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Protect yourself from icy roads—especially black ice—on winter rides

Road with black ice on it

For some who are passionate about riding motorcycles, winter can be a cold, dark season. Still, in some parts of the country, riders see sunny skies and temperatures in the 40s, making it a great day for a motorcycle ride.

Before venturing out this winter, you need to be prepared for one of the unique hazards of the season—black ice. 

What is black ice?

It’s important to understand black ice isn’t actually black. It often appears that color because it’s thin and transparent, showing the black asphalt below. And even though it’s called black ice, it can develop on pavement of any color. You’ll also find it on road surfaces that otherwise appear to be dry or in patches of wet pavement that look identical to the unfrozen wet road surface.

The formation of black ice requires two things—a road surface that’s 32 degrees or lower and water. Water can come from many sources—including rain, runoff, and melting snow. It can also come from water vapor like fog or exhaust from vehicles.

Plan for black ice

When considering winter motorcycle rides, see if your route includes places that are prime candidates for encountering black ice. Some of the most common areas are:

  • Bridges and elevated roads: Since they’re exposed to cold air and wind above and below the road surface, they’re often the first places black ice forms.
  • Higher elevations: Mountains and hilly areas often get more snow than the surrounding lowlands, providing runoff from melting snow. These areas typically experience colder temperatures—especially overnight—causing pavement below to freeze into the following day.
  • Areas of permanent shade: The winter sun in the northern hemisphere arcs lower in the southern sky than during the rest of the year. This means the northern side of some places receive no direct sunlight and are in permanent shade and remain colder, longer.
  • Congested roads and highways: Vehicle exhaust contains water vapor, which can condense on a cold road surface. Slow-moving, dense traffic helps shade the road surface and provides minimal heat from tire friction, while providing enough water vapor to create black ice.

When you’re on the road, be sure to look for signs like Bridge Ices Before Road or Slippery When Wet. They’re there for a good reason.

Forewarned is forearmed. Choose your winter ride routes with care and enjoy being a four-season motorcycle rider! And if the unthinkable happens and an accident occurs, Dairyland is here to help protect your bike with our coverages ranging from Collision to Physical Damage Plus and Replacement cost.

Till next time, ride safe!

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