Skidding on a motorcycle on Narrows Bridge patches

The in basket: Chuck Ryers said he was motorcycling to Lacey one rainy day in May, running in cruise control over the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge when his path took him over one of several strips of tar patching on the bridge deck.

He suddenly lost traction, which kicked it out of cruise control. He reaccelerated to 60, but crossed another of the patches. “Next thing I know I was fishtailing,” he said. “I looked back and saw a four-inch strip of tar. It was slicker than snot  in the rain.”

He wondered about whether some abrasive, like sand, could be put in the black patching material to make it less slippery.

The out basket: The first thing I told Chuck was using cruise control in the rain is a bad idea, for the very reason he encountered – sudden loss of traction.

When I first heard this advice years ago, relating to cars, I couldn’t find anyone to confirm it, but now it’s come to be conventional wisdom. I didn’t know that motorcycles had cruise control, but probably the advice applies to them as well, possibly more urgently, though as I recall the disparity in traction between the two drive wheels of a car on very wet asphalt was supposedly the reason for the danger.

I asked state officials about his idea and while I was at it, what needed a row of narrow patches on the new bridge.

Claudia Bingham-Baker of the Olympic Region public affairs staff for highways says, “We agree with you that it is not a good idea for motorcyclists to drive with cruise control in the rain, especially when crossing a bridge like the Tacoma Narrows where high winds could also be present.

“The substance to which he refers is a tar-like substance that was used to seal bridge deck patches that were done under warranty.  We will investigate the issue and consider options for making the substance more skid-resistant.

“As far as I know,” she said, “we’ve not done that type of work on bridge decks elsewhere.  Please thank the reader for bringing the issue to our attention.”

One thought on “Skidding on a motorcycle on Narrows Bridge patches

  1. road crews are doing those patches all the time… they need to make a standard to sand them to prevent slippery surfaces. Because even if your not using the cruise control/throttle lock on a motorcycle they can be a hazard!!!

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