Stayin’ Safe: Gravel? You Can Count on It.

Over the years, I have learned there are a handful of things that can make even the most experienced riders immediately uncomfortable. The unexpected appearance of gravel on a curve is one of them. Some riders have told me that even a little gravel in a corner has triggered them to stiffen at the controls and ride straight out of a turn. Minimizing such extreme reaction to the sudden appearance of an unpleasant condition begins by anticipating it in advance and having a planned response. Will there be gravel in the curve ahead? Count on it. Will we have a strategy to deal with it? When it comes to gravel, count on it. Quite literally.

This time of year, after a long winter of precipitation, washouts and snow plowing/salting, you can expect to see more gravel—especially on those back roads we all enjoy so much. As always, ride only as fast as you can see, asking yourself if you could safely and comfortably slow the motorcycle in the space you have ahead should gravel appear. Then start counting. We coach riders to determine if gravel is “countable” or “uncountable.” As a rule of thumb, if one could easily count the pieces of gravel and can see the road surface between the stones, then there is likely enough traction to simply continue riding smoothly through it without altering the line. However, if the gravel pieces are too numerous to be counted, traction is surely compromised and the cornering line must be altered to avoid riding through the debris with the bike at a significant lean angle. The bottom line? When it comes to gravel on the corners…count on it. Then count it.

When gravel is "countable" there is still plenty of available traction and the rider can maintain a smooth cornering line.
When gravel is “countable” there is still plenty of available traction and the rider can maintain a smooth cornering line.
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When gravel is "uncountable" traction is severely compromised and the rider should alter the cornering line to avoid it.
When gravel is “uncountable” traction is severely compromised and the rider should alter the cornering line to avoid it.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I would have agreed your countable gravel in the first photo posed no problem. The sixteen pairs of sport touring tires I have worn out would all handle that, they might move out a few inches but the R would remain unperturbed. Last fall I found the exception The newish Michelin PR4GT’s caused a violent weave and it was three or four oscillations before I could see any attenuation. These tire characteristics just don’t work with my bike. Little things matter on bikes.

    • Graham, I have run only 5 sets PR4GT’s on my ZRX1200R and Concours 14 , I ride at a faster pace than most, but not as fast as a few of my trackday riding friends. That said, would you please elaborate on why you believe the PR4GT’s caused your poor handling? Were other conditions involved? Like loading, tire pressure etc.?

      • Certainly, I’ve nearly worn out the PR4GT since this comment and I have learned more about it. Tire pressures were at 39 and 44 which works well for Z8s. The PR4GTs I found are more cold blooded and should be set no higher than Michelin recommends: 38 and 42 psi cold. When the incident happened outside temperature was between 2 and 4 degrees Celsius. I’ve since learned their lower design temp is 5 degrees C. I had been riding about 100 km that morning so fully warmed up. The elasticity of the tire is reduced in the cold and that is needed for recovery from bits of gravel on the road. They can be ridden in the cold, just don’t expect miracles from them. Personally, I prefer a front tire profile that drops into turns more willingly.

  2. One area to be aware of not matter what the weather is farm driveways made of gravel. Very often the vehicles will drag significant amounts of gravel right out to the centreline of your road. Not an issue on the straights but dangerous on bends.

  3. Watch out in the Sierra during spring and fall. Beautiful conditions in the foothills can become sanded, melted and dry roads at elevation.

    Also, I’m amused by “loose gravel” signs. Is there any other kind? If it’s not loose, is it still gravel?

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