About riding

Road surface

There are three main types of surface used on New Zealand's roads and highways:

  • asphalt
  • chip-seal
  • unsealed surfaces.

A motorcycle balances on two wheels. To stay upright, the two wheels must have a good grip on the road surface. Because of this, any surface that affects the tyre's grip will affect its balance. You should also be alert for changes in the road surface.


Asphalt, also called bitumen, has a smooth, black appearance and produces a low level of road noise when you ride over it. It's often used on busy roads and curves because it stands up well to wear caused by braking vehicles.

Asphalt can be slippery when it is wet. This means you should slow down and take extra care in wet weather.




Chip-seal is a thin layer of stones set in tar. It has a rough appearance when in good condition, but may wear smooth with age and frequent use.

Worn chip-seal has reduced skid resistance, so be alert for smooth patches as you ride over it.

Slow down on newly laid chip-seal. There may be patches of loose chips, which can increase your risk of skidding. Loose chips can also be thrown up when vehicles drive over them.



Unsealed surfaces

Depending on the geographic area unsealed roads can be clay, pumice or gravel (sometimes called 'loose metal'). These roads tend to be minor roads in rural areas.

Because the surface of the road is loose, your motorcycle will handle differently than when on a sealed road.

  • Read the road ahead.
  • Keep your head up - look to where you want to go.
  • Relax - allow the motorcycle to move under you. Don't try and control every movement.
  • If there are wheel tracks ride in the left-hand track.
  • Brake gently.

You will also need to take extra care in dry weather, as your visibility may be reduced by dust that will be thrown up by any vehicles in front of you. Always increase your following distance to stay back from the dust cloud.



Slippery surfaces

Riding on slippery surfaces can be dangerous because:

  • your stopping distance is longer, as the tyres have less grip
  • there is greater risk of your motorcycle skidding out of control.

Surfaces that can be very slippery to ride on include:

  • wet bitumen
  • gravel roads or places where sand and gravel have collected on sealed roads
  • mud
  • snow and ice
  • painted lane markings and steel surfaces (such as manhole covers and railway lines - these are particularly dangerous when wet)
  • roads onto which diesel, oil or petrol from the engines or tanks of other vehicles has spilled.

To avoid skidding on a slippery road surface:

  • ride at a slower speed - this is especially important if you are about to enter a curve
  • allow more time for braking by beginning to brake earlier than normal
  • always use the front brake first, taking care not to lock the wheel. Brake while upright.

Avoid sudden moves

Any sudden change in speed or direction on a slippery surface can cause you to skid or fall. Because of this, you should turn, brake, accelerate and change gears as little and as gradually as possible.

On a very slippery spot, such as a patch of ice, you should make no changes at all until you are across it.

Avoid slippery areas

Try to find the best surface that you can and use it.

  • Oil from traffic tends to build up in the centre of the lane, particularly near intersections where vehicles slow down or stop. Because of this, when riding on wet bitumen, it is better to ride in the tracks created by the wheels of other vehicles. But remember to change your lane position to suit changing traffic and road conditions.
  • Watch out for oil spots when you stop or park. If you put your foot down in the wrong spot, you may fall.
  • Dirt and gravel tend to collect along the sides of the road. This means it is very important to stay away from the edge of the road when you make sharp turns at intersections, or enter and leave motorways at higher speeds.
  • Certain sections of the road dry out faster after rain, especially the tyre tracks of other vehicles. Always try to stay in the best part of the lane.
  • Avoid riding on road markings painted on the road, such as centre lines, pedestrian crossing lines, stop and give way lines, and directional markings. These become very slippery in wet weather.

Very slippery areas

It is almost impossible to keep your balance on ice, hard-packed snow or wet wooden surfaces. Avoid these surfaces if at all possible.

If you can't avoid them, ride as slowly as possible and use your feet as 'outriggers' to keep from falling.


On slippery surfaces:

  • slow down, especially before curves
  • brake earlier than normal
  • always use both brakes, with the front brake applied first.

Uneven surfaces

Watch for uneven surfaces such as bumps, broken road surfaces or railway tracks across the road.

If the conditions are bad enough, they could affect your control of the motorcycle.

When you ride on an uneven surface, you should:

  • slow down to reduce the impact of the bumps
  • straighten out your course so that the motorcycle is upright
  • rise slightly and stand on the footrests so that you can absorb the shock with your knees and elbows
  • accelerate lightly to help the front wheel over the bump.

Crossing railway lines

In general, it is safest to cross railway lines at right angles. However, if you have to turn to cross tracks at right angles, it can be more dangerous than crossing at a slight angle.

When crossing railway tracks and raised road seams that run parallel to your course, there are two important things to remember:

  • cross as close to right angles as the total road situation allows
  • don't edge across, because your tyres could catch and upset your balance.
Cross railway lines at the safest angle Cross railway lines at the safest angle

Cross railway lines at the safest angle

Road grooves

When you ride over road grooves going in the same direction as you are travelling, the motorcycle may tend to wander back and forth. While this may give you an uneasy feeling, it is not generally dangerous.

In this situation, the best thing to do is slow down, stay on course, relax and let the motorcycle ride it out.

Sloping surfaces

High-crowned roads

A high-crowned road is one that is higher at the middle than at the sides. The slope is not difficult to handle if the road is straight or curves to the left. It's when a high-crowned road curves to the right that a rider can have problems, because it's like turning on a curve that is banked the wrong way.

The crown makes the turn more difficult by:

  • cutting down on the clearance between the right footrest and the road surface
  • adding the force created by the downslope to your tendency to keep moving in a straight line, which can cause a skid.

The best way to handle right curves on high-crowned roads is to slow down. This will straighten the motorcycle and reduce your chance of skidding.

Slow down for right curves on high-crowned roads

Slow down for right curves on high-crowned roads

Hill tops

Hill tops are also sloping surfaces. Slow down so that you have more time to react if another vehicle comes over the hill towards you on your side of the road.

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Last updated: 5 October 2009