Gear Prudence: It’s finally spring, so I’m back on my bike after a long winter. It’s great, and I’m happy to be riding on the open road again. Except for one small—or massive, as the case may be—problem: potholes! They’re everywhere, and I’m worried that I’m going to ride into one and break my bike—or myself! Do you have any advice?—Do I Veer Or Tumble?
Dear DIVOT: Potholes are one of nature’s greatest mysteries. No one knows for sure where they come from. Some leading scientists believe they’re the result of spring meteor showers, while others ascribe their presence to the impending mole-people invasion.
The more conspiratorial believe that many potholes are part of a marketing stunt by either local auto-body shops to drum up business or by the filmmakers behind the oft-delayed Shawshank Redemption II, in which Andy must chisel into an underground prison to rescue Red from the unknown kidnappers who thwarted their Mexican abscondence.
Or maybe potholes are just the result of precipitation, freezing, thawing, and traffic.
Potholes have the capacity to cause significant harm to bicyclists. As with most unpleasant things, the best strategy is avoidance. You could try to “bunny hop” over them, but like participating in the retrograde line dance of the same name, it’s unlikely this is the most reasonable option. Instead, scan the road ahead, looking at the pavement slightly beyond the distance where you would normally look. Avoid riding too close to any cars or bikes that would hinder your view or shorten the time you’d have to react and maneuver. At the sign of a pothole, look over your shoulder to ensure that you won’t have any problems moving over, flick out a hand to indicate you’re moving, and proceed as normal. Resist swerving at the last second. Remain vigilant, and you shouldn’t have too many problems.
If you do find yourself riding into a pothole, stay loose, much as you should whenever you are riding over difficult terrain. Ease off on the grips and lift yourself off the seat to handle the dip and bump with greater ease. It is indeed possible that a pothole will not ruin your bike or cause you to fall. Remain calm. But don’t make riding into potholes a habit, either.
Most importantly, report potholes to 311! D.C. is pretty good about filling them quickly, but they can only fill what they know about. Bicyclists tend to be very well acquainted with road surfaces, so please use your knowledge for the community’s benefit, which also conveniently coincides with your self-interest. —GP
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who blogs at talesfromthesharrows.blogspot.com and tweets at @sharrowsdc. Got a question about bicycling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.