Touring Essentials Blog: Can't you read the signs?

Touring Essentials Blog: Can't you read the signs? Featured

Written by  on Thursday, 06 August 2015 14:51

"Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?"

So went the chorus of the song Signs by Five Man Electrical Band in 1970.

One of the really great things about riding a motorcycle is feeling like you are part of the scenery, which can get overwhelmed at times with the volume of signs. But are you reading the signs? Are you reading the right signs?

Here’s a little blog quiz. Which of these four pictures is the best indicator of rough road or road that may not be motorcycle friendly?


Did you say Picture A? That’s pretty obvious. The road is going to be bumpy. How bumpy, or where the bumps are though, is not clear.

Did you choose Picture B? The sign has a picture of a motorcycle on it and the road looks a bit scary underneath. If a rider should heed any sign it must be this one, right? Well, it looks like the construction zone goes for quite a distance so where exactly is it bad for motorcycles?

How about Picture C? Little red dots or orange diamonds are often placed beside the road to mark a bump or something that may pass as a bump. And isn't C the usual answer in multiple choice quizzes? Well, I’ve seen them still in place after the road has been repaired, so it's not C this time.

How many answered Picture D?

What were you thinking? There isn’t even a sign there. Or is there? I asked for the best indicator of rough road. In this case, the road itself is talking to you, making Picture D the correct answer.

At highway speeds you have to be paying attention. If you look at the road surface in the middle of the right hand lane near the fourth dashed line, you can see a large black mark. Careful inspection of the left hand lane reveals a lighter black mark and also skid marks from the dual axles on a transport truck.

The black smudges are oil and other gunk that gets jarred loose when vehicles encounter a dip in the road surface. The skid marks are the result of the front set of tires momentarily losing contact with the ground and then getting spun up again when they make contact on the other side of the dip, like the marks jet planes leave on runways.

So, you’re riding along and see these signs, but how do you know what to do with the information or make sure you are getting all the information? Experience will help. Once you recognize these signs as true markings that show exactly where the rough road is (unlike the other signs manually placed by men) you’ll pick up other clues.

The right hand lane has the darker smudge so it must be the bigger dip, right? Not so fast. There is usually more traffic driving in the right lane, so it has a higher likelihood of collecting oil and gunk. The left lane has the skid marks from the transport trucks, yet fewer trucks travel in the left lane. This would indicate a sharper drop-off than in the right lane. And if you are really observant you will notice that the yellow line is a bit distorted just before the skid marks. In this case, stick to the right lane but be mindful nonetheless.

On our way to Alaska a number of years ago the only indicator in many cases was the waviness of the road lines. We developed the BASH scale where I could just tell my wife a number from 1-5 to warn her ,'Bumpy Asphalt So Hang (on)' with 1 being barely noticeable and 5 resulting in her ejection into low-earth orbit.

Being a road whisperer is a skill that you will want to develop. Once you’ve mastered it you can head out for a ride and at the end, like the singer in our song, you’ll be “alive, and doin’ fine” without having to rely on orange warning signs that block out the scenery.

Ride responsibly and enjoy your travels.

R. Bruce Thomas

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