Tar Snakes: Scourge of the Pacific Northwest

Forums Champ U Champ U General Discussion Tar Snakes: Scourge of the Pacific Northwest

  • This topic has 3 replies, 4 voices, and was last updated 11 months ago by Alex Hatfield.
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  • #529406

      Thank you for the course… excellent!

      I’m a recreational rider that enjoys a brisk pace on a FJR1300. I put in 8k to 12k miles a year, so maybe an avid recreational rider would be more appropriate. I attend several multi-day events every year and each Tuesday put in 300 to 400 miles with a local group.

      I’m older, so I had the “dive deep under max braking, hard counter-steer, and accelerate out” of a corner down. I like the more controlled “load then work” the tire and using brake to set up and control the speed and direction in the corner. Much more controlled and stable and I no longer have to “hope” traction will be there as I’m flicking it about. Bravo.

      My question comes from last weeks ride where we hit some fresh tar patches across the road. They are prevalent in the rural roads in the PNW where the winter freeze will heave the road up and create cracks. They are filled with tar, but on a warm day hitting fresh tar is sort of like riding on Vaseline. Mid-corner your bike will slide to the outside across the tar snake until a fresh patch of road can be obtained. It is all very quick and you move a few inches to the outside on each encounter.

      I read through Alex’s response to Desmo in the “tightening your line mid-corner” post, but am wondering if there are any “tricks” to handling these tar snakes better? Increasing the front brake pressure to tighten the corner felt like it increased the movement since I was loading the front even more and feeling the front end slide more.

      Up to this point it was a matter of controlling fear and not changing any inputs during the corner that would upset the chassis, knowing that it would “hook up” once you got to asphalt again and you would come out of the corner a foot or so outside what you planned.

      I did try changing my body position more to the inside so the bike would go through with less lean. Although hanging off every corner is not what I do, it did seem to help across the tar snakes mid-corner. Or, I thought it did (could have been wishful thinking).

      Short answer is probably 100 points of grip is less overall when encountering snakes. But I’m hoping there is a technique that could put me at an advantage.

      Comments? Advice? Suggestions? I’m open to listening and trying something new. It’s an unstable feeling hitting these especially at the first of the season when they are new.

      • This topic was modified 11 months ago by Dale_I.
      John Stickney

        Great question! I am also intrigued as Highway 78 through Mule Creek here in AZ has the same issue. They seem to be getting better as the years wear them down, but three years ago every member of our group ride pulled in asking other member for air gauges, asking to look at bikes, etc.

        Thanks for asking !

        Nick Ienatsch

          Ah, those snakes. Yes, time helps as they solidify…but fresh hot ones or even cold, old wet ones are a challenge. Here are some thoughts:

          Slow down: Too obvious? Let’s face it riders, sometimes “survival” is the clear priority. We think that way in traffic, in bad weather, in track corners surrounded by walls…and in fresh or wet tar snakes. Bringing the pace down allows less lean angle…we live through the snakes to enjoy the next clear road.

          Body position: Dale, you’ve got the right idea. More body off allows less lean angle at a given radius. While we don’t advocate full GP body on the street, we definitely want to go full GP when we need less lean angle due to gravel, snakes, surprise water across the lane…issues that reduce grip.

          Line-choice priorities: With fresh or wet snakes, prioritize the snakes over the perfect line. Do your best to miss the snakes or cross them at the most acute angle. Once again, survival leads “riding joy”…though messing with your lines through excellent bike control is fun.

          You get the idea. Not every moment on a bike is about chasing the perfect corner. We all know riders who “can’t slow down” and they invariably get in trouble when pushing hard in traffic, bad weather, slippery roads. We see tar snakes and change our riding to mitigate the risks, survive the miles, pull what enjoyment is there without undue drama…hope that helps…Nick I.

          Alex Hatfield

            Bonus: we can even use tar snakes to play a small game of “pointy end of the cone” within our lane! Great practice using our eyes, body, and brakes to work our way between the snakes and position the bike exactly where we want it.

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