It’s too bad that no one has learned how to retread a biker who has been injured by a retread(or recap) tire. A few weeks ago, I was almost in need of this as a chunk of trailer tire flew into the air and nearly clipped me while riding through the Texas panhandle. Now, if this chunk had hit me it would have been lights out at 75 mph … no chance for a walk away here. This got me to thinking about my experiences (in cars and on motorcycles) over the years with tire debris because I put a lot of riding and driving miles on. Several years ago, just outside of Cleveland, I suffered a smashed windshield on my car from flying rubber and three days ago, I whacked an entire tractor trailer tire tread that had just flown off of a piggy-back trailer rig (more on that later).
Ever been the correct distance (2 – 3 seconds) behind a car when suddenly you’re swerving to miss a scrap of tire that was passed over? Wonder what would happen if you hit that chunk? Next time you’re on a highway, look at all the rubber crap on the road and you’ll realize just how common this problem is. Even though it doesn’t matter from an end result standpoint (I wouldn’t care if it was a new or recapped tire that injured me), my contention is that most of this hazard is the result of trucking companies using using recapped tires to save money.
Recapping companies, their lobbyists and the government (who, of course gets political donations from the recappers and their lobbyists) will tell you how safe these tires are and they are no more liable to fall apart than original equipment tires. Despite industry hype, a recent study by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) disagreed, finding that about 68% of roadside tire fragments were from retread tires and 18% were from original tread tires. Don’t think that’s a significant difference? This is essentially saying that for every OEM tire that disintegrates (for whatever reason), nearly four (4) recaps suffer the same fate. The origin of the remaining 14% could not be determined. Apparently the lobbyists think a 4x failure rate is just as safe as a new tire. Also, it’s a good guess that none of them has been riding a motorcycle when a huge piece of rubber on an eighteen wheeler tire shoots across the highway like a piece of shrapnel.
Even after reviewing the evidence above, the SAME study also stated:
- Retreads were not over represented in the tire debris items collected. (So 68% of the tires on the road are recaps? I don’t think so)
- Results indicated the majority of tire debris collected was not a result of manufacturing or retreading process deficiencies – it was mostly due to “under inflation). Really? How on earth can you determine this???
Sadly, even the AMA has bought into this nonsense (their best recommendation is to “report road debris” and they have no active campaigns afoot to address recap hazards) but I only know what I see and have experienced. Go to the web and you’ll find passionate arguments on both sides.
The government agency regulating this (the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) has tons of regulations … none of which prohibit the use of recaps anywhere on a truck, meaning that yes, you can even use these on the front (steering) axle. I’m not a lawyer and certain states may have stricter laws, but at the end of the day, the trucking industry saves billions annually by using recaps instead of new tires. I’m all for saving money and keeping freight costs down, but I am definitely not for allowing an antiquated technology (grind off the old tread and glue a new one on) to be used on 80,000 pound, high speed behemoths that can kill me, all to save a few bucks.
Now for my latest run in with a recap. Tooling along the passing lane on the New York State Thruway in my 2003 Corvette (my 4 wheel baby), I was suddenly confronted with a full tire tread that had been struck by the truck I was passing and kicked in front of me. Swerving to avoid it almost put me into the gully in the median and had it been a less stable car than a ‘vette, my guess is I would have flipped down into the ditch. I managed to avoid a direct head on contact (and the truck next to me) but still clipped the piece of junk with the right front of my car, causing $3,000 worth of damage. Less than a mile down the road, there’s a piggyback rig sitting on the side with the driver looking at a mangled rear tire. I stopped, asked if he lost a recap, told him I found it and called the State Police. During the discussion, I made a disparaging comment to the Trooper about recaps and he looked at me understandingly and said “you don’t have to tell me about recaps” … so much about all the statistics pumped out by manufacturers, lobbyists and bureaucrats.
Recaps are a hazard to any motorist (just my opinion), especially riders. When one lets go, it is extremely dangerous when it occurs and for a long time afterwards while chunks of tire sit in the middle of the roadway (and it’s my contention that these tires “let go” a lot). They also result in a roadside eyesore. So, what can you do to protect yourself?
First, always allow adequate room with the vehicle in front of you so that you have adequate time to see a chunk of rubber and avoid it, especially vehicles that are difficult to see over or through. Second, don’t spend one second longer than necessary next to or just behind any truck … wait until it’s clear to pass and get by quickly. Third, as part of your defensive riding routine always take a quick look at truck wheels to see if there is anything that appears out of the ordinary. Fourth, practice riding whenever you can … properly accelerating, urgent braking, swerving. Fifth, support efforts to properly (and objectively) evaluate the efficacy of recaps. I’m a motorcycle libertarian, but if someone else’s actions can kill me, I’d like to see those actions stop and I don’t care how much money anyone is saving. I’m not going to injure or kill anyone else by going helmetless or jacketless. But if I drive a truck with tires that disintegrate, I very well could end someone’s life.
As always, defensive riding comes first. If you follow these suggestions, perhaps you’ll never have to have your hide “retreaded”.