Reading the Road
January 31, 2012
Permanent change of station moves happen often enough to be somewhat of a setback to a rider's learning curve. At that point, they need to be aware that what they have learned isn't lost -- but they may need to modify their skills for the road conditions at their new duty station. The focus of that learning process is adjusting to the different road surfaces and climatic conditions. Super high-powered motorcycles (sport bikes) are affected most and are the most common motorcycles among Soldiers.
Let's take a look at this situation pragmatically. Assume you are a rider in the southeast. The climate is warm and tires tend to adhere to surfaces much better than in other areas of the country. Because roads don't freeze during the winter, their surfaces are also in better condition. Riders often get accustomed to a certain riding style after a few years, not realizing that may have to change at a new duty location. When those moves occur, they must understand how to ride in their new geographic location, not just fall back on what they've always done. However, getting adjusted requires both time and discipline on the rider's behalf.
That discipline includes learning to read road surfaces, as they may be constantly changing. While some surfaces -- such as crowned roads -- remain relatively similar throughout the country, the degree of crown may vary at different locations. Motorcycles tend to drift away from the direction of the crown. This condition is the same with an automobile, but is much more pronounced with a motorcycle. Two-lane highways are crowned to the centerline, while four-lane highways are crowned to the median. Sport bikes are affected by road crowns more than standard motorcycles or cruisers, so changing motorcycles or riding a borrowed bike can be a recipe for disaster.
Today, because of repairs, there are patches on most road surfaces. Some have raised surfaces, while others may be concave. Each patch causes a differing reaction; no two are alike. When crossed at highway speed, riders must be aware how their motorcycle will react. Crossed at excessive speed, these patches can change the rider's direction of travel. That's not a problem if the rider is reading the surface and knows what to do. However, if the rider is daydreaming, or there are other factors such as cracks, tar snakes or weather, the result can be disastrous.
Painted lines, dribbled fuel or oil, railroad tracks, grates, covers, the color of the road surface (is the road blacktop or concrete?) and pavement grooves are other examples of potentially dangerous surfaces. Riders must read road conditions and react accordingly. Because of their sensitive handling, sport bikes react to changes in road surfaces faster than other types of motorcycles, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Quickness is why most sport bike riders chose that type bike in the first place. This makes it important that all motorcyclists know their bikes' characteristics, react accordingly and stay focused while riding.
While riders may be fully capable of negotiating road conditions in the area where they are accustomed to riding, a PCS changes the dynamics of these surfaces. Changing to a different type motorcycle or a more powerful version all contribute to the way a rider needs to read and react to road surfaces. Staying aware of the changing road conditions and showing the discipline to adjust to them is fundamental to safe riding.