Monday, February 20, 2012
The Joys of Learning to Ride - Tar Snakes
We've all heard the saying, "you learn a new thing everyday." And while I've never questioned its validity, I never realized just how much that would apply when I learned to ride. I'm learning new things constantly that leave me wondering how I ever survived without knowing. Today, for example, I read an article on "tar snakes."
When I first started reading the article I made the silly assumption that tar snakes were literally snakes that liked to chill on the road and got a ridiculous visual of a rider being taken by surprise at the ill placed reptile causing them to crash. Of course, that's not at all what a tar snake is. A tar snake refers to the tar that the Department of Transportation uses to fill cracks on the road with. While these two to three inch strips of tar might not even cause a cage driver to bat and eye, the article I read described a horrific accident that a fellow rider had suffered from due to these seemingly meaningless tar snakes. But, why?
The whole problem caused by the tar strips brought me back to a moment in my Rider's Edge course (the MSF course offered by Harley-Davidson) when our instructors explained that, on a motorcycle, the simplest of things such as the painted arrows in turning lanes can cause you to lose traction and take you down. "Tar Snakes," as innocent and unnoticeable as they may be, apparently have the same effect, something that happened to have been left out of our MSF lesson. Of course, I could go into more detail, but that would make for an extremely long article that no one would ever want to read nor do I want to write. If you care to know more about the actual make up of a tar snake, feel free to Google it.
It seems as though I may not have been the only one who didn't learn this little tidbit. Thankfully, I happened to have picked up the little nugget of knowledge through reading an article rather than having a first hand experience. Unfortunately, other riders are not as lucky, hence the article about a near death experience due to these almost invisible hazards.
So, while the article may have taught me to be weary of tar snakes, it also taught me two other things. Always be aware of hazards as the most dangerous ones are the ones that you just don't expect and never, ever, stop learning. Whether you've been riding for a less than a year, like myself, or you've been riding for as long as motorcycles have been invented (in which case I would like to plead with you to gracefully resign due to the fact that you would be older than dirt), there are always things left to learn.
Even the most experienced of riders often find themselves in situations that they've never come across. On a motorcycle, you can never say, "Okay, I've got it. I'm now a perfect rider." The times and road climates are always changing and not learning with that change can be even a great rider's downfall. Changes on road conditions may be as small at a tar snake lazily slapped on by the DOT while you were innocently sleeping (or not so innocently not sleeping) or as major as sixteen-year-olds being handed a cell phone loaded with texting, Twitter, Facebook and Alec Baldwin's favorite: Words with Friends. Either way, a good motorcycle rider must be open to change and ready to adapt.
So, long story short, the lessons I've learned today: tar snakes really bite (sorry, you know I had to slip that pun in there somewhere). Particularly in summer, the tar laid down on the road to patch up cracks can cause a momentary loss of traction and may cause a ride to go bad for an unexpected rider. The best way to deal with them? Avoid them. Always keep an eye out for them and other seemingly harmless hazards; the moment you stop searching is the moment you'll go down. And lastly, never stop learning no matter how long you've been riding.