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Another hot weather cycling hazard: tar seams

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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Another hot weather cycling hazard: tar seams

Old 07-13-11, 02:43 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.



[also posted on the Commuter Forum]
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P1010883.jpg (96.1 KB, 123 views)
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Old 07-13-11, 04:03 PM
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Come to Texas where the entire road gets sticky.
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Old 07-13-11, 05:21 PM
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I've hit those by accident but apparently I haven't been as unlucky as you. They basically just felt like the back tire was on ice.
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Old 07-13-11, 05:30 PM
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They're much worse on a motorcycle. Trust me on this.
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Old 07-13-11, 07:25 PM
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I haven't encountered anything like that, nor do I want to. We just have rough roads and holes..
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Old 07-14-11, 08:25 PM
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Originally Posted by AMAlex
I haven't encountered anything like that, nor do I want to. We just have rough roads and holes..
I have a feeling they're popular in the northern climes for patching breaks in the pavement caused by frost heaves.
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Old 07-14-11, 09:31 PM
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Yes and the road crews sometimes use tar to fill pretty large cracks, which of course grab tires. Be careful on those.
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Old 07-15-11, 06:24 AM
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It's not the tar so much as the crack that it's hiding. Some of the roads around here have been taared and then lightly resurfaced with a coarse sand/asphalt mix. The essentially hides the tars seams, but they're still there.
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Old 07-15-11, 07:24 AM
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Originally Posted by buzzman
I have a feeling they're popular in the northern climes for patching breaks in the pavement caused by frost heaves.
Yup, we have them all over the place. Each fall the road maintenance crews seal up cracks in the pavement to prevent moisture from entering and freeze cracking the asphalt. I run over the seams all the time....in fact, you cant prevent hitting them unless you ride a ***ahem***....bike path.
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Old 07-15-11, 08:59 AM
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Those things suck! Here in Chicago, we call them "Road Snakes" because they will bite your ass if you aren't careful. Yes, most of the time they just make it feel like your bike wheel has hit an ice patch, but sometimes if they are covering a deep crack, they will bite, and when they do, they can wipe out many people. Usually it comes from someone middle of the pack as they don't see it until it is to late. We have one road where I would say 75% of the road is filled with road snakes near the shoulder.
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Old 07-15-11, 09:23 AM
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I've never had an issue with them on my bicycle before, but on motorcycles we call those "tar snakes". They suck in the heat, and suck in the wet. I've lost traction accelerating over those in both conditions on my moto, but I never thought about them as a hazard on the bicycle. Good to know.
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Old 07-15-11, 10:05 AM
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Originally Posted by garciawork
I've never had an issue with them on my bicycle before, but on motorcycles we call those "tar snakes". They suck in the heat, and suck in the wet. I've lost traction accelerating over those in both conditions on my moto, but I never thought about them as a hazard on the bicycle. Good to know.
Google Joseba Beloki
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Old 07-15-11, 10:25 AM
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Originally Posted by merlinextraligh
Google Joseba Beloki
Well, there ya go. Damn tar snakes...
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Old 07-15-11, 11:02 AM
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Originally Posted by tntyz
It's not the tar so much as the crack that it's hiding. Some of the roads around here have been taared and then lightly resurfaced with a coarse sand/asphalt mix. The essentially hides the tars seams, but they're still there.
we call that chip and tar around here... my road just outside my house is usually chip and tarred and when it needs to be redone (as it currently does) it is almost solid tar .. when i pull into my driveway it lays a nice film of tar on my tires and as i pull in my gravel drive it proceeds to spit all the rocks on my car..

chip and tar when freshly laid is also not fun to ride your bike on..
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Old 07-15-11, 11:39 AM
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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.
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 snakes] by accident but apparently I haven't been as unlucky as you...
After reading about Joseba Beloki, don’t cry for me, Argentina.
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Old 07-15-11, 11:47 AM
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Yeah, all you get from the roadies is HTFU
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Old 07-15-11, 12:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Jim from Boston
I was unaware of the story of Beloki:


After reading about Joseba Beloki, don’t cry for me, Argentina.
I was actually there that day. Watched the climb on the other side. Then the people next to us had a satellite dish, so saw the crash on their TV.

It was hot, and I slipped on a similar patch but, just a bit of slipping nothing catastrophic.


And as for the lack of sympathy, I think the way you posted it, it came off more as a technical issue about melting tar, than a story about your injury,

We didn't mean to be lacking in sympathy.
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