Dealing with static road hazards

Contrary to initial belief, a slick bicycle tire will handle most of the things you encounter while riding on the road – whether it is wet or dry. There are a few static hazards, however, that you will need to account for when riding in an urban environment, as they all have the potential to unsettle you from steady forward progress.

Even with slick tires, wet roads by themselves are generally not a problem on a bike.


“Road furniture” consists of the many standard features of a modern road, such as manhole covers, painted markings, humps, speed bumps, and drain grates. In case of road works, this can also include safety cones.

A steel grate covering a drain located in the middle of a driveway.

The safest way of navigating drain grates and tram or train rails is to cross them with your front tire as perpendicular as possible. This avoids the chance of your wheels literally falling into them, especially if you run narrow rubber such as a 20 mm tire, as it can be impossible to get out once in. Running a wider tire helps here, such as a 25 mm or 28 mm slick.

Painted markings and manhole covers, on the other hand, are dangerously slippery when wet, and so are best avoided. In the Philippine context, for some strange reason, the public works utilities love using large steel plates to cover up sections of broken road (I’d argue they barely qualify as “road furniture”). Once these get wet, these act as patches of virtual black ice.

Sometimes you just can’t ride around these things, so the best thing to do is just hit them as straight as possible, and pass over them without braking or turning.


Meanwhile, I use “road acne” to refer to decidedly non-standard road features, such as ruts, debris, cracks, fallen leaves, loose dust, gravel, and potholes. Of these, potholes and debris are the nastiest; you want to either ride around them, or bunny-hop over them if you got the skills.

Even with slick tires, you can usually ride through patches of dust or gravel, as long as you keep upright and avoid braking and leaning – a straight-line approach is best.

If the dust and gravel are in the middle of a turn, you can maintain tire grip by slowing down and keeping upright as you approach it. This minimizes the lean-in angle of the bike as it negotiates the turn, keeping the weight of the bike as vertical as possible through the tires’ contact patches.

You tend to risk tire slippage if you lean too hard on loose-surface corners while riding on a slick tire, since the tire’s tread shoulders don’t get enough purchase or resistance against the riding surface.

Longitudinal or lengthwise cracks along the road can be deep enough to act as long narrow ruts. Dealing with them is the same as negotiating train tracks or drain grates: Approach them with your front tire as perpendicular as possible.

They look innocent, but fallen leaves are surprisingly dangerous

Fallen leaves may be a surprise as they are innocuous enough in the dry. Most leaves contain a waxy coating that plants need to help retain the moisture they already have, and repel excess water from outside. What this means for us cyclists is that on damp and wet streets, riding on fallen leaves is particularly dangerous – they are easily as slick as anything made of wet metal. As with manhole covers and steel plates, if they can’t be avoided, ride straight through them without braking or sudden handlebar movement.

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