Motorcyclist Beware: Nine Common Road Hazards
Road hazards are a common cause of motorcycle accidents. Things that have little effect on a car can cause a motorcycle to crash.
Motorcyclists should understand what constitutes a hazard, be alert for such dangers, and take precautions to avoid them. Here are some of the things bikers should be on the lookout for.
We have a lot of these around our home base (which consists of county roads, a popular choice for bikers). Rough and bumpy roads happen due to disrepair, construction work, or resurfacing efforts.
Gravel is possibly the trickiest hazard, at least for me (it has factored in two incidents in my riding history!). Unfortunately, gravel on pavement tends to be more common on winding roads, which are, of course, popular with bikers (and which require lots of cornering). Gravel can be particularly troublesome if encountered during cornering -- and especially dangerous for riders going too fast, or riders who haven’t done a lot of cornering yet.
An edge break is when two traffic lanes are different heights. (These are common here in Minnesota, where we have two seasons: ‘winter’ and ‘road construction’!) Edge breaks are a piece of cake in a car, but can be problematic for unsuspecting bikers, especially at higher speeds - and especially if you’re forced to ‘side step’ over them (try to get as straight-on as you can).
Expansion & Bridge Joints
Expansion joints connect two sections of a road together, or a section of a road to a bridge. Bridge joints hold sections of a bridge together. Both allow the road or bridge to expand or contract without cracking.
We have a bridge over the St. Croix River on a route along the MN/WI border that I love to ride. This bridge always makes me tense because it has everything a biker dislikes: expansion joints and open bridge joints that are really wide (ever get that ‘grid’ feeling when riding across a bridge?!). This particular bridge can be slick even on a sunny day, especially if it’s humid.
Ah, yes, another one we have to be aware of here in the land of deer, raccoon and even possum! Hitting a small animal can throw a motorcycle off path and/or off balance. Unfortunately, animals that run into the road are difficult to anticipate and swerving to avoid them can cause an accident as well. I once hit a pheasant that ‘flushed up’ behind the bike I was following.
It goes without saying that hitting a large animal (like a deer) could really mess up a rider (or worse). On a trip to Colorado, I was following my dad when he hit a deer. He managed to stay upright but his entire fairing and all his lights were crumpled. (The deer faired even worse.)
Slippery surfaces that you might not even notice in a car can be problematic for a motorcyclist. The unstable nature of a two-wheeled bike and the smaller, lighter size mean that sliding on the road can easily result in a crash. Slick surfaces are even more dangerous when the biker is turning. The list of potentially slippery objects/surfaces is long but includes:
- Crosswalk Lines
- Any painted surfaces
- Anti-freeze or oil
Bikers must also be cautious of rain after a dry spell. Dust, dirt and oil on the road combine with water to form a slippery layer.
The first half hour of a rainstorm is the most dangerous time to ride on the road. Standing water can cause hydroplaning. And though some of you reading this don’t have to deal with snow and ice, here in Minnesota we do! Personally, I try not to ride in it, but if you must, see our blog post for winter riding tips.
Railway tracks and crossings
Motorcycle tires can get caught in a railway track, causing a crash. Some railway crossing areas have metal or wood between the tracks, which become extremely slick when wet.
Debris or objects in the road
Debris or objects in the road, such as parts of tire treads, things fallen from trucks (furniture, tools, boxes), branches, or rocks, are more hazardous to motorcycles than cars. Not only can they cause a crash, but the object itself can hit and seriously harm the rider.
If this all sounds a bit overwhelming, take a deep breath. With a little caution you can retain your joy of riding while staying safe!
Also see: Eight Tips for Defensive Riding
- Tracey Cramer