Terrain Explained – It’s Good to Chalk

Got a Problem? Deal With It!
February 21, 2017
Tour of the Moors 2017
August 8, 2017

It’s hard, it’s white, it messes up kettles and when wet it’ll whip the wheels out from underneath any rider foolish enough to brake with their feet still on the pegs.  Chalk roads present a hazard to the public however they choose to use them, with trips and slips being no less common to pedestrians as they are amongst cyclists and motorcyclists.

Chalk downland is mostly confined to southern England, where it forms much of the escarpments of Salisbury Plain, the North & South Downs and the Isle of Wight.  Once compacted through use, its resilience to wear means it can sustain all types of traffic though ruts and steps have formed on inclines where water and wheels meet.

How best to ride on chalk:

  • Travel at a safe speed – particularly when the ground is wet.  Some green roads (such as the Harrow Way) are a mixture of terrain, with areas of exposed chalk in between conventional dirt and woodland trails, so be prepared for the surface to change in an instant.
  • Stick to ruts – cross-rutting on chalk is not something you’re likely to recover from if you lose traction, so keep the bike pointing along any indentation in the trail that you can find.
  • No brakes – even the very slightest pressure on the levers will be enough to lose traction, given the ‘wet ice’ nature of the surface.  Use engine compression to slow down instead.
  • Feet down – using your feet as stabilisers will keep you upright when you start to slip, which is likely to happen with only the slightest coating of moisture or dew upon the road surface.

Steeper hill roads (such as Butser Hill and Wheatham Hill in Hampshire) attract a further hazard in the form of a greasy dirt/clay coating from the surrounding soil.  These can take a good team effort to negotiate and are more safely ridden uphill, sticking to the lowest rut whenever the option is available.

Calcareous precarious!  A member of Suffolk TRF demonstrates best practice.

Have you had a chalky experience?  Let us know, below!

Motorcycling, adventure and fraternity.

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