Armadillos: Do light segregation devices work?

armadillos

Published on 15 September 2015 by Gill

With concerns raised by motorcyclists about the ‘Armadillo’ devices used to protect cycle lanes, Graeme Hay takes matters into his own hands to test out what happens when you ride into the new device on the block - the ‘Orca’. 

In the summer edition of Rider, I wrote about the use of the so-called Zicla ‘Armadillo’ devices in cycle lanes as a means of deterring drivers of cars and vans from entering the cycle lane. The purpose is to make cyclists feel a little more secure using these lanes, which are formed by long broken white lines at normal road level.

The BMF does not support their use, as we believe that they present a hazard to pedestrians crossing the road, as well as to cyclists and motorcyclists who may need to swerve to avoid the unforeseen actions of another road user.

Motorbike wheel on light segregation armadillo

Meet the 'Orca'

I tried to engage with the importers of the Zicla product to discuss it and its applications but there was no response to my enquiries; things changed this spring when I was in touch with a UK firm, Rediweld, who have developed another product to do the same job. As I like to have a ‘plan B’ in most things that I do, I approached this firm and was met with a radically different response. 

Their product differs from the Zicla ‘Armadillo’ in that it is made from recycled tyres. This is a material familiar to many riders as it is already in use across the country in speed cushions and traffic islands as well as many kerbed installations. It is flexible and, most importantly, offers very good grip to motorcycle tyres and has the same reflectivity as the white lines used on UK roads. I arranged to go to an off-road site and test this other product, which is called an ‘Orca’.

Testing methods

It is quite difficult to decide what sort of tests would be most likely to reflect the possible experience of a rider forced into a cycle lane. I decided to conduct two types of test, wet and dry, and each at speeds varying between 5 and 25mph.The higher speed was chosen because these are for use in 20 or 30mph areas meaning testing at higher speeds seemed irrelevant.

The two tests were:

    1. To ride along a line of four ‘Orca’ devices, which were placed at 2.5m centres – as if I had ‘drifted’ into a cycle lane and was riding the wrong side of the road edge line.
    2. To ‘collide’ with an ‘Orca’ at an angle of 20 degrees – as if I had been forced across the edge of the road line, into the cycle lane by the actions of another vehicle.

The bike I used was a Honda Transalp, fitted with half worn Michelin Anakee III tires. It was not the best and I would have preferred a bike with a smaller front wheel, but the old Transalp is the only bike I own that I was willing to crash, if necessary. Full body armour was worn and for each test the likely landing area was checked. No BMF staff were harmed in this testing.

Each of these tests was carried out at 5-7mph, 12-15mph, 18-20mph; the first test was also carried out at 24-26mph but this was not repeated for the 20 degree test.

Test 1 – straight down the line

The first passes were at 5-7mph. The bike rode over the ‘Orca’ devices smoothly, sometimes a wheel would deflect 70mm or so to one side but there was no influence on the handlebar. Repeated at 12-15mph the ‘bump’ was still gentle and the steering outcome the same. 

At around 20mph the ‘bump’ was more pronounced and felt a little like going over one of those temporary tarmac ramps used at the joint where a road is being repaired; the effect on the steering was actually even less than at lower speeds. Things changed significantly though at around 25mph. Here the ‘bump’ became quite pronounced and it was clear that the bike’s suspension was not sorting itself out before hitting the next ‘Orca’. The bike felt a bit like a ‘Bucking Bronco’ but steering remained fine; this may be because the ‘bucking’ made sure I was hanging on pretty tight.

At speeds of more than 20mph the bike passes straight over but does become momentarily airborne.

Each of these tests was repeated with the area and the ‘Orca’ wet. This produced a very slight increase in tendency for the bike to deflect 70mm or so to one side or another of the ‘Orca’, but at higher speeds there was no difference at all.

Test 2 – approach at an angle less than twenty degrees

The approach angle of just under 20 degrees (19.8) was used as a likely approach

Again, just as in the first test series the first approaches were made at 5-7mph, followed by a repeat at 12-15mph. In each case the bike’s front wheel was deflected, with a bump back to the road. This ‘bump’ resulted in a sudden but very brief reaction at the handlebar; it was OK, but you wouldn’t want to do that with just one hand on the bar.

When the test was repeated at 18-20mph the bike simply ‘bumped’ over the ‘Orca’ and continued on its way, with only a very slight deviation – too small to measure. At 24-26mph the ‘bump’ was becoming a ‘bang’, as you might expect having crossed an edge of carriageway line and hit any form of kerb, but the direction of the bike was not altered at all.

These tests were then repeated with the area and the ‘Orca’ wet. The same deflection and short reaction at the handlebar at 5-7mph and 12-15mph. Repeated at 18-20mph the bike would not climb over the ‘Orca’ but instead the wheel slid along it, resulting in the same deflection, now quite sudden, back onto the traffic lane. I repeated this two or three times, with the same outcome and then decided that I was unhappy to attempt this at 24-26mph. I was wearing full body armour and the BMF and its members mean a great deal to me, but everyone has their limit and this was mine.

Testing light segregation armadillo with a motorbike

How different are light segregation devices to kerbs?

In the UK we have many uses for different styles of kerbs. We see these every day and pay no mind to them but if driven into, in tests similar to those above, I would ask you to consider what the outcome may be?

These highly reflective ‘Orca’ devices have a highest point of 100mm, with a taper at each end, are made from soft and ‘grippy’ recycled tyres and are designed to be placed inside the cycle lane, behind the white road-edge line. Most kerbs have no reflective material on them or a line in front of them, are made from pre-cast concrete and vary in height between 75mm and 400mm.

The question I pose is: “Is our reaction against these devices based on real concern or is it just that we haven’t seen this sort of thing, before?”

Conclusion

The BMF does not support the use of objects of any kind being placed immediately next to the carriageway, which can cause harm, to riders in any case. The problem is that this situation is already commonplace across the country, so much so that we don’t really notice it. All over the land there are traffic islands, lane segregation and splitter islands, some identified by an edge of carriageway line and some not, where a rider could collide with a 100mm kerb or higher. In that respect the ‘Orca’, which is designed to be placed not in the carriageway but within the cycle lane, is really no different at all. It is just new to us. My role is to represent your views to all areas of government and at the moment your views, where I have seen them expressed, are against these devices.

What I have undertaken here is research so that I can provide you with an insight into what these devices are really like to ride into and to draw comparison with other existing but more familiar road features. I did not do any ‘comparative testing’ on concrete kerbs because I know that these would buckle my bike rims and at 20 degrees I would always be deflected, creating counter steer and resulting in a fall.

I am aware that others are making a fuss, but I am not at all sure that anyone else is offering their members information or experience upon which to base their own views. The deal is not yet done on this ‘light segregation’ of cycle lanes and so I encourage you to think about this matter and take your thoughts to your club’s BMF rep or to your regional Chairman so that we may hear your views.

I cannot pass this point without recording my thanks to Jeanette and the team at Rediweld. This firm not only answered us but arranged for the test site, a crew to install, remove or relocate the products to make sure that everything was the way that we thought would be most realistic.

The Rediweld team is clearly very interested in motorcyclists’ perspective and has invited BMF to test both other existing products and to contribute in the future development of new products. All of the testing we did was filmed, so that as much as possible may be learned from it and this learning will inform the company’s advice to the many local authorities that Rediweld supply. Thanks for your interest in the rider’s viewpoint and the opportunity to actually test and discuss the product, guys!