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Four winter surface hazards to avoid on your motorcycle

Added December 28, 2016
Winter motorcycle riding road hazard

Some riders shudder at the thought of hopping on their motorcycles in winter’s sub-freezing temperatures. But for the unstoppable motorcycle enthusiasts among us, winter is just another riding season, with joys and challenges all its own. 

A motorcycle ride can be the best way to conquer the winter blahs and remind us spring is coming. A winter ride in the cold and crisp air is invigorating. Not all winter days are cold and snowy, however, and if you are feeling the urge to become a four-season rider, watch out for these seasonal surface hazards during your ride. 

Black ice

This type of ice gets its name because it’s thin enough to allow the black color of the asphalt to show through, which makes it hard to see. It forms on road surfaces much like frost forms on your lawn. Black ice can occur on days when air temperatures are above freezing and where the road surface temperature is below freezing. Watch for it on bridges and in places where the road surface is under shade. Black ice can also occur where runoff from rain or melting snow is common. 

Prime times for black ice are at dawn and late in the evening, so be extra diligent when riding at these times during winter.

Salt and sand

Salt lowers the temperature water freezes at, melting ice on the road. Sand adds traction. This duo makes roads safer during winter storms. But after the roads dry, the salt and sand accumulate in places and can be as slippery as ice for a motorcycle rider. 

Watch for salt and sand accumulations at the edges of each lane of travel, as the car tires sweep their tracks clean. Use caution when turning across these areas at intersections. Slowing down in turns and choosing your lines carefully is wise, as it is hard to predict when you will find larger accumulations of sand and salt in blind corners.

Pot holes

Water infiltrates fine cracks in the road surface, seeping in between pavement layers. As this water freezes, it expands and creates a gap between the pavement layers. When the ice melts, the new, larger gap can collect more water. Repeated cycles of freezing and thawing undermines the pavement surface until it breaks, creating a pothole. Just a few weeks of winter can begin to degrade what had been smooth roads during the fall riding season. Potholes can upset your steering and possibly damage your tires and wheels.  

Frost heaves

Frost heaves develop from the same freeze/thaw cycle that can create potholes. They tend to cross the lane of travel in a linear fashion. While they can appear as a long crack, sometimes the pavement is heaved without the crack. Crossing these abrupt bumps can upset the steering and suspension.

Avoidance tactics

  • Your best defense against these surface hazards is to be aware of the road ahead. Do the following when riding during the winter: 
  • Actively scan the surface as you also scan traffic 
  • Slow down when entering turns so you have more options to change your cornering line 
  • Don’t fixate on the surface hazard; instead see the safe line around them
  • Alert winter riding can sharpen your skills just in time for spring.

Till next time, scan the road and ride safe!