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Strategy – Dangerous Roads

» STREET by walt fulton

Have you ever listened to a heated conversation by a group of grumpy, unhappy riders? It often concerns wind, cold, heat, rain or other environmental conditions. Perhaps an earful of complaints about road conditions, like poor pavement or signage, elevation changes, narrow lanes, twists and turns or drop-offs.

Their last retort typically sums up all the complaints: “This is the most dangerous road I’ve ever been on and I’ll never ride it again!”

Traveling around backroads, through out-of-the-way places, I’ve heard complaints like this on many occasions. It’s funny, because right before this onslaught of criticism of a specific road and the rider’s fears, I was thinking the same road was one of the most interesting and beautiful roads I’d ever ridden.

This exchange took place several years ago, while riding what is one of my top 10 roads on a list of favorites. The complaining rider was on a large V-twin and towing a trailer. I’ve never pulled a trailer, nor has the thought ever crossed my mind. As a minimalist, I don’t like to carry anything more than what’s needed.

Utah Highway 12 connects Panguitch, Utah, with Torrey, Utah, as it slices east, south and finally north to its terminus. The 200-plus-mile road winds through a variety of terrain. Some of it is relatively straight desert. Some of it is mountainous, with predictable twists and turns, lots of pine trees and open grazing.

Depending on whom you ask, the part of this road in question is known by several names: The Devil’s Backbone, Hell’s Backbone, The Hogback or the Road From Hell. We know it as the Escalante Staircase. The names alone indicate this road might not be ideal for towing anything at all.

The road is an engineering marvel, as it cuts up, over and around very rocky terrain and follows a ridgeline for 37 miles. It is narrow, winding and has no barriers to contain stupid decisions. There’s little shoulder and stiff buffeting winds from both sides of the ridge simultaneously. The view is magnificent, should you risk taking your focus off the roadway.

Let’s learn from this rider’s attitude toward the road. That the rider didn’t blame his woes on the 800-pound motorcycle, or the trailer he was herding around, may lead to more than one conclusion.

It could be a fish out of water story. A rider from the Plains States, where it is flat and roads are straight, with a few 90-degree corners thrown in at property lines. This fish must now deal with a barrage of not only twists and turns, but also unfamiliar elevation changes.

The internet allows questions to be asked and answered in little more time than it takes to type. This is a tool to use before riding blindly into uncharted territory. Do a fair amount of planning and routing beforehand.

It’s good to know where gas is available, the road conditions, and where to eat and sleep. Such planning should be part of the adventure.

Another possible reason for the rider’s discomfort and distaste of this road may reside a lot closer to home. As a pilot, motorcyclist and crash investigation and reconstruction specialist, I’ve learned that when people get into unfamiliar or unusual conditions, they compensate by flying, riding, and driving in unfamiliar and unusual ways.

The solution is to regroup and revert to the basics. Riding fundamentals require maintaining Visual Control by getting a bigger picture of the environment using Situational Awareness. Use big head turns to know where the corners go. Ride at a pace that provides stability.

Traveling too slowly is no better than riding too fast. Riding in heavy wind is a good example of where more speed creates more stability.

A road is nothing more than pavement spread out over an engineered path of travel that runs between two points. Once in place, it sits there. The only dangerous roads are those that suffer from lack of maintenance or are exposed to environmental conditions.

If there are any concerns about your ability to traverse any road, in any weather, consider improving your Situational Awareness and Visual Control skills by practicing before attacking the unknown.

Walt Fulton is a retired roadracer, product specialist at Kawasaki and proprietor of Streetmasters Motorcycle Workshops.

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