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Road acne


A few years ago, I was taking a leisurely ride through the country when I encountered, in the middle of nowhere, a road crew.

I rolled to a stop next to the flagman, and we chatted as I waited for the lone oncoming vehicle to clear so I could proceed.

We talked about my bike, the heat and a few other topics I can’t recall before the conversation turned to the road ahead. He explained he was part of a crew resurfacing a stretch of road that eventually would reach a couple of miles.

I nodded, and, when he flipped his sign from stop to slow and wished me a good ride home, I rolled on.

I quickly regained my rhythm and more or less lost myself in the ride, but before long I noticed a pinging sound coming from my bike and a crunching coming from the wheels. The resurfacing was chip-and-seal, whereby a sticky goo is poured over the road, then tiny bits of rock are poured over the goo. In time, the passing of vehicles presses the rock into the goo, and a regular road surface results.

Fresh chip-and-seal, however, is hell on bikes. The loose rock kicks up and is treacherous to ride on, and the goo sticks to everything. The ride was only a couple of miles, but it was awful; I felt I was skating along the surface and about to hit the deck every few seconds, and I was cleaning goop off my bike for weeks.

Ever since, I’ve gone out of my way to avoid fresh chip-and-seal surfaces.

Imagine my surprise, then, when during a regular commute home from work a couple of weeks ago, I was just riding along — close to, but well within the city limits — and saw what appeared to be loose rock from a recent chip-and-seal job in the road ahead.

I took an abrupt right-hander at speed through the stuff and, sure enough, both tires broke free, and I thought I was going down.

I didn’t, but I circled back to see what was going on. I was stunned to see what looked like a handful of chip-and-seal patches on the road. They were raised and looked like a bad case of eczema.

A few days later, I encountered another patch of the road acne.

Then I saw a story in the paper about the city’s new pothole-filling machine, and I realized the chip-and-seal patches were a result of the new machine. According to the story, crews were still learning, but they eventually would be able to apply the fixes so they’d be even with the existing street surface.

The ones I had ridden over definitely weren’t. They stood proud of the road and were bumpy, nearly as bad as the potholes they were designed to fix.

A couple of weeks later, though, I rode over the first patches I encountered and was greeted by a relatively nice, uniform surface — and no potholes.

So despite my initial trepidation about the encroachment of dreaded chip-and-seal tech into city streets, I can honestly say I like the new approach, especially since it’ll allow the city to fix potholes year-round.

The way I see it, potholes are potentially dangerous. Chip-and-seal is merely annoying.

I don’t mind riding over the stuff for a couple of feet. A couple of miles is another story.


Craig Weinaug 7 years, 5 months ago

As an avid cyclist, and a professional who supervises those responsible for road road repair on paved roads in the unincorporated area, I can tell you that the City's new equipment is providing a much more permanent repair, particularly in the winter. Previously, they were basically slopping cold mix asphalt into the hole, and packing it in with a shovel, or with their truck. Loose material was rarely ceaned out of the hole, there was no sealer coat placed in the hole, or on top of the repair. There was no way for the cold mix asphalt to bond with hole. The result was a lot of wasted asphalt, and city streets that resembled a moonscape in the springtime and early summer.

With the new equipment they are cleaning out the hole, sealing the hole before and after the hotmix asphalt is applied. They are then bonding the new asphalt with the existing pavement with a flame. The resulting repair should much more permanent, and the city streets should be in much better shape in the spring.

As a cyclist, I much rather deal with a little bit of oil on my tires, over a "tacoed" wheel (or worse) that has been ruined by a pothole.

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