Recently I read some research on where road users look. Riders
looked at the road surface more than drivers. That surprised the
researchers but was predictable when it's only friction between
tyres and road surface keeping bikes shiny side up.
Friction controls acceleration, braking, steering and lean angle so
it's important to understand why some surfaces are barely ridable in
the dry whilst others give near race track levels of grip in the
Perfect surfaces are the exception rather than the rule, but still
riders are caught out and panic when they see a dubious surface
mid-turn. Why? Because we need time to react – spotting a problem
already under the front wheel is too late.
Scan ahead then anticipate if the surface gets better or worse - a
change of colour or visible line across the road often warns of a
change, and though they look the same, two surfaces may have very
different grip. Anything shiny is probably slippery. It makes sense
to plan for the worst before we find out the hard way.
Slippery access covers are found around bends and junctions – don't
brake on them, aim to steer round rather than over. A shiny line
could be a tar seam – like glass in the wet. Bumps and slippery
surfaces together spell caution – beware Cats Eyes when overtaking
and paint markings that don't follow an ideal line.
Discoloured patches could be wet patches, gravel, potholes or
polished surfaces. Mud and gravel will wash downhill after rain and
accumulate at the bottom of hills. Loose chippings will be pushed to
the centre and sides of the cars' tyre tracks – do you want to brake
Irrregular streaks are often fuel spills. Petrol is as slippery as
diesel but evaporates quickly. If you smell diesel slow down and
search! Guess where you'll find it – near filling stations, bus
depots and industrial estates, on roundabouts and long fast bends.
Watch out for shellgrip – it's a high friction surface laid near
pedestrian crossings and traffic lights, and sometimes on bends too,
but rarely far enough round to get the bike upright again. Take
advantage of the extra grip mid-corner and you'll hit the less
grippy surface still banked over – a recipe for a slide.
Don't forget rain! After a prolonged dry spell, all surfaces will be
Things we can change are tyres, suspension settings and – attitude!
Super-soft track compounds just don't work on the road. They don't
warm up and don't like rain. Stick to road compounds. Hard track
suspension settings don't allow the bike to follow road
irregularities. Beware overconfidence. Don't ride too fast for the
conditions, keep back and don't follow the vehicle in front - modern
tyres have excellent grip but can fool you into pushing too hard -
access covers or diesel are still slick, and a slide can panic you
into grabbing the brake and into a crash that shouldn't have
happened!! Just because the Land Rover made it round doesn't mean
you will too!