Riding on icy roads

By Andy Chivers

Regular bike riders need to cope with all sorts of weather conditions, and this December we have had a prolonged spell of cold weather with even a smattering of snow. Many people will be put off cycling in these cold and icy conditions, but with a bit of preparation and care it is fine to keep riding. The reward is getting to your destination on time and enjoying some exercise in the process. It helps keep your body warm if not your hands and feet.

There are two things to consider – keeping warm and keeping safe.

Keeping warm

Keeping warm needs attention to hands, feet, neck and head. Your core body will generate enough heat that an ordinary jacket will be all you need. Getting a cold wind down your neck is very unpleasant, in my opinion, so either a scarf or a snood (a tube of fleecy material pulled over your head) and a beanie which fits under your helmet (if you wear one) are essential. Hands and feet get a lot of cold air flowing over them and don’t have working muscles to warm them up, so you deserve the best gloves you can afford. Mittens are warmer than gloves and still allow enough movement to use the gears and brakes.

Keeping safe

You need to think about where to cycle and how to ride.

It is sadly the case that the main roads have been gritted this week whereas minor roads, cycle paths and shared pavements haven’t (the scandal of ‘black roads, white pavements’). This week Cyclox has received a lot of concerned messages about the dangerous state of cycle paths, even those routes used by school children.

So riding on main roads may be easier and safer than your usual routes. If you are using a main road don’t stick to the gutter but come out at least a metre into the road so that drivers aren’t tempted to squeeze past you. It also gives you more room if cars approach on side roads, or if pedestrians step into the road. All cycling requires ‘relaxed concentration’ which (along with the fresh air and exercise) is why it is so good for our mental health. This applies even more in adverse conditions. Careful anticipation is the key – looking ahead at the road surface and other road users as well as people on the pavement who might step out.

Cyclist on compacted snow in Broad Street, Oxford, winter 2018

What if you find yourself on ice or slush? The aim is to avoid sudden changes of direction or speed. Taking corners is probably the biggest risk so go slowly and maybe put your inside foot out to support you if the back wheel slides. Try to avoid using the front brake and be gentle with the back brake, which means leaving plenty of room in front of you for stopping. There is an argument for keeping your weight forward to give the front wheel more grip in the ice though that may make for a worse fall if you do slip.

While cyclists may prefer empty roads in ordinary weather, in snow and ice the tyre tracks made by motor vehicles may be your only route, so we must be grateful for their pioneering journey ahead of us.

And when you get to your destination, glasses steaming up, your nose and cheeks, toes and fingers glowing from the cold, you will be smiling with a quiet sense of achievement.

Safe cycling and the season’s greetings to all our readers.

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