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Motorcycling: the 10 biggest hazards and how to deal with them

It might be the end of July but you wouldn’t know it. High winds and heavy rain are making it feel more like winter on the road, so as a motorcyclist you’ve really got to have your wits about you if you’re keen to stay in one piece. Even in perfect conditions you can be very vulnerable on a motorbike but in poor weather the risks are that much greater. Knowing what hazards are out there will give you a much better chance of avoiding them, so here are the top 10 Tarmac terrors to watch out for.

Unlike car drivers who can get away with some wheel and tyre damage if they hit a pothole, as a biker you’re likely to come off much worse; hit a bad pothole at speed and you could easily be thrown off your bike. Look well ahead and adjust your speed accordingly when riding down poorly surfaced roads. Take avoiding action if you see any craters; don’t be tempted to risk it in the hope that you’ll be fine. Remember, puddles can hide large potholes, so be wary when riding through them.

Oil and diesel both act as a lubricant, so when they get spilt on the road – particularly on bends – it poses a real danger to you as a motorcyclist. These chemicals form a slick layer on the surface of the Tarmac which can be as slippery as ice. These spillages can be very hard to spot, so they can easily catch you unaware as you suddenly have much less grip than you expected. Keep an eye out for rainbow-coloured markings on the road’s surface and slow down. If you feel a loss of grip mid-corner, roll off the throttle and avoid using the brakes, which can lock up easily.

Manholes and drain covers
Unless they are raised or loose, you shouldn’t have much of an issue with riding over drains and manhole covers in the dry. But in the wet they can become very slippery. This is not such an issue if riding in a straight line, but hit one mid-corner and it can be a pretty scary experience. In the wet try to alter your line through a corner to avoid any drains or manholes where possible but, if it is unavoidable, simply slow your speed and keep the bike as upright as possible.

More of a problem on country lanes than on major routes, mud that has been dragged onto the road by tractors exiting nearby fields can be a slippery danger, especially if you need to brake or turn. When riding down a country lane, pay close attention to the road surface wherever you see an entrance to a farmer’s field, especially if it’s wet, and plan to slow or take avoiding action if necessary. This can also apply to the exits of building sites.

Gravel and loose stones on the road surface can be a problem for bikers as they reduce the level of grip offered by the road’s surface. Look out for signs that indicate a road with a loose surface and slow down accordingly. Gravel can also build up on the outside of roundabouts where it gets thrown out by the circling traffic. Try not to ride in this outer edge and stick to the clear sections.

Standing water
While bikes may not aquaplane as much as cars – due to he rounded nature of the tyres being better at dispersing water – riding through large areas of standing water can still be a problem for a biker as it can obscure your view of the tarmac beneath, hiding more dangerous hazards.

Black Ice
This is a thin layer of ice covering the road’s surface and can be one of the trickiest hazards to deal with. Often found in patches of shaded areas, where the sun hasn’t been able to thaw the Tarmac, it is almost impossible to see as it takes on the colour of the underlying road. Approach any potential areas with caution and try to keep the bike upright through any bends and reduce your speed.

Painted areas
Any part of the road that has been painted is a potential hazard, especially in the wet. White lines and other painted road markings can become extremely slippery when wet and you should avoid riding on them when you can.

Road repairs
With so many potholes on our roads, it’s no wonder there are lots of sections of repaired road waiting to catch you out. Some repairs may not be smooth and level so they can upset the balance of your bike, while others may be flat, but if they have been fixed with bitumen they can still be very slippery in the wet. Keep your eyes peeled and slow down if necessary.

Animals running into the road present a real danger for bikers and can lead to serious accidents. Being so unpredictable it can be hard to know how best to act if an animal runs out in front of you, as trying to swerve may result in you losing control of the bike resulting in an even worse accident. However, simply reducing speed in any areas where animals or wildlife may be present can give you valuable time to react.

As ever, the bottom line when you’re riding is to look well ahead, keep your speed down where necessary and be prepared for the unexpected. For further tips on staying safe on two wheels check out our recent blog on being a safer motorbike rider – and hopefully we’ll get some decent summer weather before autumn hits with a vengeance.

Richard Dredge