Warm weather often brings with it a supreme annoyance for road cyclists – the ‘surface dressing’ method of road resurfacing. Surface dressed roads can make for a jolting, decelerated ride, whilst loose granite chippings may pose a hazard to bike and rider.

Surface dressing involves spraying a stretch of road with bitumen and covering it with granite chippings, which are rolled into place and further embedded as cars drive over the area. Once set, excess chippings are swept away. The process requires high road surface temperatures, hence its frequent appearance in the summer months.

Councils maintain the efficacy of the method: a spokesperson for Cumbria County Council described surface dressing as a “cost effective way of sealing up the network”, whilst conceding that a local cyclist had complained after falling from his bike on a surface dressed stretch of road. They stressed that areas with loose chippings are appropriately signposted, and that road users are thus expected to use the road with due caution.

Northumberland County Council further defended their use of the method, counting increased skid resistance for drivers and prolonged road life among its benefits. They added that surface dressing seals the road, preventing water from compromising its underlying structure.

Surface dressing: Your opinion

We asked CW readers what they thought of surface dressing roads via Twitter

Hallam Wiltshire

“Absolutely awful. Caused me to crash the other week and bruise (could easily have been a break) my collarbone”

Jayson Bryant

“Cheap and nasty, it’s very dangerous for cyclist”

Dave Ody

“I’d sooner dodge potholes”

Jamie Salvage

“I was descending on a steep hill that had been treated and it was terrifying. I went back up and changed my route.”

Sandy Cyclist

“A cheap and dangerous way to gloss over the shocking state of the roads”

Matt Whittle

“Terrible! Once went down a hill with a sharp left bend and got wrapped around a railing at the bottom because of it!”

Colin Fraser

“Death trap, awful when just laid as tar and stones stick to tyres and rip them apart”

Related links



New road surfaces in Surrey cause problems for cyclists

  • phil j

    How dare we cyclists complain about the state of the roads when we dont even pay road tax.
    We get to ride on them for free so who are we to moan? lol

  • Kevin

    @Elliot

    Yes unfortunately there is lots and lots of research into how practical and cost effective surface dressing really is.

    Roughly speaking this is how it works.

    Build road at very high expense and maintain it for 35-40 years.

    Then surface dress it once cheaply(5-10% of replacement cost, if even that) and it will last another 10-15 years

    Final surface dress to last another 10 years. Then replace road.

    The problem really isn’t in the theory, its how diligent and careful the contractors are that lay it and set out the traffic management. In europe it is not unheard of for dual carriageways and motoreways to be surface dressed to extend road life such is the effectiveness of the message.

    I suppose as a cyclist and civil engineer i am biased but i have never had a problem with the surface being dangerous. I do emphasise with the person who got sprayed with chippings by cars doing twice the reccomended speed. that has definitely happened to me.

    Also would agree with the sensible advice from gg/gg above. Pester your local council to sweep the areas in question.

  • norman saxby

    Avoid Mole Street in Surrey. There is so much loose gravel it is a death trap

  • gg/gg

    Constantly pester your local council to sweep the road and threaten legal action for any personal injury or damage to bike and tyres. It worked for me

  • Elliott

    Does anyone know of any published evidence regarding the costs and benefits of maintaining roads using surface dressing versus a complete road surface overhaul?

  • Herbie

    Has anyone from these councils either cycled on these loose chippings? Even weeks after, unless there is a specific effort to sweep regularly, these surfaces are very dangerous for cyclists, because the drifts of loose chippings accumulate in the bends, and to the sides of the roads. We got shouted at recently for cycling in the only non-loose strip of the road, by a car driver who just felt we were holding him up on purpose, and no chance to explain. Of course like all the other cars using the road with 20 mph signs up, they couldn’t bear to drive less than 40 mph, spraying us with chippings at eye level!!