I'm excited for the 2010 riding season. I am looking forward to getting out. While in years past, I've ridden on Christmas Day and New Years day, this year, there wasn't a single day when my schedule and the weather and the roads would let me out. That makes me more anxious to get out and blast out a couple hundred miles. I got three words. Watch your ass.
Here in Jersey we typically have very good roads. But we haven't had a winter like this in some time. As the snow begins to clear, I've been watching the roadbeds realizing that a winter like this can be terrible on new and old roads. Potholes are caused by cars and trucks hitting the pavement over and over, causing cracks. Water then gets into the cracks and freezes. The cracks are often treated during the summer to save the roads. When we have a winter like this, the damage can be more than any normal maintenance can handle. Water gets below the pavement and the water freezes under the pavement. Ice takes up more space than water. If you don't believe me, go put a closed bottle of Poland Spring in the freezer and come back in two or three days. As the water freezes, it expands, which cracks the pavement, causing loose pavement, or potholes.
We've had at least three good snows this year leading to water and freezing multiple times. It seems that with DMV here in NJ putting down a couple of inches to top new roads, the water is settling just below the new top and we're getting 1 1/2 to 2 inch potholes. These are pretty bad in a car, but cars have an extra tire, or three. On the cycle, we don't. There are many intersections that are just more pothole than pavement.
One of the problems we have is that this type of pothole, because the cracks start first in the car tracks, are precisely in our stagger lanes. I think for the first couple of months of the year, we may have to be conscious of giving more room front and back to allow folks to avoid potholes when ridding staggered.
This will be particularly bad on the blacktop roads we have all over the back roads of NJ, exactly the lightly traveled roads we like to ride. The concrete used in many other parts of the country, or for first building the roads, does not crack anywhere near as easy.
How do you ride through a pothole? First option is to go around it. Leave yourself enough room from the person staggering with you to allow you to move around a pothole. And if you're riding alone, leave enough room after the car in front of you to see one come out under the car and avoid it. I find a good way to practice this is to see if you can avoid every manhole cover that the car in front of you rides over. If you can't avoid the manholes, you're not leaving yourself enough space.
What if the road is covered? Well, then you are going to need to slow down - but get off the brakes, off the gas and be going as straight as possible when you hit the pothole. Grip the bars tight enough to make sure that the pothole doesn't knock you off your line - but use your elbows as a spring to let the bike hit the pothole and you stay in control.
Another problem we have is that when snow gets pushed onto roads and shoulders and
parking lots, dirt and pebbles get moved with it. With so much snow, there has been little place to put it so the plows have left snow and dirt and rocks right where we're going to be riding in a month. When the snow melts the crap stays.
Three or four days ago, I came down a tree lined road and actually seemed to have a low hanging branch clip my cars mirror. It didn't do any damage, but it made me realize that it was going to be worse for motorcyclists. There are down trees down all over - from the snow snapping off limbs. The conditions are weaking branches, and the water and the snow on those branches are causing them to snap in half or snap off completely. When I'm on my bike I don't want to clip a tree with my shoulder, and I certainly don't want to be riding over them when they are in the road. If you come across branches in the road, take a firm grip of the handlebars, leaving just enough movement to let them move a bit with what they hit the obstacle, come off the gas to stabilize the motorcycle and keep the back wheel from spinning or kicking up the tree. There are some that recommend giving some power when the front wheel hits a big obstacle to shift weight to the back wheel, but I think that if the bike will make it over the obstacle, and its something like a tree that can shoot up and move, possibly in front of someone you are riding with or kickup into you or your back wheel/chain/belt, I would try to hit the tree with the bike stable, with you going straight, and off the throttle and off the brake.
If you've ever worked a plow, you realize its hard to know where the street ends and where grass or dirt starts. We put up poles in parking lots to try to stop the plows from destroying concrete flower beds, and to save the plows and the trucks from getting a big jolt from running the plow into a fire hydrant hidden by the snow. But we can't put these poles all up and down the countries side roads. As a result, plows, and the drive wheels of plows and other cars and trucks, have been turning up the sides of country roads all winter. Everywhere you turn, they've put dirt and sand and rocks onto the roadway.
It's going to be treacherous out there - ride safe-er.