by John Brown, HaveFunBiking.com
Nothing spoils a great ride like a bad accident, but most accidents are avoidable. The easiest way to eliminate accidents is to assess road hazards in advance and avoid them. Read on to learn about the most common road hazards and how to manage them.
Road hazards broken and uneven pavement
The easiest road hazard to spot is broken or uneven pavement. Oftentimes starting at the roads edge (where many of us ride), pavement begins to break and crumble from annual hot/cold cycles. The first and best option is just avoid loose sections entirely, but anyone can tell you that’s not always possible. When you are riding through bad pavement, try to raise your body off your saddle by an inch or so and allow your legs and arms to absorb impact. Concentrate on being loose, allowing the bike to move around underneath you, and keeping your momentum directed to where you want to go. Focusing on where you want to go is the most important part, focusing on objects you don’t want to hit increases the chance of hitting them.
Sometimes the road narrows, and doesn’t allow for you and drivers to occupy the road together safely. In these situations, it is important to take control of your safety. Do not try to be off to the side as far as possible, this will only encourage drivers to attempt to make an unwise pass. Instead, give yourself space on the road, and try to be as visible and deliberate as possible. Narrow roadways are the ideal place to use hand signals. Additionally, be aware of what is behind you by looking back more frequently than usual. Looking to see who is behind you will give you the information you need, and let drivers know that you see them. Oftentimes drivers will be more patient if they know you are aware of the situation.
Blind turns, driveways, and alleys
You can’t easily avoid what you can’t see, especially if you are going fast. When approaching any blind road or path section, slow down and assume there is someone coming around the corner. Approach the corner with caution, and only accelerate once the coast is clear.
Loose debris on hard surfaces
Sand, Gravel and dirt on pavement can be a recipe for disaster. Any loose debris on the road robs you of the traction you need to ride confidently. Shy of vacuuming every road or trail before your ride, there is no way to avoid the inevitability of debris. What you can do however, is use good judgement when you do encounter it. First, don’t slam on the brakes. Braking shifts your weight forward onto the front wheel making you more unstable in loose conditions. Instead, apply your brakes gently and evenly while trying to remain loose on the bike in case your tires break free. Second, try to keep the bike as vertical as possible and turn only if necessary.
Ice and water
Water and its colder cousin ice are a serious road hazard. You will find that roads and paths that are wet offer far less grip than when dry. Therefore, keep your overall speed down on wet days and brake before turning. If ice is in the forecast, the best measure is to avoid it. Start by ditching the polarized sunglasses that will make the ice difficult to see. Polarized glasses eliminate most glare, and glare is a prime means to identify ice. If you do find yourself on ice, be careful! It takes almost no side motion to put you on the ground when riding on ice. I find it best to do almost nothing until you make your way off the ice, that means no braking, no turning, no movement, Just coast.
Paint and slippery surfaces (metal, marble, tile) train tracks
The last set of road hazards worth mentioning are slick surfaces. These surfaces include metal (train tracks, manholes, and sewer grates), painted pavement, and smooth aggregate (like marble or tile often found in industrial zones). For metal, try to avoid it when wet (it’s as slick as ice) and cross train tracks as perpendicularly as possible. Painted surfaces and smooth aggregate need to be avoided when wet as well. While they have more traction when dry, it’s still worth being careful.
After reading this, you may feel like everything on the road is out to get you. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, you have probably encountered all these hazards on your last ride and survived. Overall, road hazards rarely cause an accident but are something to be cognizant of.