I've encountered a situation twice in the last two weeks that I wanted to bring to riders' attention. More exerienced riders have likely already dealt with this condition. Hopefully, the first time was successful! Newer riders may still have this to look forward to. I'm writing about the seams that happen between roadway paving sessions.
In Oregon we have two seasons. Winter and Road Construction. This year, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation, there are more road projects happening at the same time than ever before in Oregon history. This is due in large part to the federal and state stimulus monies. I am steadfastly going to resist making a political commentary here, much as I want to.
What this means for riders is added hazards. What happens is that the crews will grind a road surface away. This leaves a thin base of chopped, grooved, and rough pavement for motorcyclists to deal with. At least the crews usually put up signs that warn motorcyclists of the grooved pavement.
Next comes the laying down of blacktop. Crews typically put it down one lane at a time. Which means one lane's surface is higher than the other. Recently I rode home on backroads that took me through St. Paul. It's a small town north of Salem. Very small town but home to the large and very well known St. Paul Rodeo. Which is happening this weekend, by the way. Anyway, we all had to follow a pilot car for a couple of miles through the paving work. The right lane was at the ground-off level while the left lane had the new layer of blacktop on it. Near the end of the run behind the pilot car we all had to move to the left lane. The four wheel vehicles were able to just hop up onto it. Not so with a motorcycle. I wasn't able to stop and get a picture of the actual seam. I had to take this photo a bit later. However, it will give you the idea.
This is at the edge of the roadway, but picture this in the middle of the road between the lanes. That's what I faced. As well as any other rider coming along. You can't just hop up onto it with a slow sideways move. The edge of the seam will catch the side of the front tire. A motorcycle tire is constantly countersteering itself to maintain balance for the bike. If the tire rubs up against the seam, the tire can no longer countersteer. Which means the bike will want to fall over. That's neither good, smooth, nor cool!
To deal with it, a rider needs at least a 45 degree approach angle. Move to the outside, attain the proper approach angle, then immediately move to straighten out the bike in the new lane. Cagers will think you're being weird, but so be it. We don't really care, do we?
Our concern is being safe on the bike.
My most recent encounter with this situation was in another location on two consecutive nights. The first night was ok. The second night on the same stretch of road was potentially hazardous to a rider who wasn't being extremely vigilant. Let me briefly explain.
On Wednesday we did police motor training. Afterwards we had a training program related meeting in Salem. So, after a long and hard day of training, Dean, Ray, Jeff, and I rode to Salem. Our meeting was done at 9 PM. Ray and I headed south on the freeway. This was 16 hours after we had left home in the morning. It was dark. So we chose to deadhead it down the Superslab. To those not familiar with CB trucker lingo, that's the Interstate.
Paving work was going on. In this case it's being done at night. All the freeway traffic was constricted to the right lane. Orange construction pylons on one side and cement barriers on the other defined our travel lane. That wasn't bad except for the slow crawl. As Ray said, this was what we needed after a 16 hour day!
The next night I rode through there on my own. No work was going on. Which meant no orange pylons. Thus, both lanes were open to traffic. Interestingly, the hammer lane surface was a good two inches higher than the right lane. The only warning consisted of a couple of signs that read "Abrupt edge center".
I knew there had been paving work the night before. There were still signs of the paving activity present that would have alerted me had it been my first time through there. However, the difference in height between the two lanes wasn't readily visible. It was dark. The only illumination was Elvira's headlight. Can you imagine the consequence of merrily whipping into the fast lane at 60 mph ( or whatever! ) without seeing the sharp edge of the blacktop?
The moral of the story is to be aware. If paving is being done the chance for the two ( or more ) lanes being of different heights is pretty large. Watch for the clues. Don't trust your well being to actual signs. These signs might not be present. When you spot the condition use a minimum approach angle of 45 degrees. That might prove to be pretty tricky to pull off at freeway speeds. The best approach is to not change lanes unless you have to for some pressing reason. This same strategy applies to railroad and trolley tracks running parallel to our path of travel, by the way.
Miles and smiles,