Potholes And Motorcycles -- A Match Made In Hell

Although Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, the extended winter weather has put cities and counties behind in their annual spring road maintenance. So there's still many potholes out there on the road, more than you'd usually see at the end of May. Potholes can seemingly come out of nowhere, especially in traffic when the vehicles in front of you are breaking up your view of the road surface. 

Potholes are often no more than an earth-shaking irritation to cars and trucks. A car or truck hits a pothole and there might be some underbody damage, a damaged tire, or an alignment that gets thrown out of whack. But potholes can kill motorcycle riders. We are especially vulnerable to them even a minor pothole can throw a rider off balance, possible causing a loss of control and a subsequent accident. A deep pothole can directly cause a motorcycle to crash. If going to the ground doesn't seriously injure or kill the rider, there's the follow-up risk of lying in the road while traffic bears down. All and all not a good situation to be in.

So how can motorcycle riders protect themselves from potholes? The most obvious alternative is of course to avoid them. Watch your speed when you first begin riding in the spring, especially in traffic when your view of the road immediately in front of you may be broken up by other vehicles. Don't assume that a route that was clear the year or even the day before hasn't had a new pothole develop. And don't assume that a puddle of water is just a puddle; it could be a deeper pool of water that's concealing a pothole. Do your best to steer around potholes when you see them, assuming that you can do so safely without losing control or veering into oncoming traffic or the curb.

If hitting a pothole is unavoidable (because it's too large or came upon you too fast to safely avoid it), try to slow down as safely as possible so that your tires follow the road surface into the pothole and back out without causing a loss of control or separation of the tires from the road surface. And confront the pothole straight on -- swerving at the last second may result in your bike entering the pothole with the handlebars at an angle, which is likely to cause a crash when the tires enter the pothole. Just go straight into the hole and straight out of it.

Some motorcycle safety resources and instructors also advocate that, shortly before hitting the pothole, riders stand up slightly with their knees bent on the front pegs pegs so that your legs and knees will act as shock absorbers. Motorcycle safety resources also suggest that the rider accelerate slightly and smoothly upon entering the pothole, which is meant to shift the rider's weight on the bike and transfer it from the front tire to the rear tire. The key is slight and smooth acceleration, not a panicked wrenching of the throttle because hitting a pothole at higher speeds will frequently send the rider and the bike to the ground.

Finally, even if you make it through an encounter with a pothole relatively unscathed, you should still have your bike looked at. You should check for damage to the tires or the rims. You might also have to have your forks and suspension checked out too.

Harley Erbe