Riding your bike in winter can be daunting, even for experienced cyclists who love fun and adventure. Slippery roads, blocked bike paths and decreased visibility mean that winter riding does have its challenges.
However, with public health orders to maintain social distancing, more people are choosing to commute by walking or cycling rather than taking public transit or using ride-sharing options.
Whether you’re choosing winter cycling as a social distancing alternative or for fitness, there are certain safety strategies you should consider before hitting the road.
Winter Cycling Tips: How to Avoid Accidents
Winter cycling has its perks. Besides being fun and exciting, it burns calories and helps you stay fit through the cold, winter months. However, it does have its risks, including decreased road visibility in bad weather and slippery pathways, which can lead to accidents.
Follow these eight winter cycling tips for a safer, more enjoyable riding experience.
1. Choose the Right Kind of Clothes
Many people throw on thick fleeces and waterproof clothing to keep away the cold. But these can make you sweat, even when the temperature is low, and sweat can accumulate under your clothes to make you feel uncomfortable, wet and cold.
Invest in good quality winter/windproof gloves, thermal bib tights, a thermal/wicking undervest, a windproof gilet/jersey and overshoes to keep yourself warm and sweat-free. Also consider wearing thermal socks, an under-helmet cap/headband, a scarf, and winter-specific shoes/boots. Clear or lightly tinted glasses can effectively keep dirt and grit from getting into your eyes.
2. Always Wear a Helmet
Head injuries account for 62% of fatal bicycle crashes, which makes wearing a helmet critical to your safety. This is especially true in winter when ice and snow make cycling most hazardous. When a cyclist does wear a helmet, they reduce their chances of head injury by 50% and the chances of head, face and neck injury by 33%.
3. Lower Your Saddle
Lowering your center of gravity makes your bike less wobbly which makes it safer to ride over icy patches. A lower saddle also makes it easier for you to quickly manage any skidding, because you can use your feet to maintain your bicycle’s balance. If your feet are sitting flat on the ground, you’ll be more stable and less likely to slip.
4. Reduce Tire Pressure (Or Get Studded Tires)
Increased contact with the road surface will give your tires more grip. That’s why it’s a good idea to reduce their pressure a few pounds below the tire’s recommended PSI.
Alternatively, studded tires are a worthwhile investment if you intend to ride in snowy conditions for extended periods of time.
5. Know Your Limitations
Figure out your best route and expected travel time before starting your journey. Also, check the forecast before you leave to ensure it’s appropriate for your level of biking experience. Remember, weather plays an important role in deciding how fast you can or should ride.
Adjust your clothing and accessories accordingly. Gear up for any emergencies or radical changes in weather. Carry two pairs of gloves—one heavy and one light—to handle temperature shifts. A pair of lighter gloves can offer better finger dexterity, making flat tire changes quicker and easier. An extra pair of wool socks stashed in a plastic bag can prove useful if you accidentally dunk your feet into an icy puddle.
6. Ride in Groups
Winter riding is less risky when you ride in a group. Aside from being enjoyable, you can take turns leading and thus protecting each other (somewhat) from chilly winds and other harsh conditions. It’s also safer and more reassuring in case someone has a mechanical problem.
7. Ride Defensively
While defensive biking is important year-round, it’s most essential in the winter when roads are wet and/or icy. Drivers may be more focused on other factors, like the weather, and less likely to see cyclists. Slick, icy roads can make steering and braking more difficult for both motor vehicles and bikes alike.
Make sure that you take safety precautions like making eye contact with motorists and wearing colours that help you stand out. Always use separate bike lanes when available, maintain a safe distance from cars and other heavy vehicles, and adjust your speed based on road conditions. Also, use good bike lights (both a headlight and rear flasher) to improve your visibility.
If an accident does happen and you sustain injuries, contact a personal injury lawyer to go after the compensation you deserve.
8. Clean Your Bike After Every Ride
Winter can wreak havoc on your bicycle’s performance, so you need to pay attention to its care and maintenance. Regular cleanings will prolong its life, make rides smoother, and reduce mechanical issues. So make sure you clean the frame, chain, gears, brakes and wheel rims after every ride, and lube the chain and gears regularly.
Salty water on dirty roads can also damage your bicycle, with water getting into exposed cables affecting the shifting. So you may also want to get a seasonal servicing at your local bike shop at the beginning and end of winter to make sure it’s in good shape.
While winter biking is fun, it’s best to avoid it if the weather is particularly bad – a.k.a. dangerous. Take it slow, ride steady, and take plenty of precautions. Always stop at traffic lights and stop signs, and pay particular attention to vehicles coming from behind you. On slick surfaces, use only your rear brake when stopping to avoid accidents. These and other pieces of advice outlined here should keep you and your bike safe this winter.