Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Spring road assessment

2014 will be season five for me as a Vespa commuter.

To be honest, I don't recall the beginning of any previous riding season being quite so challenging.

Spring road assessments are usually the responsibility of municipal work crews who hunt for and fill in potholes.

This year is different.  There is a combination of unusual climate conditions in play.  For one thing there is a lot of snow.  There are still substantial snowbanks by the road side.  Then there is the sun that now rises early enough, rides high enough above the horizon,  and sets late enough, to melt the snow cover no matter what the ambient temperature may be.

Finally there is the un-remitting cold front.  Arctic air is pushing down and surrounding Montreal in its embrace.  Montreal's climate this year is more like the climate you usually get in Quebec City.  I remember going to Quebec City in April.  Montrealers had shifted to spring outerwear for a good few weeks.  In Quebec City, there were snowbanks, and people were still in parkas.

When you combine these ingredients what you get is runoff from the snow melt that collects in roadside puddles where it gets splashed around the roadway.  Because the ambient temperatures are so low, the water freezes and you get swaths of pavement that you could play pond hockey on.  The problem is compounded by the fact that the public works people have gotten to the end of the road salt allotment, so now they're hoarding not salting.

As usual in the spring, there are some massive potholes here and there along my commuting routes.  In the south, they'd call them sinkholes.  Combined with the ice coverage that just kind of happens here and there, commuting on two wheels is just way too risky.  The expressway is treacherous in places (like ice covering a lane-width for a ten to fifteen foot stretch), and the surface streets have even larger ice surfaces with oncoming traffic precluding use of the other lane as an escape route.

So that's how I find myself doing road surface assessments during my morning and evening commutes.

It was above freezing overnight and today we hit 6C.  I could have ridden this morning, the ice was all water.  I'll see if that holds for the evening commute.

This is not something you can take a risk on.  Sure, you can take your bike out to toodle around the neighborhood.  But risk a commute?  No way.  Not yet.

Interestingly there were powered two wheelers in use today downtown.  No motorcycles.  Only Asian 50cc scooters.  Not likely to have been commuters though, at least no one with a thirty kilometer route to tackle.  Last night I saw a guy on a BMW GS going way too fast on a service road, passing traffic.  He looked all Paris-Dakkar'ish and way too exuberant.  I prayed that he didn't hit an ice patch.

Patience.  Patience.

16 comments:

  1. Best to be prudent and wait for the ice to go away. No one wants that hidden surprise on their commute.

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    1. Brandy I'm biding my time. Better safe than sorry. It looks right now that Monday will mark the start of the commuting season.

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  2. "In the south, they'd call them sinkholes." Ah yes, I remember Montreal streets all too well, if not fondly. I'm still at least a couple of weeks from riding here. Just today I saw the first small patches of gravel poking through the ice on our laneway but we're supposed to be going back into the deep freeze for a bit so I'm not sure how fast it will progress. As you say, patience.

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    1. Dave, Montreal does indeed have a reputation for nasty street conditions. The city is quite diligent in getting the worst potholes filled, but there is that first month when the damage has stabilized and headway with repairs isn't yet significant that is rough on cars. I remember one April when I was a student hitting a water filled pothole on a dimly lit street that cost me two tires and two rims, at a time when I could barely make my rent.

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  3. Our potholes are just starting to show up with the thawing roads. Some of them seem almost bottomless. You definitely don't want to drop a wheel into one.

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    1. Richard it is greatly dependent on your ride. On a bike they're easy to dodge. In a decent SUV or truck you can withstand the assault. My wife and I had a BMW 328 with very low profile run-flats. Hitting any pothole in that thing was a bone-jarring experience. As a bonus feature the car had neat cup holders that extended from the dash. They were like diving boards for coffee cups. You'd hit a decent pothole and your coffee would be airborne. I remember a couple of those traumatic episodes. My memory captured them in slow motion with that Space Odyssey soundtrack version of the Blue Danube playing in the background as the cups floated up towards the sunroof in an angled trajectory with slops of coffee floating upwards like we were in the space shuttle. It doesn't end well.

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  4. It's one thing to play on back roads but another one to commute 30km one way. As much as you might feel the itch of getting back into the saddle... please don't.

    I know, for me it is easy to say such, given the "winter" we had. But safety first. As long as the mornings showed hoar frost, my scooter stayed at home, and I took the car.

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  5. Sonja, you're right.

    We're supposed to get a fair dose of cleansing rain on the weekend and the outliok for Monday is sun and 12C. If that holds I'll venture out.

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  6. Peter Sanderson wrote: Also do not forget about the large amount of fine salt dust that remains on the roads. This can create a very slippery surface that can cause a wipe out but it also will also spray the fine salt from the tires into all of your mechanics and frame causing rust. Generally I like to wait until it has rained really well to wash the streets of that stuff. This year it juts keeps coming because of so much left over snow on the side of the road that continually melts and the water evaporates leaving that fine salt.

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    1. Peter, that was my approach for long years with my Miata, and it served we well. When I sold the car two years ago it was 23 years old and was rust-free.

      We're supposed to get a good dowsing on Saturday and Sunday's forecast is really good, with Monday looking even more promising.

      I'm planning a joyride on Sunday, and a first commute for Monday.

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  7. It won't be long mate ... Bare with it .... The days are getting longer and very soon the sun will be shining on ya;)
    Regards LEN

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    1. Len, I really appreciate the kind encouraging words.

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  8. Yeah, if it's not snow, potholes, or cold it's run-off and flooding!

    Not being about to get out and go as one would like, when one would like, is frustrating!

    I hope your world opens up for you soon up there!

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    1. Thanks Deb, we've all had protracted winters and it's high time to get rolling again.

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  9. David:

    I have a much simpler method. Our roads are generally clear, not many pot holes, but lots of ripples because of bad asphalt installation.

    I do the frost dance. I look at the flat roof next door. If it is white, I don't ride. If it's not white, then step two is to look out front at the car windshields. If there is frost or ice, then i don't ride. If no windshield ice, step 3 is to test the road. Walk out and and move your shoe like you are snuffing out a cigarette. If slippery I don't ride.

    Generally this time of year there is frost at 7am, but later around 9 or 10am it is clear. I would be able to ride later in the day but not during the morning commute.

    anyway, don't push it.. ride when it's safe. Either that or go somewhere warm, Like somewhere in Italy . . . and rent a Vespa

    bob
    A weekend photographer or Riding the Wet Coast

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    1. Damn fine advice Bob, a little costly, but I think I'll do just that.

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