Potholes are a real menace for riders. They are a ubiquitous and problematic feature of Indian roads. Not only are potholes annoying, but they can also cause serious injuries and death. More than 10 people lose their lives, while about 70 people get injured daily in India because of potholes. These numbers are only increasing. Riding cautiously, spotting these hazardous cavities from a distance and making a timely evasive manoeuvre is the best you can do then. We have compiled a list of tips to help you understand how to deal with these ever-present monstrosities on our roads.
Spot it early, be prepared
If you can spot a pothole from a distance, you equip yourself with ample time and distance to avoid it. With distance and time on your side, you could brake easily, and there would be no need for sudden manoeuvres. Here are a few tips on how to spot a pothole from a distance:
1) Look far
Many of us, while riding, do not look far enough on the road. So, until something comes close to our two-wheeler, we are not able to spot it. Imagine yourself cruising along at high speeds, and you find a nasty pothole staring at you a few meters ahead. You do not want to be in that situation, do you? Hence, one of the easiest and the most effective ways to avoid a pothole is to spot it from a distance by looking further down the road, as that would buy you a reasonable time to react.
2) Observe the vehicles ahead of you
Sometimes you find yourself driving on a busy road. With many vehicles ahead, it might sometimes become a bit difficult to spot a pothole or an obstacle from a distance simply because other vehicles could block your line of sight. In such a scenario, you should keep an eye on vehicles further down the road. If you spot them braking, yawing and rolling, you get an early warning of there being a pothole ahead. Being alert to these warning signs allows you to brake early, and no erratic inputs will be needed.
3) Maintain a safe distance from other vehicles
Some riders have a habit of following the vehicle ahead quite closely. It is extremely unsafe. Tailing a vehicle ahead too closely, especially large vehicles like SUVs, trucks and buses, completely obstructs your view of the road ahead. A four-wheeler can straddle over a pothole, but if you follow it too closely, the grand reveal could take you completely by surprise. It is next to impossible to avoid a pothole in such a situation, so the wise thing is always to maintain a good, safe distance from the vehicle ahead.
People do not look too far ahead on the road, and when they spot a pothole, they tend to brake hard. If you are riding immediately behind a vehicle, you might end up rear-ending it. To avoid such scenarios, it is always better to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles around.
Dealing with potholes
Under unavoidable circumstances, if you cannot spot a pothole from a distance, you need to know how to negotiate it. Here are a few things you need to remember if such a scenario arises.
1) Ensure that your two-wheeler’s tyres are always optimally inflated
Tyres are the only part of your vehicle which are in contact with the tarmac at all times, and yet, many underestimate the importance of running the right tyre pressure. Under-inflated or over-inflated tyres are more prone to damage by a pothole than an optimally inflated tyre. A tyre running prescribed air pressure would absorb the impact from a pothole more capably, won’t burst or get cut easily, and would reduce the chances of a broken wheel rim or suspension significantly. Needless to say, the lesser the chances of component failure, the better the chances of your safety. Check the owner’s manual of your two-wheeler and always maintain the correct air pressure.
2) Do not brake too hard or panic brake
Do not brake hard unless absolutely necessary. Braking hard when hitting the pothole will cause more damage to your bike, and the impact will be harder. Hard braking transfers the two-wheeler’s weight to the front, loading up the front suspension and compressing it fully. At this point, there won’t be any more suspension travel left for shock absorption. If you hit a pothole at this moment, the suspension would be unable to dampen the impact. The resultant jolt will throw you off balance as a rider and will also cause severe damage to the wheels, tyres and suspension components. You might even get a shock-induced injury to your arms, shoulders or wrists. In such a scenario, brake to slow down progressively and gently release the brakes before negotiating the pothole. While negotiating the pothole, it is also an excellent idea to straddle the bike, that is, to stand up and ride the pegs and let your legs act as a suspension to absorb a part of the shock or impact.
Also, remember that there are vehicles around and behind you on the road. Braking too hard may result in these vehicles rear-ending you, which might turn out to be even more dangerous. Ensure that your braking and evasive manoeuvres are smooth and are carried out after taking into account the other road users.
3) Keep both hands on the handlebar
If you cannot avoid a pothole, you must hold the handlebar firmly so that you have full control over the motorcycle’s direction. Very often, the two-wheeler follows the pothole’s contours and changes its direction undesirably. A reassuring, firm grip on the handlebar would ensure that you are able to overcome the directional changes induced by the pothole and guide the two-wheeler in a safe direction.
4) Avoid or go slow over water puddles
You can never be sure how deep a water puddle is by merely looking at it. Hence, it is vital to riding slowly and cautiously through a water puddle. It is always advisable to observe other vehicles going over a puddle to get a fair estimate of its depth before wading through. If you have a choice, avoid water puddles altogether.
Potholes are dangerous, and unfortunately, in our country, we are more vulnerable to mishaps arising out of these hazardous crevices. However, by following the tips mentioned above, you can mitigate the risk associated with these ever-present perils effectively and keep yourself safe to a large extent. As applicable in a wide variety of scenarios, the golden rule is always to be cautious and ride at a safe speed.