“Be safe!” your significant other calls out as you snap into your pedal clips and head out for a ride on the road. You assure your partner that you’ve got your helmet, your phone, spare tube, water, a few bucks and your Road ID.
Yes, all of those items are part of a cyclist’s safety ritual, but one thing that many of us overlook is road conditions. Sure, we pay attention to the crazy potholes that pop up here in Chester County every spring, crossing our fingers that PennDOT will fill them properly, but how about road closures? How about ongoing utility work? And what about the dreaded tar and chip applications?
Of the above list, potholes are the easiest to deal with. Usually we find them with our cars before we find them with our bikes. We learn, over the years, where the potholes tend to form, where they are fixed quickest, and which roads to avoid until July. Road closures are another matter, but PennDOT has helped us out with a website. Chester County is covered by District 6, located on the old Embreeville State Hospital property, and their weekly traffic update is a great resource. Utility work can also be daunting to a bike rider, especially the Asplundh tree work. Branches and leaves and sawdust, oh my! Most of the local utilities provide schedules as well, check the web for your utility.
That brings us to pretty much the only type of road work that will make a cyclist curse more than the Templin Road hill: tar and chips. This process is also known as ‘oil and chips’ or, simply, ‘chipping’. The process is just as it sounds, tar, or asphalt, is spread on the road surface (or the shoulder, where bikes are supposed to be) and then small crushed stones are dumped on the hot tar. The chips are then rolled to help adherence and the road is left alone for several days. It is during this ‘curing’ period that bikes and motorcycles are at the highest risk. The process requires more stone than needed to ensure complete coverage so there is will be an abundance of loose gravel on the road until PennDOT comes back and sweeps it up. We all know how that sweeping process goes, so the road is actually dangerous for a month or two after the chipping application. The passing of many cars finally pushes the loose gravel to the edge of the road (where the cyclists have to deal with it) and the travel lanes are finally safe again.
Although you can navigate chipped roads on a bike, you should be aware the loose gravel is quite slippery for cyclists. If you cannot find an alternate route, slow down and proceed with caution. Take the time to figure where PennDot may be chipping the roads and you can save yourself not only time as you detour, but also prevent a nasty case of road rash.