Here are our 10 Top Tips for Winter Cycling. There’s no reason to stop cycling in the winter (in most places); just make some changes to your cycling style to ensure you stay safe.
Tip #1: Keep warm and dry, and wear high-visibility clothing: It doesn’t MATTER what it looks like – it just matters that you get to where you are going in one piece, and don’t freeze on the way. The bib tights below will help to keep you warm, and won’t slip down to expose your rear end to the elements. Read our post about how to dress for winter cycling here.
Tip #2: Take a strong position in the road and maintain it steadily: riding too close to the sidewalk could encourage someone to squeeze past you, sending you into sludgy snow in the gutters – and possibly causing you to fall underneath a passing car. Note that in the winter, the curb area is where snow accumulates, as well as broken glass, and general road debris. So you really want to avoid the gutters, and stay in the part of the road that is constantly kept clean by passing cars. Taking the road also makes you more visible. Of course, you have to do this judiciously, so as not to infuriate unhappy drivers into attacking you (for riding on “THEIR road”). In general, sensible drivers will give you a wider berth in the winter – but please don’t count on it.
Tip #3: Ride safely and appropriately: it will take you longer to stop in icy or wet conditions, so ride accordingly – slower, and with care, and keeping an eye out for upcoming obstacles. When pulling off, make sure you have caught the eye of any nearby motorists, especially if visibility is poor. Ride slowly, steadily, and smoothly. Be gentle with your brakes, and use your front brakes sparingly, if at all, to avoid sliding. When cycling on settled snow, brake often to clear your rims of accumulating snow. This also has the advantage of slowing you down!
Tip #4: Watch out for slippery bits: road markings, tram tracks, drain and manhole covers, and any kind of wood or ironwork are likely to be slippery, so either avoid them, or at least, don’t speed up over them or brake violently while on them. This also applies when you put a leg out to stop. There are sometimes iron covers near intersections – I have had the experience of putting a foot on an iron cover and almost falling over sideways onto the sidewalk as my foot slid out.
Tip #5: Watch out for heaps of leaves and puddles: Both can be slippery, and you don’t know what is underneath them. Could be potholes, nails, or worse.
Tip #6: Be careful! Expect motorists to be even more oblivious than usual, and ride carefully and defensively. Remember that some people will have just left home, and could be driving with iced-up wind screens. A good approach is to ride as if you are completely invisible – while being as visible as humanly possible. Never assume a driver can see you, because it is truly astonishing how often they fail to see us.
Tip #7: Keep your feet warm and your bike cold! Don’t take your bike inside and keep it by the fireplace. Trust me, no matter how much you love your bike, and no matter how beautiful it is – it does not have feelings! If you take a warm bike into fresh snow, it is likely that ice will form on the brakes and gears. On the other hand, it is essential to keep your feet warm. That can be tough to do, so we have an entire post about how to keep your feet warm for winter cycling.
Tip #8: Keep records: Make a note of how many layers of clothing keep you feeling warm at specific temperatures. That way, you don’t have to try and figure it out all over again every winter. This is a personal thing – there is no web site that can tell you how many layers you personally will need at specific temperatures. I have found dressing to cycle in the winter is so much easier and quicker now that I know, for example, that I need a minimum of three layers on top in sub-zero conditions.
Tip #9: If your gears freeze: stop, find a warm place, and let them defrost. If there is no warm place – it’s time for a bus or a cab!
Tip #10: If you hit ice: steer straight, do not pedal, and try not to brake. If all else fails: if you find yourself losing control, aim for a snow bank – it will be a softer landing than hitting a car.
Ride safely, keep warm, and have fun!
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