Saturday, July 03, 2010

Road construction and pavement seams.

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,

Dan

13 comments:

Richard Machida said...

Great post. I was guessing the 45 degree or greater approach for an increase in height. Is it the same rule for a drop? I've run into wheel tracks on gravel roads that seem to be similar. They require very aggressive steering inputs to safely switch tracks.

Gary France said...

Scary, very scary. I haven't seen this on my current biker tour, but I have seen it in the US when driving a car. As you say, don't change lanes unless you absolutely have to. Strange, but I have never seen road edges left like this in the UK.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear IronDad (Dan):

The conditions that you described were exactly the situation that brough down Conch Scooter (Key West Diary) last year. Even though it was broad daylight, the road was unmarked and it snagged his front wheel.

Riding in Virginia, I have come across construction warning signs that are especially addrss to bikers. They read "Motorcycles Use Caution... Uneven Road Surfaces."

Being out and about yesterday, I found myself on the beautiful PA 926 in Chester County, and read signs that said: "Fresh Oil and Chips Next Week... Ride At Your Own Risk."

I found that to be very comforting.

Fondrest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Mike said...

Very good post Dan! These make for challenging road conditions. There's one of these permanently in the northbound lane on 219 going into Hillsboro. It's right in the center of the lane. It's been a good training area to keep the bike straight on the top or the bottom but never jump it.

Thanks for the info about I-5!

bluekat said...

Great post and timely. I'd hate to climb over that edge at anything less than straight on, but of course there are usually limited options. What is scary is how hard to spot some of these edges are. Even in daylight they kind of blend in. Nasty surprise.

I've noticed that they're also dropping piles of that little round gravel to patch up the some roads. Little grey marbles on a grey road.

ODOT got it out for us or something??

irondad said...

Richard,

Going downhill is easier. Due to gravity this takes less effort to cross. As long as the rider has at least 10 degrees of approach angle things should be fine. Just don't slowly slide sideways over the joint so the tire rubs along the seam on the way down.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Gary,

I sure hope your bike tour is going well! May all your surprises be pleasant ones.

Methinks many European areas are much more rider and bike conscious than here.

Jack,

Yes, I thought about Conch but wasn't going to mention him.

I have to say I was disappointed in the last part of your comment. Fresh chips and oil? Yummm! Then I realized you were writing about road work. Dang!

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Mike,

A permanent lane height difference? I have to go check it out. I was just on 219 but I took Bald Peak Rd. out of Hillsboro and only hit 219 a bit North of Newberg.

The I-5 paving by Enchanted Forest seems to be done, but I think they are moving farther South.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Bluekat,

Most of the road crews are private contractors. I wonder if they are expressing some long buried frustrations or have an evil sense of humor?

Take care,

Dan

Karina said...

this is a timely reminder! we have bunches of new road construction in NYS, and there's some major work going on around my house. there's two ways I can get to work - one on highways and one on more rural roads. The fast way is via highways but I avoid it unless I have to, and at night I NEVER take the highways because I have no idea what the surface conditions will be. shoot, it's hard enough to take that sudden change in grade in my wee tiny car.

DenK said...

Good post. I've found a problem to be where the crews stop grinding the lane and you have to jump back to the original level of the asphalt. Sometimes there is a gradual transition other times there is a 3 inch vertical jump. Problem is that you don't know the situation until you hit the bump. Sometimes its a hard thump, other times just a gentle rise. No warning signs in sight! Construction by the low bidder you know.

DenK said...

Good post. I've found a problem to be where the crews stop grinding the lane and you have to jump back to the original level of the asphalt. Sometimes there is a gradual transition other times there is a 3 inch vertical jump. Problem is that you don't know the situation until you hit the bump. Sometimes its a hard thump, other times just a gentle rise. No warning signs in sight! Construction by the low bidder you know.

Clevelandrkcj said...

Bluekat, Most of the road crews are private contractors. I wonder if they are expressing some long buried frustrations or have an evil sense of humor? Take care, Dan