I'm curious what the following actually means in terms of management on a freeway:
Despite the cold, I'm sweating a particular stretch of freeway. There's some hills just South of Salem. The freeway takes a five hundred and forty eight foot rise. It's just enough to make the difference in ice or snow. I've hit black ice there a couple of times on a bike. The heavy fog makes it likely to happen again.
I've negotiated black ice on secondary roads with no traffic but not on a freeway. What do you actually do? Please, I need instruction.
Back Road Slider
Let's start by asking a basic question. Why in the world are you riding in this kind of weather in the first place? Any so-called "sensible person" will loudly tell us that one needs to be crazy, insane, or shades of both, to ride a motorcycle when there's a chance of hitting ice. These nice people will also tell us that the reasonable thing to do is to lock ourselves into some heated box. That way we'll have four tires for traction as well as being so much more comfortable. It sounds so cozy, warm, and oh so "wise", doesn't it?
Excuse me. I think I just threw up in my helmet a little bit. I'm so sick of people telling me to "play it safe"! My God. Next thing you know I'll be sitting in a recliner while somebody spoon feeds me instant mush. Heaven forbid I should do anything that might hurt me.
Sorry, folks. I'm going to ride my bikes as much as possible. That just might mean dealing with dicey traction. Sometimes those difficult traction situations are going to take us by surprise. No matter how hard we scan and search for information, we're bound to miss something. Things like Black Ice. There's a reason it's called that, obviously. So, Mister Slider ( emphasis on the Mister ) you've asked a darn fine "man's" question. How do we deal with black ice?
Firstly, be proud that you're out there being a true Road Warrior. Hopefully, you'll someday have an experience like this one. I've just got to take a little detour and tell you a short story.
We had to buy Katie a new cell phone. She doesn't much care for having to adapt to new technology. Her old cell phone has been in her purse for a bunch of years. There wasn't much incentive for her to get a new one. Until I decided to buy a new Blackberry Storm touch screen phone. I used her upgrade credit. Things went well until I asked Verizon to switch the phones around so Katie would have her number back. The old phones won't work with the new E911 requirement by the FCC so Verizon wouldn't re-activate hers. Everything turned out well, though, as I found her a new phone she really likes. Functional, but not too complicated.
Since we could now download songs for ringtones, I asked her what she would like for when I called. Right away she said she wanted the theme song from Raiders of the Lost Ark. When I asked Katie why, she replied that it was fitting for me. Harrison Ford's a great looking guy and, more importantly, she thinks of me as her swashbuckling hero.
What does this have to do with black ice? Some of us are going to ride whenever we dang well feel like it. Those who matter understand and even admire us.
This is an older picture I stole from a couple of years ago on this blog. It's pretty much what things look like around my house today. Except with more snow and ice on the roadway. We're sitting in the teens and twenties for temperatures. That would be minus 5 to minus 10 or so in centigrade, Bryce Lee. Most of the roads are covered in a sheet of ice. I didn't ride today. You can bet I'll have Elvira out introducing her to the snow pretty soon. I expect ice and will deal with it accordingly.
Black ice, however, doesn't always happen only when you expect it. That's what makes it so hazardous.
In the interests of honesty, the best plan is to not be riding when ice of any kind is expected. The second best plan is to pay attention to our surroundings. Our training program puts a lot of emphasis on detecting hazards as early as possible. This process includes assessing the current conditions, projecting how they might change, and aggressively searching for visual clues of changing traction. My experiences with black ice have happened despite my best efforts to avoid it.
Take the last time. This one was pretty typical of my other experiences. It was in February of 2007. I'm on the freeway heading North about 30 miles to teach a class. Yep, first weekend of February and classes are starting already. Most of the time our climate allows for it. I've checked the temperature. It's four degrees above freezing. A bit of rain had fallen overnight. There's a light mist still in the air. Not a big deal, I figure. If I had a dollar for everytime I've ridden in the cold and wet, I'd have retired rich by now.
Firing up Sophie a little before 6 AM, it's still dark. This early on a Saturday morning, traffic is pretty light. As is my habit, I'm feeling out traction as I go. The freeway feels fine and I confidently wick it up to 55 mph or so. My STeed and I are approaching the hills in South Salem. I've hit black ice here a total of three times previously. Always much higher up, though. My senses are on alert. There's no traffic ahead of me. I'm scanning the roadway in Sophie's headlight. I see the glisten of wet pavement but it looks normal. I'm expecting the possibility of black ice a bit later. This time I'd find it much sooner than expected.
As we start up the South side of the slope, we've only climbed a few feet from our two hundred foot or so elevation. The bike and I are Northbound. On the Southbound downhill slope, I see a car off in the ditch. An ambulance and police car are on the shoulder with lights flashing. Curious at to what's going on, my attention is drawn to the scene. At this point we're doing about 50 mph and pulling a little more throttle to start the climb up the hill.
There's always a danger in becoming distracted while riding a bike. Even dashing swashbucklers are human, though. As I'm drawing even with the emergency vehicles, I feel Sophie's front end get mushy. I'd soon realize exactly why that car's in the ditch. Weirdly enough, my first thought isn't about ice. That's how certain I was that the road was ok where I was. What crossed my mind is the possibility of the front tire going flat. Then the steering went from mushy to feeling really light. I felt the familiar sensation of continuing in a straight line while the handlebars are moving back and forth. This is exactly what I've felt every other time I've encountered black ice at speed. Momentum carries the bike forward. The front tire is sliding on the ice which causes that back and forth movement. This is a critical moment.
Several things have to happen quickly. Firstly, the head and eyes need to snap up. Feeling that weird sensation can cause a rider to want to look down and see what's happening. We need the bike to keep moving in a straight line. Looking as far ahead as we can see will help make this happen.
Secondly, the movement of the bars has to be stopped. Traction can come back at any time. You don't want that to happen when the front tire is pointed any direction but straight ahead. Don't go the other way and lock up your arms. Relaxed, but firm is the key.
Thirdly, despite the first reaction when realizing we're on ice, hold the throttle steady for a bit. Our instinct will be to roll off the throttle. Remember, though, that on a slippery surface we don't want either acceleration or braking inputs. A bike has three brakes. The engine being the third. If we're going to have to roll off, it has to be gradual and smooth. I always figure I'll be smart enough not to roll on the throttle or apply the brakes. So far so good!
Eyes up, keep the bars straight, and make no sudden inputs. So far I've successfully ridden out my encounters with black ice on the freeway at speed. I really hope I never have any more opportunity to test my skills in this regard. However, I ride in all kinds of weather. It may happen again. The name Black Ice was chosen for a reason, I guess.
So far, I've never hit black ice in a corner. For me, that's a totally different ballgame. If I even suspect a traction problem on a curvy road, my approach is pretty cautious. Or I will chose straighter roads. Even swashbucklers want to get home in one piece at the end of an adventuresome day!
Miles and smiles,