Whether global climate change is to blame or not, the fact is, roads across the country are a dangerous mess.
The Year of Living Dangerously
I don’t understand global warming. Seems to me, the planet is getting colder. This past winter we had a deep freeze like I’ve never known. Here in Toronto it started early, ended late, and was relentless. I read one report that we had 34 days of cold alert in 2014. That didn’t include December, when it was also cold, but for one thaw. That thaw was memorable because of the ice storm on solstice that coated trees with freezing rain and made everything glisten. It was magical! But ice weighted limbs and caused them to snap. Entire trees fell to the ground, taking electric lines with them. Some people were without electricity and subsequently without heat for eight days—this happened in the country, all the way to the east coast. I think global warming is the old term. Now it’s called “climate change.”
What does this have to do with motorcycle riding? Lots. The extreme cold did more damage to the roads than I’ve ever seen. Great hunks of asphalt were lifted off the highway surface by the heaving frost below. They mixed with snow like granite stones in a previous ice age, and were carried along by the snowplow.
These missing chunks, often an inch and a half thick, can be found on the side of the road or off in the ditch where the summer lawn mower may send them flying back on the road. Or perhaps they made it to some safe haven? Who knows? But what they left behind are large, deep holes too numerous to count.
These holes are much more relevant on a bike than in a car, where you might experience an alignment adjusting, teeth shattering bang. If your bike wheel drops down into one of those holes unexpectedly, it could wreck havoc with your day, if not the rest of your life!
If you see it coming, don’t fixate on it. Look where you want to go, somewhere away from it. Try to ride beside it. Or if you can’t, hit it square on and ride it through. It still may be severe enough to dent your rim or bend your forks. You may even blow out your tire. If you don’t hit it square, but ride the ridge, there may be a new direction you’re heading in—and that can be bad. We don’t want to go there.
These random holes make me think of follow-the-dot art. Some are only one layer of pavement thick. Those aren’t so bad. The ones that are wider on the top surface with a smaller hunk of the previous layer lifted are worse. They give the advantage of a stepped bank to the hole, which is better than a sharp drop, and are no real problem when taken slow, but jaw banging when taken unexpectedly fast.
We may learn where these spots are if we ride the same route day after day. But the first time you spot one may be too late. This is a good reason for not following too close, as we are inclined to do in the city in rush hour traffic. We might be looking at other things related to regular driving, like the light up ahead about to turn, the pedestrians, the parked car on the right about to open its door and the bicycle heading toward it. We may not consider the condition of the road at every moment. This year we should.
Know that the majority of vehicles on the road, with four wheels and more, are far less affected by those holes than motorcycles are.
This year there are many areas of missing pavement around grates at curbs where water flows into the storm sewer system. While these may be at the side of the road, they extend well into where the right wheel of a car would run. That may not be the place a motorcycle normally tends to be, but there are times we might, such as when passing a left turning vehicle on a single lane street. This would normally be a quite safe maneuver, but it might not be if there’s a sewer grate.
This year those holes are often two layers of pavement, or an inch and a half. In metric, that’s equally deep. Know that this is where bicycles commonly ride and give them ample room. They may be swerving into your lane to avoid disaster. Their wheels are even smaller than ours.
And while I haven’t yet taken the roads that I drove to ski last winter, I can report some treacherous hunks of pavement missing on country highways that tried to eat my car tire. I fear those roads this summer. I recall a particular stretch of highway that had clearly been paved one lane and then the other. Last winter there were huge gaps between the lanes where pavement had lifted. I can only wonder at the condition of that road when I ride it again this summer.
While I’ll know where not to change lanes, I can only hope others on motorcycles will also figure it out. There can’t be enough cash in the public coffers to deal with all the lawsuits we might wish to launch against a government not quick enough to repair the roads—an impossible task in winter.
Spring arrived late this year, and was cold. Grenadier Pond in High Park was frozen over, and didn’t turn to water until mid-April. Hardy riders already had their bikes out but then it snowed again! This global warming is confusing. The cherries that normally bloom in April joined forsythia, tulips, daffodils and more, not opening until well into May.
And then came the floods. Torrential rain is hard to ride in. Road damage isn’t too bad in the city, with its pavement and sewers in place. But outside town, rainwater undermined roadways. Shoulders both paved and unpaved have been washed away. Culverts have been flooded out. Guardrails dangle where soil has eroded away. If you see those orange traffic cones sitting on the side of the road, then would be a good time to move toward the centre. In fact, be careful whenever pulling off the pavement onto the shoulder, because it may just appear solid.
This might be a year to use extra caution until you know the roads. There’s always sand and gravel on the corners in spring to be cautious of. But the long deep freeze of global warming has wrecked the roads. Those of us on two wheels are most susceptible to misfortune. Even enduros are no match for the mighty pothole taken at a bad angle or incorrect speed. Beware. Ride to stay alive!