We aren’t used to cycling (or driving!) on snow and ice in the UK, so when it does happen, it affects us disproportionately compared to countries which are built for colder climates. We also don’t have the same infrastructure to keep the roads clear, so we’re less likely to clear roads quickly or efficiently.
As the weather takes a turn, you might choose not to risk a ride, and instead hang your bike up for the rest of the season.But with the right preparation, it is safe (and enjoyable) to keep riding all through winter.
Here’s some key points to consider when facing a winter of cycling…
Check the weather forecast
It always pays to check the weather forecast before heading out for a ride, if only to decide on the best clothing combo for the day, and not least to assess whether ice may be a threat.
A quick look at the Met Office (insert link) website will tell you if any weather warnings have been issued and what you may have to look out for; including freezing rain, fog or , the nemesis of any cyclist, black ice.
Ice is most likely to form overnight, so be extra careful if you’re heading off to work early.
As with any ride, always be sure to tell someone where you’re going, share your intended route and expected time of arrival. This is good practice for any ride but becomes even more prevalent in winter conditions.
Drop your saddle
Dropping your saddle slightly is a great way to bring your centre of gravity down. It’ll also bring you closer to the ground if you need to get your feet down for extra security in case of a wobble or slide. Place the saddle in a position that allows you to putthe soles of both feet on the ground without getting off the saddle. In this way, in the event of a sudden skid, you can quickly get your feet on the ground and avoid a fall.
Positioning the saddle lower won’t help you win any races, but it will help you reach your destination in one piece.
In addition to reducing the height of the saddle, position yourself upright in a way that puts less weight on the handlebars. In this way, there’s a lesser chance of the front wheel slipping, and in the event of a skid, allows you to recover your balance to avoid a full-on fall
Watch your speed and sharp turns
The main danger of skidding happens when braking, so the best way to avoid this is to slow down and reduce the need to brake in the first place.
Most of us know the old mantra “your front brake is for slowing down, your back brake is for stopping” but the bit that usually gets missed out is “Except on ice where you really don’t want to lose any traction. At all.” If you were to slam on the front brake going over ice, any loss of control at the front is going to be sudden and very hard to recover from.
If you do need to brake when riding on ice, gently apply the back brake only, try to stay relaxed and pedal smoothly. Sharp turns also cause skids and falls, in the same way that happens when we brake abruptly with the front brake. Moderating the speed will help you avoid these problems.
Ride on tracks left by other road users
Aim for busier roads. No we haven’t gone mad, and you’re not reading this in a parallel universe. Main roads are more likely to be cleared by cars and treated with salt.
Tracks left by other vehicles or bicycles on the ground are always cleaner and free of ice and snow. Riding on icy snow can be a real danger, and it can act as camouflage for potholes and other unpleasant surprises. Taking advantage of the ruts on the road, especially from a car or truck, is the safest thing to do.
Take particular care when you turn off a main road, which may be clear of ice, on to a quiet street that may not have been treated with salt!
Pay attention to cars
Cars are much heavier than bikes and skid more easily in turns and when braking, even when moving at the same speed, they take much longer to stop than a bicycle.
On cold, low-visibility days, remember to pay extra attention and keep a greater distance than you would in normal conditions.
Don’t forget the lighting.
In adverse visibility conditions it’s so important to make yourself seen by other road users. Snow and ice reduce visibility and often cause reflections and glare that deceive, confuse, and dazzle other drivers. Always use rear, front and rear and side reflective lights on your bike to increase your own (and others’) safety.
Change those tyres!
Punctures. We’ve all had one (or a few) and experienced the frustration of having to stop and change a tyre mid-ride. During winter, excess rain washes bits and pieces onto the road that can
lodge into your tyre. Similarly, the damp surface makes it easier for the bits and pieces to be picked up, resulting in a higher likelihood of puncture. So, what to do? Specially designed winter tyres not only offer puncture resistant tyres but offer much better grip.
If you don’t have the option of different tyres, try running your usual ones at a slightly lower pressure.
Use the layer theory
If snow has made an appearance, you’ll be working hard and not carrying as much momentum. Layering your clothing is the trick here, as you can regulate your body temperature more easily.
The purpose of using several layers is to trap and maintain heat, and the idea has actually been inherited from mountaineering. Putting five thin layers on instead of two thick ones will give you the same warmth but will stop you from sweating as much.
· The first layer is basically a t-shirt. For long trips where you may sweat a bit, we recommend buying a t-shirt made of special materials that absorb sweat from the skin and evaporate it.
· The second layer should be a garment with thermal properties. A thin polyester vest or sweater is ideal.
· The third layer’s purpose is to repel the cold from the outside, so a nylon wind/waterproof jacket is ideal. If this is packable, it gives you further options to add and remove as the temperature changes.
Now for your fingers and toes, summer gloves and thin socks just won’t cut it once the temperature plummets. And of course nothing ruin’s a winter ride faster than freezing hands and feet!
Layering again can be your best friend. Wear two pairs of thin socks rather than reaching for one pair of thick ones. If you can, invest in some winter cycling boots or overshoes to keep the wind off and the snow out.
Keep checking your bike
Snow, ice and salt can quickly build up on your bike, so check that the brakes are clear and still functioning properly at various points on your journey.
In general, whenever cycling in snow or ice, do everything gently.Big pedal strokes end up in wheelspin – harsh braking ends in slides. Use your whole pedal stroke to apply power smoothly, steer a little bit rather than setting up sharp corners. Get out there and make the most of the beautiful landscape – in the same way night riding changes the feel of your routes, riding in the snow generates a completely different look, feel and challenge too!