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Another hot weather cycling hazard: tar seams

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Another hot weather cycling hazard: tar seams

Old 07-13-11, 02:37 PM
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Another hot weather cycling hazard: tar seams

On Saturday I went out for an organized Century ride and unfortunately discovered a hot weather cycling hazard I had never considered in years of commuting, touring, and road cycling:

Originally Posted by Jim from Boston
I had my crash at 94 miles. I was immediately assisted by some bystanders who claimed I was KO’ed for a bit, and the ambulance and police soon arrived. The upshot was spending from about 4:00 to 8:30 PM in the Emergency Room, with abrasions on my arms, knees, and a couple ugly ones on my face; and a gash about 1 inch long requiring 18 stitches to close. But not to worry, I’m OK, though I haven’t checked out the bike.

Wha’ happened? I was riding about 5 mph on the main street, and on that road surface were these strips of tar, the policeman called “tar seams,” apparently a cheap fix for cracks. In the 90 degree heat they [the tar seams] became soft and sticky and grabbed my tire, and since I was going slowly, one pulled me down. The officer said that they had also received complaints from motorcyclists about these tar seams…
The front wheel was taco’ed and the eyeglasses were temporarily repaired but I will need new frames. A couple fellow riders commented about noticing those tar seams too. Buzzman also replied about his experience:

Originally Posted by buzzman
…These "tar seams" are a real hazard and one I've noticed more and more in the past couple of years. They've patched the frost heaves in the Berkshires with them and I've hit them on some fast downhills on +90 degree days and gotten some serious wheel wobble and one almost wipe out at the bottom of a hill as I veered into a turn. It would be a worthwhile thread in either Advocacy and Safety to see if other riders have had similar issues. And worth bringing up to MassBike and LAB.

Originally Posted by buzzman
Jim, Feel free to quote me but I've had issues with tar seams at higher speed- like on descents at 30 + mph. My experience has been they soften in the heat and what feels "sticky" at slow speeds feels slick at higher speed….
The picture below is near the scene, and note the tar seams on the road surface.

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Old 07-13-11, 03:31 PM
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Ick. They are also called tar snakes, at least for motorcyclists. Sorry about your wreck.
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Old 07-13-11, 04:13 PM
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Wow, tough way to find out about them.

I've encountered them before, but it has never caused a crash. I usually notice them as the feeling my tire is going flat -- that squishy feeling from the bike as the tire runs along them. In your case, it must have been a pretty wide crack.

I avoid them due to the sensation they cause, and also I've kind of wondered if they could be a problem. Thanks for sharing. Now we know to be on the lookout and to avoid them.
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Old 07-13-11, 04:37 PM
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We have a lot of those around my area.
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Old 07-13-11, 05:36 PM
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We don't have the extreme freeze/thaw cycles that those of you in the northern climes have, so we're fortunate in that regard. In this area people do have the mentality that allowing one's dog(s) free range is acceptable, though. Hope your injuries heal quickly and you're back on the bike soon. Really sorry to hear of your accident. Your posts are always enjoyable.

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Old 07-13-11, 07:54 PM
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If the seam was bad, go after the city for your damages.
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Old 07-13-11, 08:08 PM
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They love to put them all over the roads around where I live, Tar Snakes. Usually tar mixed with sand or gravel and they fill the seams in locally. When I was riding motors for the PD here I saw lots of new riders, motorcycle, drop or crash out due to them on hot days. Glad to hear your doing ok, and I agree tough way to figure out they get slick as snot in the heat.
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Old 07-13-11, 08:29 PM
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Originally Posted by GeoBigJon
They love to put them all over the roads around where I live, Tar Snakes. Usually tar mixed with sand or gravel and they fill the seams in locally. When I was riding motors for the PD here I saw lots of new riders, motorcycle, drop or crash out due to them on hot days. Glad to hear your doing ok, and I agree tough way to figure out they get slick as snot in the heat.
Around here in Michigan they don't even mix in gravel. In extreme heat you can actually see active bubbles,they are that soft. Jim,I'm glad you had no broken bones or a serious concussion.

Marc
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Old 07-13-11, 08:30 PM
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In NYS they started using something that doesn't melt so easily.
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Old 07-13-11, 08:55 PM
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Even here in the tundra, a warm day (80F) will soften those enough to make the bike feel squirrely (the flat tire feeling like scroca said). Scared me the first time I ran over one. I now avoid them on warm days as much as possible.

Sounds like a brutal accident, Jim. Hope you heal quickly.
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Old 07-13-11, 09:06 PM
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We must have a different mixture where I live. A couple of the streets I ride on seem to be about half tar seam and I've never seen them even get a bit soft in the 90+ heat we get in the summer. They make it a bit bumpy, but I'd rather have that then get my tire grabbed.

Sorry about what happened to you. I hope your recovery is quick.
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Old 07-14-11, 07:01 AM
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Sorry to hear about your accident. Were you riding across them (so you went straight across the crack) or did you ride through the crack (your tire went down into the crack)?
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Old 07-14-11, 05:20 PM
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Originally Posted by MK313
Sorry to hear about your accident. Were you riding across them (so you went straight across the crack) or did you ride through the crack (your tire went down into the crack)?
Thanks to you and all the above posts for your well-wishes. The tar seam I encountered was actually above the road surface, so my wheel did not catch an underlying crack, but was stopped by adhering to the tar which had become soft and sticky in the 90 degree heat and bright sunshine. The seam was parallel to my direction of travel, and I was going slow so I didn't have enough momentum to break free. As buzzman noted, in my post, his experience with riding over tar seams on fast descents is that the tar is fluid and is a slick surface.
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Old 07-16-11, 12:26 PM
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I also posted the identical OP of this thread about my crash due to tar seams to the Road Cycling Forum and received a characteristically dissimilar set of responses than from the Commuter Forum (BluesDawg's reply was from an entirely different thread on the Fifty Plus Forum).

Originally Posted by merlinextraligh
Google Joseba Beloki
Originally Posted by BluesDawg
...Jim, sorry you crashed, but at least your hot tar incident wasn't as bad as Joseba Beloki's.
Originally Posted by Jim from Boston
I was unaware of the story of Beloki:
Originally Posted by Wikipedia
On 14 July 2003, during the ninth stage of the 2003 Tour de France, Beloki was in second place overall (just 40 seconds behind Lance Armstrong) and negotiating a turn at speed while descending the Cote de La Rochette, just 4 km from the stage finish at Gap. He lost control of his bicycle after his rear tire came off the wheel on a patch of tarmac[citation needed] that was softened by the sun (the road surface temperature was reported to be 50°C, or 125°F), sending his rear wheel skidding first in one direction and then the other. Beloki suffered a hard fall that broke his right femur in two places, his elbow and his wrist. Armstrong was following immediately behind Beloki and, to avoid the fallen rider, headed off the road to go down the hill through the underbrush and across a small field. The crash effectively ended Beloki's career as a premier bicycle racer.
BTW, I posted the identical OP on this thread to the Commuter Forum since I also cycle commute. I mention this not as a criticism, but FYA: On the Commuter thread I got 11 replies and 8 expressed sympathies for my crash. On the Road Cycling thread I got 12 replies and the closest expression of sympathy was:

Originally Posted by bengreen79
I've hit those [tar seams] by accident but apparently I haven't been as unlucky as you...
After reading about Joseba Beloki, don’t cry for me, Argentina.
Originally Posted by pallen
Yeah, all you get from the roadies is HTFU

Last edited by Jim from Boston; 07-16-11 at 02:08 PM.
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Old 07-17-11, 04:25 PM
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Jim, sorry to hear about your accident and I hope you are OK.

I haven't noticed any problems with those tar seams and you think I would since it's nearly 100F today here and there's quite a few of them around.

However, thanks for the warning... I plan to avoid them as much as possible.
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Old 07-17-11, 04:46 PM
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Sorry to hear you got hurt and glad it was not worse.
Thanks for the heads up. Never had an issue here but if we ever get a hot summer day at least now I know to be careful around those.
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Old 07-17-11, 05:19 PM
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This issue is real. There was even a Tour de France rider who went down because of soft tar on the road surface. Thankfully I have not see it used around here.
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Old 07-17-11, 08:24 PM
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Originally Posted by SouthFLpix
This issue is real. There was even a Tour de France rider who went down because of soft tar on the road surface. Thankfully I have not see it used around here.
See post #14 above for the story. Just this morning I was talking to the wife of a cyclist I know and she told me that last year he wiped out on some tar on a descent. When she came home, she said he looked like a mummy from all the gauze covering his road rash.

Thanks again for all the well-wishes. Everything is healing fine with a really nicely sutured laceration; stitches came out on Friday. I did have to buy a new front wheel though.
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Old 07-18-11, 08:38 AM
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Wow, I never thought twice about those; I had no idea what they were. They are indeed all over the place. I live in Florida - guaranteed they get hot enough 3/4 of the year to do to me what they did to you. Thanks for the heads up. Get well soon.
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Old 07-19-11, 04:48 PM
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Tar was fun as a kid.

Sorry you crashed. Glad you will be able to ride again. Thanks for bringing up the hazard of tar snakes. We have lots of them here too.

And the story:

When I was a kid, some backstreets in the neighborhood seemed to be pretty much just tar over dirt. One hill by the abandoned train tracks was particularly gooey. We would park our bikes, walk out carefully out onto the tar with sticks and pop the 1-4" tar bubbles in the road. One hot summer day we were enjoying our usual tar bubble popping fun and I must have parked my Schwinn Tornado a little too close to the area of study. The kickstand must have slowly sunk into the hot tar and the bike fell over getting surprisingly stuck in a mini la brea tar pit! What a mess! It took 2 of us kids to drag the bike out of the road. Chunks of tar on my tires bump-bumped along with me for the rest of the summer before finally wearing/falling off. Ah summertime as a kid.
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