How to ‘read’ the road

How to ‘read’ the road

How hard you can descent depends on a number of issues.

The width of the road and restricted view due to vegetation or rocks

smalle weg

If a road is a car or a car and a half wide, a smooth descent  is questionable at best.
When vegetation or rocks obstruct the view, you can not really descent really fast. Something can always turn up on your side of the road, so you have to be very close to the side or even on the edge.

If a road is two cars wide without center line, it gets better. The pros can ride their racing lines there, for us that is not the case if we have no or restricted visibility.
The finale of Milano – San Remo or de decent of Coll du Chat (in the Tour de France, stage 9) are good examples.


bergen bocht


A way of two cars wide with center line is also good for us. We can also ride the racing lines. You can also use the other half of the road when you are careful.

bergen weg breed

If the road is wide, but without a center line, or where the center line stops – count on it: a little further down it becomes narrow with the sight being restricted by high rocks or something!

Surface of the road
The speed with which you can descend depends on the quality of the road surface.
Is the tarmac smooth, or is it bumpy, or even patched up? There are pot holes in the road?
Especially bumpy tarmac is tricky. That is tarmac of secondary quality. Cheaply made, but not so smoothly laid. It looks right, but it is not. You can also feel it in a car. On the bike, you don’t have good control. The bicycle drifts away. You cannot brake hard. You wonder whether you’ve forgotten how to descent. When you get a beautiful stretch of tarmac, then you feel the difference more than that you see it. OK, I can still do it:).

The road is wet? Or only wet in patches? From rain, or mountain streams. This is a complicated matter. On dry tarmac, you learn in the course of time what you and your bike can do. Wetness comes in degrees,  possibly combined with dirt, oil, and the like. In addition, it can be different every few meters. So you learn much less about what you can or cannot do on a wet surface. If the road is wet, you never really know as well as with dry tarmac what you can do and what you cannot do. You should also have much more built-in safety. Good luck! 🙂

See also


natte weg

Dew and frost
In autumn, winter and spring you may unexpectedly have to deal with dew or frost.
At lower night temperatures, the road cools off so much that moisture from the relatively warm air condenses on the road surface. Then, there is dew or frost on the road. Possible slippery.
On stretches that lay in the sun, the wetness disappears in the course of the day, and the road becomes dry. Where the road is shaded for a long time, it may stays moist all day. Has it not rained for days, and you ride, enjoying the sun, a descend in an open landscape, one curve later, you’re in a forest. Oops! Surprise!
Anticipation is certainly good for your blood pressure 🙂

The bend indication of the road authority
For motorists, the road authority has sometimes put down warning signs. This can be beneficiary to us cyclists. It varies from area to area. Sometimes there’s nothing, sometimes, four grades are used to denote how sharp a turn is. It is as if you were given a road book, as rally drivers have.
Here are some pictures with such signs.




Triangle Signs (beware of dangerous bend) with direction indication of the curve are a nice extra service because they are placed well ahead of the curve.

A brain teaser is a sign that, for example, indicates a right turn, but the turn actually goes to the left. You may think ‘mistake’ of the road authority. Forget it. The bend to the left, that’s not the point. The right turn comes afterwards, and is to be taken seriously.



You always have to get adjusted in a region to what the signals are and what they mean. At one point you know, based on that knowledge, where you can ride through, where to keep your legs still, and where to brake (hard).

And, yes, at some point, the appearance of those signs simply stop. You’re in another municipality, or it’s still under construction, or whatever. If you’re then tuned in nicely to the signs, and because there are no signs you are going all out – that might be a mistake. Actually, you can say, if they are there, you know what to look for. If they are not there, you do not know that (for sure) 🙂.