Several stretches of roads due to be used by the RideLondon-Surrey 100 sportive and the Classic road race on August 4 have been resurfaced using the controversial ‘surface dressing’ method by Surrey County Council.

Surface dressing uses a layer of bitumen with chippings added on top and rollered in, causing an accumulation of gravel at junctions, and at the side and middle of the carriageway. The gravel can cause cyclists and other road users to slip and lose control, as well as increasing rolling resistance.

Areas of treated road include those around (but not including) Box Hill, Leith Hill and Ranmore Common as well as Dorking.

Cycling Weekly has been contacted by several cyclists who have used the roads since they were surface dressed around two weeks ago concerned that the 20,000 cyclists using the roads for the RideLondon event would be put at risk. The UCI 1.1-ranked road race which takes place on the same day would also put the like of Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Ben Swift (Sky) at risk if the loose gravel is not dealt with.

This correspondent witnessed the aftermath of a motor scooter rider who had fallen foul of an accumulation of gravel on the junction between the recently resurfaced Headley Common Road and Box Hill Road on Sunday morning. He had suffered nasty abrasions, a possible broken arm and his scooter was a wreck.

We contacted both the organiser of the RideLondon-Surrey event and Surrey County Council, who assured us that the roads would be clear in time for the event.

“Surrey County Council is undertaking its regular summer carriageway surface dressing programme across the road network, some of which coincides with the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 route,” said the RideLondon organiser in a statement.

“This surface dressing usually takes a few days to settle and the roads in question will be swept in the lead up to the event to ensure the route is in a suitable condition, by removing the excess chippings and gravel – especially on corners. Other parts of the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey route are being repaired as part of Surrey County Council’s wider ongoing Highway Maintenance programme.”

Surrey CC were very concerned when we contacted them and informed them that several cyclists had already been involved in accidents relating to the loose surface on the roads.

A Surrey CC spokesman said: “We are spending £100million over the next five years overhauling the worst of Surrey’s roads. In this case the roads in question have not been resurfaced but surface dressed, a preventative treatment mainly used where the road itself is structurally sound. It is less costly and can prolong the life of the existing surface for about eight to 10 years, preventing water from getting in and reducing the likelihood of potholes.

“There is some residual stone left over from the treatment, and we generally sweep a few times after treatment which removes most of the loose chippings. This location [Headley Common Road – Ed.] is on our list for another sweep this week.”

We asked Cycling Weekly readers via Twitter for their thoughts on the surface dressing of roads throughout Britain, and they were – unsurprisingly – far less enthusiastic about the method’s benefits.

“Dangerous, annoying and prone to causing chips not only on bikes but also cars. What’s to like?”

“Lethal – rode through several road dressed with chippings yesterday and could have tanked at any point :(“

Andrew Cawthra – @ATEAMW6
“They slowly wear away at your tyres, average speed and sense of humour!”

Kevin Dace – @Dace71
“Councils do it because its cheap and stuff the consequences. False economy many roads round here done last yr r worse than b4”

“Broke my last pair of oakleys riding on that rubbish. Kicked up by a car.”

George Barker – @CheepRemarks
“Seals cracks preventing deterioration; doesn’t remove lumps/hollows; makes them harder to see. Rds therefore more dangerous.”

“They ruin bikes and cause punctures. Some people even come off the chippings are so deep. THEY ALWAYS RUIN A GOOD RIDE!!!!!!!”

See this week’s Cycling Weekly magazine (July 25 2013) for a news feature on councils’ use of surface dressing on roads and the risks that it poses to cyclists

  • looey bear

    Very dangerous, this has caused a major car accident this morning !

  • Lord Lindley

    HA! HA! HA! Brilliant! Well done council. Now how can I stop the Peak District events. Tin Tacks? Diesel?

  • cube

    Just man up an get a proper bike that has some tyres

  • martincov

    Last year the council put this cover on road I regularly cycle. While the small stones took a long while to clear (no sweeping) the biggest problem was car drivers driving in excess of the 20mph speed limit. Got very dangerous so I avoided stretch of road as much as I could.
    Another stretch covered within last few weeks. This time though they didn’t fill any of the potholes first, so the stones just fell into them. Larger holes just got more difficult to see and thus more dangerous.
    Can’t believe there isn’t a better way to ‘repair’ our roads.

  • russell

    A friend who is a civil engineer has told me that this appalling resurfacing method is often used on what he terms ” speeding biker roads ” often in sections that appear almost random as a sneaky way of slowing people down. How much truth there is in what he says I’m not sure but lets put it this this way, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s not too long ago in my local area a councillor stated that potholes were a good thing as they slowed everyone down! It’s not only that this surface is downright dangerous but the damage it does to your bike or vehicle is just not funny either.

  • Steve

    I try to avoid any road that has been resurfaced as I regard them as dangerous. Not only that but painful due to being sprayed with numerous sharp stones hitting legs, arms and face. I thought local councils also had a responsibility for road safety. Perhaps before the road is reopened after resurfacing, someone from the council should cycle along it to ensure that it is safe. Oh forgot, Health and Safety I suppose that would be too dangerous for an employee!

  • Andrew

    They have resurfaced the road I live on in Glossop, Derbyshire with the same thing. I have resorted to riding on the pavement for safety. Luckily it is only a short part of my usual longer rides.

  • Nigel Hadley

    We hit a patch of this about 3 weeks ago on the A3 – it was diabolical. The bitumen had not hardened (maybe because of the heat) and the result was that our tyres sunk into the road surface. They got covered in bitumen and covered in grit – the grit was literally glued to the tyre with the bitumen. The side of the road was about 3 inches deep in stones – so we had to ride out in the main carriageway which meant we got lots of grief from car drivers of course.
    The worse thing is that it hides the holes – they are still there, now just full of grit – which actually makes them even more dangerous. I suspect the council do not care one little jot – after this is cheap road maintenance!

  • Oli

    If they rollered it down it might be ok, but they let traffic do it and that gets people’s cars, bikes etc get chipped in the process.

  • JeffGoldblumIII

    It’s like this f****** everywhere in Britain. Just got back from Italy and the new road surface theyd put down was like riding on silk.

  • Graham

    When they use surface dressing on roads around here (Devon) they usually put up “skid risk” signs. It’s always made me think that if it’s a skid risk then they really shouldn’t be doing it!

  • Jon Freeman

    Surface dressing wouldn’t be so much of a problem if they actually filled holes before they dressed the road. It just makes a very dangerous pot holes impossible to see.

  • binghammer

    Surrey’s preferred method of “repairing” the roads by laying loose chippings
    on tar is cheap and nasty because they don’t fill in the hot poles before hand.
    It’s a bit like laying carpet across holes in floor boards.
    Funnily enough, today I came across a stretch of unclassified road
    near Brockham recently resurfaced with beautiful tarmac, not unlike
    the surface given The Zig Zag road up Box Hill.
    Must have been a mistake!

  • ken wood

    I suffered the consequences of this surface and ended up first in hospital for numerous stitches to my palm and face and second in court where the local authority lost its case and ended up paying four figure compensation!

  • Henry Ayres

    Oh come on. Man up. I am sure Sagan will not be overly bothered by it.

  • Herbie

    I noticed this and wrote, but must add that the chippings are at least finer than often used, and will settle down to a reasonable surface in these areas, compared with what was there before. The main issue is the initial period after laying where there are terrible drifts of loose stones, and one wonders if there is any co-ordination of these activities with major events in an area – isn’t that what Council Planning Departments are for? Sometimes where this technique is used the underlying surface is poorly repaired beforehand and the chippings just accentuate and disguise a pothole, which is OK for a car but lethal for a cycle. In the cases on the Ride London 100 route I haven’t seen too much of that. So hopefully long term it will be reasonably OK.