surfaces. If you’re stressed out, tensed up and gripping the bars tightly, you’ll be less able to control the bike with finesse.
2. LOOK OUT FOR…
Anything that could compromise your grip – tarmac that’s worn smooth, dead leaves decomposing into mush, little piles of loose grit at junctions, potholes and manhole covers (especially slippery when wet).
3. OIL BE DAMNED
Cars and trucks still leak oil and diesel, and you’re liable to find it at traffic lights, junctions and on roundabouts – easier to spot in the wet. Look for that tell-tale rainbow stain.
4. ICE BABY
Ice shows up as a smooth sheen on the tarmac – it’s less likely on busy streets, where passing tyres warm the tarmac and melt it away, but on quiet roads, beware, especially first thing in the morning. Don’t brake on ice unless you really have to – on a geared bike, change down smoothly through the gears to lose speed.
5. WEATHER WISE
Yes, it rains a lot in the dark months, but the worst time is the first fall after a dry spell. All the road debris that gradually gets washed away by rain – grit, rubber, oil – is still there, and oil floats on top of water.
6. GENTLE BRAKING
Panic braking is the most likely thing to cause a wheel lock and…Hello tarmac. Brake gently and progressively, using front and rear together, about 50/50. None of this applies if you’ve got ABS of course, but anti-lock brakes won’t prevent the tyre from simply losing grip on a slippy surface while cornering.
7. BE SMOOTH
It’s not just braking that needs a light touch – go gently on the twist-grip as well. There’s no need to ride on eggshells, but do everything smoothly and progressively.
8. TIME PLEASE
On wet and/or slippy surfaces, stopping distances increase dramatically, so give yourself more time to react.
9. DON’T PANIC
If you feel the bike start to slide, don’t brake, just gently roll off the throttle and try to keep going in a straight line. With any luck, you’ll pass over the slippery patch with no more than a wobble.
10. REPORT IT
If the surface problem is a pothole or damaged tarmac, report it to your local Council – local roads are their responsibility, and what do you pay your Council Tax for anyway? Some have pothole hotlines, or something similar, so show them you care.
Word/images: Pete Henshaw