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Sheffield Advanced Motorcyclists - the human cost of the pothole pandemic

Potholes, the curse of biking today and tomorrow!

There is an increasing danger, or so it seems, of you and your bike disappearing down a hole in the road. My pillion and I were riding along the M11. It’s a busy road with a dodgy cross wind that can catch the unwary rider and push them into another lane. Making good progress we thought that the 160 miles to home wouldn’t be too much trouble. Just south of Cambridge Services there was a sudden bang. The bike jolted. Both pillion and I felt the impact through the bike, up the spine and shaking the helmets back and forth. Three wheels, rather than two meant the bike was heavy and it remained stable. The pothole across the road didn’t throw the bike off course. On a lighter bike, it would have been a different matter.

Potholes are a real danger to bikers and the problem is getting worse.  According to the 2023 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey Report1, it will now cost £14.02 billion and 11 years of work to repair the damage to England and Wales’ local authority road network alone. The report also found that one in five local roads are in poor condition, with less than five years of life remaining. A pothole is considered dangerous if it is 40mm deep and 300mm wide or greater dimensions. If they have taken ‘reasonable steps to resolve the road damage’,  Local Authorities will not be liable for any injury to a rider or damage to a bike. Local Authorities cannot be held liable if they are unaware of, or have taken reasonable steps to repair a pothole. The map below shows that Derbyshire is top of the pothole league table. Right in SAM’s backyard!

Bikers are particularly vulnerable in a collision with a pothole. Protection only comes from the clothing worn.  A sudden impact from a pothole can cause the rider to lose control of the bike, resulting in a crash. This can lead to serious injuries, including head injuries, spinal cord injuries, and even death. There are impact injuries such as fractures and broken bones, sprains and strains, contusions and bruising. Head and neck injuries can cause concussion, traumatic brain injury, neck strains and whiplash. Contact with the road surface can cause lifelong injuries to skin and muscles. Spinal injuries include herniated discs and fractures. Internal injuries comprise major organ damage. Psychological trauma results in emotional problems and post-traumatic stress disorder. So, potholes are REALLY bad news for bikers.

If they are bad news for bikers, they are also bad news for our bikes. Damage to tyres and wheels such as broken spokes, cracked rims, wheel bearings, suspension struts and seals, broken frames and engine components. Really expensive repairs and in some cases an unrepairable bike. 

Potholes are a tragic and unnecessary hazard for bikers, but what can we do about it? We can ensure that our advanced riding skills are with us on the bike. These include:

  • Maintaining a safe speed: Riding at a safe speed gives the rider more time to react to potholes and avoid them.
  • Scanning the road ahead: Riders should be constantly scanning the road ahead for potential hazards, such as potholes. Any early signs of a poor road surface, loose grave, rutting etc, should cause you to slow down and expect the unexpected.
  • Trying to avoid potholes: If a pothole cannot be avoided, riders should try to navigate around it as smoothly as possible.
  • Inspecting the motorcycle regularly: Riders should regularly inspect the motorcycle for any signs of damage, such as tire wear, wheel alignment, and suspension problems.

Fortunately, pillion and I didn’t suffer anything more than sore backs. The bike was inspected thoroughly at the next stop. To our great relief, it was unharmed. Ride safe everyone.

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