Last year I wrote a post complaining about chip-seal roads. The road commission had just done about 25% of the roads on my favorite routes and I was quite a bit less than pleased. After two to four weeks of constant road traffic newly chip-sealed roads are fit for cycling traffic again… Before that, they’re dangerous so I had to come up with new daily routes for a month.
In response to that post, I had a couple of people ask what chip-seal is, well here you go…
In words, chip-seal is a new 1/2″-1″ topping of fresh asphalt which is left to cure for a few weeks. During that time, roads are awesome for cyclists – imagine a once bumpy road that is now just shy of glass smooth. Life is good – and fast.
After the setup period, the crew comes back and sprays a thin coat of tar over the road followed by a thin coat of gravel. As cars travel over the gravel (rock “chips”) it becomes embedded in the tar and creates a hard, mildly lumpy road surface. Chip-seal, at least for the first year, is a speed sucker for a cyclist.
Over the space of a year the surface becomes smoother and more reasonable for cycling, though the surface is really rough on tire longevity. The rough stretch, the 2-4 weeks it takes for traffic to trample down the chips, is where we cyclists run into trouble. In a perfectly dry setting, flats are common. Throw in a little rain and the smaller chips stick to tires and become embedded in the rubber and you almost can’t avoid a flat. Needless to say, we avoid the newly chip-sealed roads like the plague.
This year, the crew is at it again so while out on an easy day I stopped and took a few photos of a brand new “chipped” surface – thankfully this section only butts up to my normal 16 and 20 mile routes:
Now, I think you can see why new chip-seal sucks. If you’re not sold yet, imagine the dust kicked up by a car on a newly chipped road. It’s nasty. On the other hand, after the chips are smoothed out a bit and after they’re swept (think rotating broom, one lane wide, on the front of a dump truck), they turn into this:
I’d say 75% of the roads I ride on are chip-sealed surfaces and they normally wait until August to start spreading their joy but (thankfully) they went early this year. All of the surfaces are done (I hope) before the big centuries get rolling.
That’s chip-seal folks.