Surface Attraction

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 wet.

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 on those?

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 extra-slippery.

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!