Is there ever weather too bad to cycle in if you have the right kit and clothing? We examine the precautions needed in different conditions.
Winter weather poses challenges for cycling but most can be made more pleasant and safer if you have the right clothing and equipment.
Wet weather is a fairly regular experience for any cyclist and can easily be made more comfortable with a good waterproof jacket and some mud guards (if your bike will fit them). We also like neoprene shoe covers, which will help to keep the water out and the heat in.
When it comes to riding on wet roads there are few things to watch out for…
Firstly, visibility can be reduced and, to compound that, drivers often seem more in a rush. Be careful of the road surface too, some road marking paint can get slippery when wet so try to avoid crossing painted lines except for at a right angle. The same goes for drain covers, tram tracks and cattle grids, which can become incredibly slick. If there are puddles on the road try to ride around them, not only will it help to keep your feet dry but you can’t see how deep they are or what hazards the water might be concealing.
Wind is a cyclist’s best friend and worst enemy, depending on its direction! Riding into a head wind is hard work, it can feel very demoralising as despite your hard work you can’t go any faster. Riding in crosswinds can be particularly difficult as they can push you across the road. Car drivers are often unaware of the wind in their insulated heavy vehicles, so are unlikely to anticipate the effect a gust of wind might have on a cyclist. Buildings and high hedges can protect you, but when you get to a gap the sudden gust can make bike handling difficult, so look around you and try to anticipate this happening.
Snow is pretty rare in the UK so when it does happen we just aren’t prepared for it. From a comfort perspective, the clothing needed for riding in the snow isn’t dissimilar to riding in the rain – your main priorities are staying warm and staying dry. However, when it comes to riding on snowy roads it is worth being cautious and sticking to areas you know have been gritted or have very low traffic use. Fresh snow is surprisingly grippy for bike tyres but compressed snow, where tyres have been across it, can become very slippery for you and for car drivers.
Icy road surfaces are one of the few conditions when you might be better off leaving your bike at home for the day – or even better staying home yourself! Ice is treacherous for bike and car tyres, leaving you vulnerable to high-speed sudden falls or cars skidding out of control. However, if you’re riding on car-free cycle paths or quiet rural areas, cycling on ice can be really good fun – if you have the right ice tyres.
Thick fog and mist are very common on wintery mornings and evenings. Seeing and being seen can be very difficult in fog so it is really important that you have bright lights on, regardless of whether it is day or night. Wear clothing that will stand out, pick your brightest red, orange or yellow tops and leave anything black, white or grey in the wardrobe. Fog can muffle some sounds and also ‘bounce’ noises from further away, making them feel closer. This can be really disorientating, particularly as your vision is also reduced. If you don’t have to ride at a set time it can be worth delaying your ride as morning fog can often lift as the day warms up, making your journey safer.
If you commute by bike then it’s highly likely you will have to do at least one of your journeys in the dark. The precautions of night-time cycling are obvious – lights, reflective and bright clothing. Make sure you know the legal requirements for cycling in the dark and invest in some good quality lights.
While cycling in a city may feel safer because of streetlights, it also makes it harder for cyclists to stand out from all the other lights and colours. A solitary bright red light in a dark rural lane can be easier to spot. To help yourself stand out from the other light noise in urban areas, decorate the moving parts of your bike, lights on your wheels and reflectors on your pedals are more eye-catching than a static light. Remember those spokie-dokies you had as a kid? Here is the excuse you need for putting them back on your bike!
Any other tips for winter riding? Don’t forget to share them on our Facebook forum.