Wet summer riding blues

The wet summer hasn’t just made bike riding a less pleasurable experience; it’s also hampered efforts to repair the nation’s damaged road networks – and that signals potential trouble for bike riders…

No one who’s been out riding this summer can have missed how bad the weather’s been: wet, cold and often pretty miserable. Indeed, according to the Met Office it was the sixth wettest July on record – and the runes aren’t great for how August’s faired either!

But while this may have put a temporary dampener on a pleasant summer’s day ride, road network managers have warned that it could have a lasting impact on the state of the nation’s roads – and motorcyclists need to be aware of their warnings.

The wet weather has forced the cancellation of many overdue road repair projects or slowed their progress, and the AA’s head of roads policy, Jack Cousens, said councils “will now be under pressure to get repairs completed before the weather really turns against them’

He pointed out that the AA’s ‘pothole index’ had recorded nearly 25 per cent more cases of vehicles being damaged by deteriorating road surfaces than last year, at considerable cost. But as well as the financial damage to vehicles,

“we are also seeing more cyclists and motorbike riders on the roads where the damage can sadly be fatal.”

Pot holes combined with rain are a huge hazard, as motorcyclists can easily miss the danger lurking beneath the puddles. Hitting one at speed can bring even the most experienced rider down, and even if you get away from the tumble physically intact your bike will likely have damaged tyres, wheels, spokes, brakes and shocks, and require expensive repairs.

“With 2023 looking to be one of the worst years on record for pothole damage, we need to see more investment in local roads maintenance funding,” added Jack – and it’s needed now, “to repair roads before icy conditions in winter compound the problem.”

While the Government increased its Potholes Fund by £200 million to £709m in the 2023 Budget, the increase is probably a drop in the ocean considering the scale of the problem, one commentator said.

Rick Green, chair of the Asphalt Industry Alliance, estimated it would take £14.02 billion to tackle the backlog of potholes blighting UK roads, the highest recorded in 28 years.

“The link between continued underinvestment and the ongoing structural decline and below-par surface conditions of our local roads is clear.”

Steering clear of potholes

In dry conditions when you can see the road ahead, avoiding potholes is straightforward: it just needs concentration and forward scanning of the road. Watch out for changes in colour of the road surface, which from a distance can indicate a break-up in the tarmac

It’s when it gets wet that the real problems arise. You can’t avoid what you can’t see, and if the road is covered in water, you can easily strike a pothole without any advance warning. It’s vital you avoid, if you can, standing water: it could be masking a dangerous hole. When that’s impossible, particularly in a deluge, reduce your speed and look for any signs that a hole may be present.

If you come across a pothole and cannot avoid hitting it, the best advice is to reduce speed and try to bring your weight up off the saddle temporarily, to reduce force when the wheels hit the hole.

Potholes on the road: what you can do

Riding groups recommend two approaches to recording pothole damage:

  • Preventative action: If at all possible, report local potholes using the government’s reporting mechanism (www.gov.uk/report-pothole) which will direct you to the relevant authority. If the defect is on a motorway or A-road, you might have to report to Highways England (email [email protected] or telephone 0300 123 5000)
  • Remedial action: If your bike is involved in a crash caused by a pot hole, gather evidence to prove how it happened. Make a note of exact time and location, take photographs of the pothole and damage to your bike. Use a ruler or measuring tape to show the depth and diameter of the crater, if you can.

It is not always straightforward to make a claim for pothole damage, but according to consumer champions at Money Saving Expert UK councils paid out £23m in compensation in 2022.

Finally, always remember that you are doing your local authority a favour by reporting pot holes. They can’t fix what they don’t know is broken. So if your ride is hampered by poor road surfaces, let your local authority know.

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