How to Ride Across Metal Road Obstacles
Railroad tracks, sewer covers, cattle guards, and more: Here's how to keep the rubber side down when you hit wet metal.
Riding across metal obstacles can feel like no big deal – until the day your rear wheel starts to fishtail on a leaf-covered grate and you lose all faith in your bike-handling skills. Train tracks, grates, cattle guards: These road hazards are easy enough to navigate most of the time, but hit them at the wrong angle and they can act like Kryptonite to your overall perpendicularity.Josh Miller, community education program manager at Cascade Bicycle Club in Seattle, Washington, is no stranger to rain-soaked roadways. Miller says it’s best to steer clear of any metal on the road because in addition to being slippery, hitting hard edges at the wrong angle can give you a pinch flat. Turning or braking across wet metal in particular presents a danger, Miller says, noting both often result in crashes.RELATED: Ride Wet Descents Like A Boss
Here are Miller’s tips for crossing each of five common types of metal road obstacles.Railroad tracks: After checking for trains, cross the tracks at as close to a 90-degree angle as you can and ride straight across without turning. “Sometimes this requires a swerving or repositioning action,” Miller says. “If so, be sure to scan and only do so when traffic is clear.”Manhole covers: Avoid riding over these if at all possible. Not only are they often slippery, but they can also be sunken or raised with hard edges that can cause flats. If you have to ride over one, ride straight and don’t turn or brake.Sewer grates: These gaping nightmares are best avoided and good reasons to not hug the curb while riding. “Sewer grates share the hazardous qualities of other metal fixtures, but depending on their design, can be even more hazardous,” Miller says. “Some sewer grates can trap your tire and cause a crash that way.” If it’s too late to take evasive action, ride across perpendicular to the grates.Cattle guards: “Cattle guards also require special care,” Miller says. “In some regards, they are similar to railroad tracks. You are best served by approaching them at a 90-degree angle, so your wheel cannot fall into the slots. Unlike a rail crossing, you will want to carry some speed over the cattle guard, as the bumpiness will slow you down. It can be best to stop pedaling and absorb the bumps with your bent arms and legs. If in doubt, you can dismount and walk across.”Metal bridges: A metal bridge should be safe to cross when it’s dry, but if the bridge is wet, use extra caution, and don’t brake or turn while crossing it. And remember – there’s no shame in getting off your bike. “If in doubt, dismount and walk,” Miller says. “You can always switch to ‘pedestrian mode’ if you feel unsafe on a roadway for any reason.”
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