Thursday, August 11, 2011

Oil, Summer’s Ice

With the accuracy of a laser pointer Jaden stuck a finger out along his left leg.  Averting a flat on a raised crack, the group flowed to the right along the gutter.  A few miles later, somewhere near the former home of Big Butter Jesus, Rachel shook her hand on her right side.  Deep gravel.  It was an 80 mile ride and I’m sure we exhausted every gesture in the group ride hand vocabulary handbook. 

Big Butter at Solid Rock Church
There’s a sign for everything: a sweep of a right hand behind the back for a parked car, a quick double finger off the hoods says “hi” to a passing rider, a finger moved forward and backward spells out crack in the road, two fingers spread out at the ground usually means double pot holes or a pair of raised gas main covers.  A finger pointed and twirled in a circle at your helmet means the rider in front of you is an idiot.  For the few instances where a hand gesture won’t do, there are a few verbal-only warnings, like “car back, passing, car up, ice and low branch.”  Unfortunately for Don, there’s nothing in the cycling vocabulary for oil slick.

On rides we keep an eye out for the obstacles that could cause a crash or a flat and point only those out to our companions: glass, a topless sunbather, a cake-pan deep sewer cover, a raised metal plate, a pothole filled with water.  Other than that, hands belong on the bars and mouths are for breathing.  Being more of a listener than a talker, the silence of cycling is one of my favorite aspects of the sport.  In probably 15 years of cycling, from crack-fast Kentucky farm dogs to hand-carved riverfront cobblestones, you’d think I’ve pointed at it all.  I’ve never thought to look for oil on the road, in a corner, on a slight downhill.  Oil is like summer’s ice and Don went drifting.

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It was your typical 4 way intersection with a light.  Approaching slightly downhill, we had the green for a right hand turn.  There were six of us probably traveling north of 23mph.  Riding 3rd wheel, I followed the two leaders on the inside to outside line.  By the time Don rolled through, he was at the mercy of two factors: looking through the turn and having the added man-momentum of gravity. 

Like us, Don never even saw the last 10 meters of the road before the turn.  Like the veteran cyclist he is, he saw the green light and then his eyes watched the exit of the turn.  Having at least 40 pounds on the women in front of him, he brought more speed to the corner and swung a bit wider to avoid touching wheels.  Schoop!  There it was.  I heard the metal pedal scrap the ground and turned to see Don laying in the road at the corner of the intersection.  While the first three of us skated past on the oil’s inside, Don crossed the slick like angled railroad tracks in the rain.

As Don dusted himself off, flexing the pain out of his hand, I futzed with his bike.  I put the chain in a smaller gear, spun his wheels testing for trueness and saw it.  A 10 inch section of his rear Conti 4000 was covered in thick oil.  I looked at the road.  The slick was thick, as if every car for the past 10 years had leaked oil waiting at the light.  If we had a ruler the depth was probably measurable to a 2-3mm.  Still, none of us saw it.  How could we?  It was black ice.

Aside from plumping like a Ballpark Frank overnight, Don’s hand turned out okay.  He blamed the miserable first three holes on his crash, but still managed to stay within his handicap on the golf course the next day.

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