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Greasy Roads

Blog Date - 21 July 2014

We've had some great weather this year. Which means we've had some dry spells. Which means the roads are unwashed. Which means when the rain returns the roads become treacherous.

Thursday morning, 0600 and I'm sat on the bike ready to make the 25 mile trip to a place of gainful employment. It's been dry for a while now but this morning brings a light, occasional drizzle. Experience tells me the following. Over these dry days various vehicles have dripped oil from their engines leaving tiny irrelevant spots on the road. Vans and lorries have spilt diesel on roundabouts in thin faded lines. Dirt has fallen from wheel arches. Everyday dust and debris has settled on the tarmac. If it had remained dry this would not matter. If the rain had been heavy and hard this contamination would have been washed away in 5 minutes. But today the rain is the worst kind of rain.

This kind of rain won't penetrate my aged bike jacket or my cheap gloves. This rain won't get me wet. What this rain will do is wet the road just enough. Just enough to turn that solitary drip of oil that was only 3 millimetres across into a slippery slick almost half a metre wide. Just enough to spread that strip of diesel spillage right out and across half the roundabout. Just enough to turn that blob of mud into ring of sludge. Just enough to lift the dust and debris. If it's been particularly hot the tarmac will have melted enough to release some of it's oily content to add to that special slip-sliding feeling as you ride.

This effect comes at the worst time too, after a dry spell. For the last week or so I've been on dry roads relishing and revelling in the available grip. I've been tipping into bends, hooning around roundabouts and braking as hard as I like. The contrast this morning is horrible. I have to teeter around the corners, brake early and be hyper vigilant to avoid any sudden manoeuvres. Throw in a wet visor with the early morning grumps and you can imagine where my head is at.

There's nothing I can do about the conditions, they are as they are. All I can do is keep my speed down and stay alert. For the last week cars have been my nemesis, getting in the way and ruining my ride on (what I wish was) my own personal race track. Today is revenge. As I slither and slide around corners the cagers won't even notice that the road is like a skating rink. I can see them, up close behind, impatient. If one of their tyres breaks grip on a slick the driver won't notice as the other 3 tyres are in traction. If I break grip on either tyre I'm off. They don't know, they'll never know. I used to worry about upsetting them and delaying them. Now I just worry that if I fall off will they simply run over me...and drive off?

Try a little experiment at home. Take a drop, just a single drip of old engine oil and drip it onto some dry tarmac. It's tiny isn't it. Now set a hosepipe to produce a very fine mist and let the mist fall onto the drip of oil. Watch in amazement as it grows and spreads. Then remember this the next time you ride or you're following a biker in some light rain after a dry spell.

just a drop of oil on the tarmac next to my finger for scale
Just a single drop of old engine oil...
engine oil spread across wet tarmac
Can spread out like this!


Reader's Comments

Damien said :-
That thing with the oil is scary! I never thoght of it like this until I saw the pix.
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