Looking across to the snow capped alpine mountains seen from the back seat of a motorcycle

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Rainbows On Motorways

Blog Date - 14 December 2017

At this time of year motorways are a (relatively) safe haven for the all year round motorcyclist. If ever there is a stretch of road that is likely to have been gritted, is likely to have enough traffic to break up any ice, is likely to have been cleared of snow and likely to have few sharp bends to slide around it will be the motorways.

I have a vast array of route options for my commute. To break up the monotony I rarely take the same route each way and seldom use the same route more than once a week. I have countless side roads, short cuts, interesting back lanes and twisties to choose from. If the ice or snow are here though I'll stick to the main roads and motorways.

So there was I feeling sensible by using the motorway even though the worst of this particular cold snap has cleared. The tarmac is wet yet remarkably it's not presently raining or snowing which is good. I'm feeling quite calm despite the 38 ton truck that's just cut right in front of me to catch the next exit.

I notice through my spray soaked visor that there appears to be a rainbow running down the centre of my lane. I've seen this before many times, I figure a vehicle has sprung a leak from the motor and is slowly dumping the lubricious life blood onto the highway. I move from the centre of my lane into the outer wheel track and back off the throttle just a smidgen (55 down to 50, I'm on a 125).

Normally this carries on for a few miles and remains constant. This rainbow however seems to be spreading from the centre into where I'm riding in the wheel tracks. I'm OK but if I have to brake suddenly things might change rapidly. The VW Tiguan behind me is closer than I'd like him to be. I was planning on staying on the motorway for a few more junctions but I might come off at the next one instead. It's no problem it's just a change of route option.

Then as if from nowhere the rainbow spreads and the bike feels like it's floating. I desperately gesture for the Tiguan to back off but the driver and his wife look at me vacantly from within their 5 star rated NCAP safety cage and remain a tad too close. I point repeatedly at the vast rainbow to no avail. 

I am actually scared. I decide I am not moving into the next lane as vans and cars are thundering by. I decide this floating sensation will not end well if I have to do ANYTHING other than continue in a perfectly straight line. As such I delicately and gingerly ease off the throttle and to avoid being rear ended by the Tiguan I drift as daintily as I can to the hard shoulder.

Luckily I am but a few yards from the junction. I did consider just taking the junction but I did not know if the vehicle that must be almost devoid of oil had also taken the slip (sic) road. Also I need to collect myself. The slip road looks clear so I pull myself together and continue on my way. I am still rather shaken.

Later I pull in and dial 101 to report the problem. A nice lady redirects my call to another line, presumably Highways or Traffic. Unfortunately after 3 minutes the call is not answered and I must be on my way to work. 

It's been a while since I've been properly scared on the bike. I feel as though the safety and sanctuary of the winter motorways has been taken from me, proven to be a fallacy and a fool's notion. I feel as though nowhere is safe now. However I must put this into context. After coming on for half a million miles on two wheels this is the first time I've experienced this particular problem. Sure - I've seen oil on the motorway before but not so much. If an infinite number of motorcyclists cover an infinite number of miles then they will undoubtedly see every possible problem. 

I expect I'll be hyper-vigilant for a while.

A rainbow of either oil or diesel at the junction of a road

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Reader's Comments

Ian Soady said :-
Nasty stuff isn't it?

Sometimes, if it's diesel (which I think is slippier than engine oil) you can smell it. But well spotted and it sounds like a good decision. I do know that feeling that the slightest touch of brakes or throttle will have you on your ear.

Maybe this is one occasion when the "bigger engine gets you out of trouble" suggestion might work but in truth a 250 would have been enough to get you into the middle lane and keep up with the traffic. I must say I would feel vulnerable (apart from looking slightly ridiculous) on a 125 on a motorway myself.
15/12/2017 10:29:17 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Now I have been awaiting someone stating that more power would have helped here. Yes, I could have more easily slipped (sic) into the middle lane but then...if I'd been on a bigger bike then maybe I would have arrived at the problem doing 70mph and not 55mph. For every pro there is a con, and vice versa too.

As for looking ridiculous I am commuting to work not carrying out a fashion parade. I was once told I should do what I do best. I do ridiculous incredibly well.

As for being vulnerable - yes being on a 125 at motorway speeds takes a little getting used to. Despite the lack of power I do my best to stand my ground, boldly hold my space and command my tiny little portion of tarmac. Never the less I have to accept I cannot actually win any fights - so best to avoid them.

I couldn't smell diesel and the central location of the rainbow on the lane makes me suspect it was oil.
15/12/2017 10:38:50 UTC
B said :-
Highways England on 0300 123 5000 are the ones to contact for motorway related stuff including incidents such as this. Having said that, personally, if I felt that whatever I have seen (spillage, deep~large pothole, Etc.) has the immediate potential to cause a competent rider/driver travelling with reasonable care to have an RTC, I'd report it to 999. If nothing else, they may pass the info to Highways England via a more direct route.
16/12/2017 08:33:38 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
That's excellent information B, a handy number to keep hold of. It's always a tough decision with 999 - the last thing I'd want to do is waste critical emergency services time but then if life or limb are at serious risk then it is an emergency.
16/12/2017 22:31:13 UTC
Daf said :-
Speaking as someone who does do ambulance work as part of my job, I'd rather have time "wasted" by someone stopping an incident from developing and causing serious injury or loss of life!

As for oil, I've noticed a lot more spills - I don't know if it is people not maintaining their vehicles/not fixing leaks, or the worst thing, people over-filling their vehicles with diesel due to forecourt offers incentivising over filling.
18/12/2017 00:36:57 UTC
Bob said :-
Ahh, that "OH S**T!" feeling...
It's particularly enjoyable when you're just about to tip into a wet roundabout and you catch the smell of diesel in your nostrils.
Still, you did the right thing, no acceleration, no braking, no steering input. In the past I have dipped onto the hard shoulder, I'd rather have to explain myself to a judge than have to extract myself from under a 4x4!
18/12/2017 08:47:34 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Definitely an "oh poop" moment Bob. I had no issue pulling onto the hard shoulder, I firmly believed I was in sufficient danger to use it and if an officer of the law had pulled in to ask questions I think they would have skidded gracefully by.

Cheers Daf. It has crossed my mind that as and when electric vehicles become popular that this problem will be virtually eliminated. No diesel to spill and only small amounts of lubrication oil in electric motors (if any at all) will help. There will still be some small drips - from lubricated motorcycle chains for example - but not the rainbow seas of today.
18/12/2017 09:28:41 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
In the sunny Midlands we have a number of managed motorways where the hard shoulder has been converted to a temporary (sometimes permanent) running lane. Whilst the results that have been published so far actually show a drop in collisions, if you came across the "rainbow" on one of these you would have to carry on till you came to one of the emergency laybys (laybies?) which may be tricky to get into, and of course would have nowhere to go except back onto the oily lane.

Under these circumstances, 999 would probably be the only option, although the layby will have an emergency phone and these motorways are under constant video surveillance so it probably wouldn't be long till someone turned up.
18/12/2017 12:18:31 UTC

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