Staying upright on icy roads
Somewhat to my surprise, after several years of warm winters, Kent has actually
been struck by a week of icy roads. This generated quite a lot of traffic
on Visordown (www.visordown.com) with riders slip sliding around. So
this is a distilled version of what I posted there, plus useful tips from
other contributors to the relevant thread. Thanks guys!
The best solution to dealing with ice is to try to avoid it in the first
place!! First start is the weather forecast. Then check the car windscreens
and the lawn. Then if you can, take the car or the bus. Yes, I was a "real
biker" for many years and learned the hard way. Bikes and ice don't mix.
Sportsbikes in particular are very difficult to ride on slippery surfaces
because so much weight gets thrown onto the front wheel because of the handlebars
- motocrossers, designed for slippery conditions, do not have upright bars
Sometimes we have no choice. Out on the road, if you know its icy, try to
anticipate where you might find it. Just because the sun is out and the roads
have thawed, it don't mean that there is no ice about. Back lanes are often
going to be much more likely to be icy than main roads, residential roads
more than motorways, out of town rather than in town which is generally a
degree or two warmer. Anywhere in the shade will be icy longer, so behind
buildings, high sided vehicles, under trees. Look for ice anywhere water
pools, so on the slopes and bottoms of hills, where springs run off the fields,
near car washes in towns. Monday morning can be bad in residential streets
because all the car drivers decide to wash the car on Sunday. Burst water
mains nearly always accompany really cold weather, but you can normally spot
the problem during the day - but if you see water splashing expect ice. Watch
out for all those slippery, when wet bits too, like manhole covers - metal
cools faster than tarmac and will freeze sooner! Expect ice early in the
morning, late at night.
On the road surface itself, the bit of the road that usually clears first
is where the car tyres run (tyre friction warms the surface). On the other
hand, if all the surface is icy, the roughest and hence grippiest bit of
the road is generally in the middle of the lane.
A good indicator of a slippery bit of road is if it is "shiny". Stick to
the bits that are not reflecting light and you should be OK. Black ice is
usually looks like a wet road - about the only thing that gives it away is
that it looks wetter, if that makes sense. It usually occurs when there has
been a late evening shower followed by clearing skies and a frost - it's
tough to spot and VERY, VERY slippery. Even if the road appears generally
clear, there may be colder frost hollows or exposed areas where it isn't
- bridges are often frosty when the rest of the road is clear because they
have two surfaces to cool!
The other main problem to worry about are car drivers who haven't tried clearing
the screen and therefore can't see you even if they're looking, and car drivers
who have no idea of your problems on slippery surfaces. I fell foul of the
latter years ago when a car driver looked at me for about 5 minutes as I
rode cautiously towards him, waited till I was about 10 yards from him, and
then pulled out! The road was so slick the only way I and the helpful lorry
driver could pick the bike up was to slide the wheels up to the kerb.
If you do think you are about to hit ice try to stay loose on the bike -
sit forward on the seat, grip the tank with your knees, brace your back and
keep your elbows loose to keep your weight off the bars... if the bike does
twitch (and quite likely it will) let it get on with it - normally it will
sort itself out, trying to fight the wobble will normally make things worse.
It's difficult to do, but it improves your chances of riding it out massively.
Most important thing to do on ice is not to touch the brakes... it's a very
strong instinct to overcome, but hit the front and you are likely to end
up in a big heap before you even know what's happened. Even the rear will
probably lock and slide but at least you can possibly save it.
Next rule is to keep any steering or acceleration slow and smooth if you
think you might be on ice. Shutting the throttle suddenly is almost as bad
as braking. If you think you see ice ahead get the braking, gear changing
and steering done as early as possible.
Use a gear or two higher than normal, but don't go to extremes. I remember
reading that advice to lug a high gear. Unfortunately like a lot of "knowledge",
it applied to 60's Bonnies and BMW flat twins, but you have to be careful
applying it today because it doesn't really go hand in hand with peaky sports
I had this brought home to me last autumn on a nice warm evening... I was
toddling round a corner on the Gixxer which has a nice flat spot at around
2500rpm in a higher gear than usual (combination of laziness and bad planning)
and compensating for the flatspot by giving it a bit of a handful... halfway
round the corner (and out of sight from the main road) was a large sheet
of metal across a trench in the road, wet from the brief shower 2 mins earlier
that hadn't dampened the road.
As I ran onto it, the rear tyre spun, so the revs lifted out of the flat
spot. The handful of throttle then caused the engine to rev up harder still,
which spun the rear tyre which stepped out sideways and as I shut the throttle
to stop myself low-siding I damn nearly high-sided instead... at about 10mph!!
So the answer seems to be find a compromise, maybe a gear higher than normal,
but any gear that forces you to use a lot more throttle than your normal
gear should be avoided.
The experts says steer into a slide, but on the couple of times I've hit
ice and crashed, I've been on my ear so quickly I've had no time even to
think about it. Dealing with snow is different as you do get a degree of
grip, so you can steer a little but braking is still next to impossible!
Take it easy out there, and stay shiny side up!