Winter cycling can be a challenge, but our top nine tips for safe winter cycling will help to keep you safe. Our tips are based on decades of experience of cycling through extremely tough winters, including endless rain and below freezing temperatures.
Tip #1: Take a Strong, Safe Position in the Road and Maintain it Steadily
Your aim is to find a straight line down the road. You want to avoid zigzagging. So, if there are some cars parked on the right side of the street, your line will be to the left of them. Otherwise, you will suddenly appear as you ‘zag out from behind a car! If you swerve from side to side, depending on where cars are parked, you can give the impression of suddenly appearing from nowhere. This can be very dangerous if there is a motorist who does not see you in time to avoid you
- If there are no parked cars, choose a line as close to the sidewalk as is safe, while avoiding snow or leaves piled up against the gutter.
- 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. So if it is a narrow road, you might have to “take the road.” This means owning the road for brief periods, even if it does annoy drivers.
- Sudden movements could take a motorist by surprise, and lead to the two of you meeting by accident. Definitely not a good idea. Be steady and predictable.
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 being too close to the curb. Stay in the part of the road that is constantly kept clean by cars.
Tip #2: Be Visible to Motorists
Taking the road makes you more visible to motorists, so that they can avoid you. Of course, you have to do this wisely, so as not to infuriate drivers into menacing you. In general, sensible drivers will give you a wider berth in the winter – but don’t count on it.
Expect motorists to be more oblivious than usual, and ride carefully and defensively. Remember that some people will have just left home, and could still be driving with iced-up windscreens. A good approach is to ride as if you are completely invisible – while at the same time being as visible as humanly possible.
Have lights front and back of your bike, and use them night and day. You need to see where you are going, and motorists need to see you.
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Wear a high-visibility vest. Yes, I know they are not the coolest things to wear. But it really doesn’t MATTER what it looks like – it just matters that you get to wherever you are going safely. A high-vis vest can prevent you from being invisible to motorists.
Tip #3: Bike Safely
It will take you longer to stop in icy or wet conditions, so cycle accordingly. You need to be a bit slower, and cycle with care. Obviously, you need to keep an eye out for upcoming obstacles. Including piles of leaves, which could hide dangerous objects.
When pulling off from a stop, make sure you have caught the eye of any nearby motorists. Ride slowly, steadily, and smoothly.
If your gears freeze, don’t just soldier on with one gear. Instead stop, find a warm place, and let them defrost. If there is no warm place – it’s time for a bus or a cab!
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Tip#4: Watch Out for Slippery Places on the Roads
Road markings, tram tracks, drain and manhole covers, and any kind of 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 icy iron cover and almost falling over sideways onto the sidewalk as my foot slid out.
Watch out for heaps of leaves, and for puddles. Both can be slippery, of course. Also, you don’t know what is underneath them. There could be potholes, nails, or worse.
Tip #5: Take the Smoothest Route Possible
Quiet, unplowed side streets may not be the safest route in snowy conditions. When riding in snow, follow the plow trail, if at all possible! If not, at least choose a road where the snow has been dispersed by heavier traffic.
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Tip #6: Brake Carefully for Safe Winter Cycling
We need to brake differently in icy or snowy conditions. Be gentle with your brakes, and use your front brakes sparingly, if at all, to avoid sliding. Be ready to take your feet off the pedals if the bike starts to fishtail, slide or tilt.
When cycling on settled snow, brake often to clear your rims of accumulating snow. This also has the advantage of slowing you down.
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Tip #7: Keep 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 any feelings!
If you take a warm bike into fresh snow, it is likely that ice will form on the brakes and gears. This is not conducive to safe winter cycling! So, leave your bike in a cold storage place at night.
Tip #8: Keep Records to Make Safe Winter Cycling Easier Next Winter
Make a note of how many layers 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.
It may be a bit tedious to compile this list, but you will be so happy to have it next winter! Being able to effortlessly plan a comfortable wardrobe will definitely help you to achieve comfortable and safe winter cycling.
Tip #9: What to Do if You Hit Ice
Steer straight, do not pedal, and try not to brake. Your aim is to come to a controlled stop, without a catastrophic wipe-out. I had a friend who was off work for four months after wiping out on black ice while on his way to work on his bike.
If all else fails, head for a bank of snow to cushion your fall. It will be a softer landing than hitting a car.
Ride safely and have fun!
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