Bicycling (South Africa)


- – Joe Lindsey

Few things ruin a ride faster than seeing a ‘Roadworks Ahead’ sign. These days, if it’s a repair job, it’s yet another ribbon of smooth tarmac wrecked by the road version of the old Magic Fingers vibrating hotel bed.

Chip-and-spray – also known as chip seal, bituminous surface treatment, or asphaltic seal coat (which sounds like a metalcore band playing at the National Road Expo) – is a thin coating of liquefied asphalt or other binding covered in a layer of crushed rock, called chip. Other than Department­s of Transport, who love it because it’s cheap (far less than the cost of new road), no-one really likes chip-and-spray. But probably no-one dislikes it more than cyclists, who see so much of the stuff because it’s used most often on rural, low-traffic roads – a.k.a. the best riding routes.

To what do we owe this enmity? For one thing, it hurts: crashing on chip-and-spray is like sliding onto a body-sized cheese grater. Loose chip is harder to see than black ice, and about as terrifying when you hit it. And it’s messy. Chip can stick to tyres and cause flats. Plus, the asphalt layer is designed to melt in hot weather (to reseal cracks), which makes little balls of tar fly up from your tyres and stick to your frame (try Q20 or peanut butter to remove them).

And if none of those fates befalls you, you’re still consigned to a buzzy, hand-numbing ride that’s actually slower because of greater impedance (see right). Because it’s cheap, and transporta­tion budgets are stretched, we’ll probably see more chip-andspray in the coming years. But that doesn’t mean you have to like it.

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