Roads With Salt and Potholes, Oh My!

by Hugh Johnson

Well, we limped through another winter.  While snow, ice and even sleet bombs are not necessarily over, we have begun the painful transition into spring. This includes mud, dirt snow, salt, and those darn potholes! If you are like me having cabin fever, seeing those lighter evenings and occasional spikes in temperatures, you are longing to get back out on the bike.                   

Unfortunately, potholes are a product of living in the Northeast. The constant swing in temperatures, along with rain and whatever else mother nature throws at us, stresses roadways.  The rapid expansion of water when it freezes, and contraction of melting ice, can rupture any road, especially a worn out one.  At the end of last winter, we lucked out with less  potholes than usual, due to a lack of precipitation. This year, despite less snowfall than last winter, we seem to have a plethora of potholes around, with some roads resembling the moon more than city streets.         

If you see a significant pothole, please take the time to report it to the city or town you are biking in!  Otherwise, it might never get repaired.          ,

 I usually do my cycling tune up in the beginning of winter. That way I can take one bike south for a bit, and not have to deal with the seasonal maintenance when everyone else is doing so this time of the year. It best to get the bike in shape before the flowers start blooming.         

Before you head out to ride, make sure your bike is in good working order, especially if you haven’t ridden it in a while.  No matter how slick the bike is, having bald tires, faulty breaks or a worn-out chain can wreak havoc at a moment’s notice.         

With melting snow, comes road puddles. Be wary of any stand-alone puddle, as there could be a huge pothole under that water, ready to mess with your day. Also be careful if you plan to bike on the local trails. Some are snow plowed, others not. Where the snow has become vintage, it too thaws and refreezes, eventually turning into the dreaded sheet of ice. 

A little water on top of this ice makes it not only impossible to see, but even more slippery.  Be extra cautious on wooded areas, bridges and especially tunnels where limited sunlight might have prevented a full meltdown.       

It is probably best to clean your bike after every other ride this time of year, or after an unusually salty one. While salt arguably saves lives, it also causes corrosion.         

This is a good time to take inventory of the repair tools you need, spare tires, pumps, etc. Check your bike bags for holes and other antiquated stuff. One year, I found the remains of a banana peel in my bike bag that luckily had gone well past the rotting stage and had turned into papyrus.         

Good lights are of course essential once we approach dusk no matter what time of year.  However, a nearly equally dangerous time to cycle is the last hour before sunset. On a clear evening, the low sun angle will produce glare so bad that a driver might not be able to see you. Any lingering snow will only exacerbate the problem. I have known several people who have gotten hit by a car at this time of day, and I have had a few close calls myself.  A light will help the cause even when the sun is brightly shining.         

Eventually true spring weather will win out, even if takes past Memorial Day to do so. Slowly work up to last year’s level of riding. If you push too hard and or too quickly, that could induce injury, especially to your back muscles. You do not want to be on the sidelines with a biking accident or self-induced injury, when everyone else is biking on a beautiful day. I can’t wait!

Happy Biking everyone!

Hugh Johnson.jpegHugh Johnson is a retired meteorologist who worked with the National Weather Service. Now he "retires" his bicycles  every year and sets out for new and old journeys. He occasionally runs (just for fun) and hopes to participate  with the National Weather Service in the CDPHP Workforce Challenge. He hikes and on his "bucket list" is to do the Camino de Santiago one day, when the darn pandemic goes away for good. In the meantime, he will just keep on moving!

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