Winter riding comes with its own unique tests, and riding in snow and ice is one that many cyclists choose to simply avoid by finding other means of transportation at that time.
However – if you do want to head out and test the powder on two wheels, there are a few things with bearing in mind. Following a few simple steps will keep you much safer and allow you to continue as normal whist trains, buses and drivers grind to a halt…
Wrap up warm
The fact that there is ice on the road and snow has fallen will imply it’s very cold. You need to keep your wits about you, and you won’t be as alert if your focus is on your cold fingers or toes. It’s very important to keep your core warm with a good base layer, and your extremities need to stay full of feeling – numb hands won’t operate the brake levers well.
It’s worth bearing in mind when getting ready to ride that, unless you’re a total pro, you’re probably going to be riding slower than normal and therefore won’t get as warm.
Luckily there is lots of great kit out there designed to keep you warm – check out our feature on winter warmers here.
If it’s actually snowing, glasses with clear lenses are a good idea as though pretty, snow can sting when it gets in your eyes and you don’t want to be blinking constantly.
Prepare your bike
The first step towards safer snow riding is buying a pair of studded tyres. These are not for use in everyday cycling, and only for when there is risk of ice. Though not failsafe, the studs provide improved steering and control meaning you can be more confident of your grip on the road.
Shwalbe tyres make a Snow Stud Performance Kevlar Rigid Road Tyre (currently £30.80 at Wiggle.com, usually £38.99) as well as a MTB version (now £29.24). A mountain bike will give you a greater surface area to grip the road with, and its recommended that you go for a lower tyre pressure than normal, a little less than you would use in the wet. This will mean you might go a bit slower, but this journey is more about arriving safely.
As the helpful council start to grit the road, you’ll notice two things: the salt will get stuck to your bike, and it will all get washed to the side of the roads by cars.
Here is how to react:
1) Clean your bike regularly, as salt will cause corrosion if you leave it.
2) Ride a little further out from the side of the road. You do not want to ride in the gutter with the salt and grime, and drivers need to give you space to. Check out our guide on safe urban commuting for more advice on being assertive on the roads.
Choose your route
This is a case of finding a balance. If the roads are very icy, and there has been heavy snowfall, you need to be very careful to avoid drivers who might not have studded tyres like you do. In conditions like this, there will be snow everywhere so it’s best to select the roads with fewer cars on.
However, on a day where it’s very cold, but no snow has fallen and there is just the odd patch, a road which has had cars travelling on it will be less frozen. Country lanes with overhanging trees don’t get the benefit of engines chugging over them and foliage can stop the sun warming ice patches, so they can be treacherous and black ice is more likely to creep up on you. Choose where you ride carefully. Light ice days, choose main roads, heavy snow days, go for quieter areas.
There may be times when you find yourself comfortable riding along, only to be suddenly aware that what had felt like solid ground has been replaced with what feels like an ice rink.
Black ice can be scary, but you can get across it safely if you react correctly. If you became aware that the ground beneath you is no longer safe, don’t make any sudden movements , try to swerve or break. Keen a firm grip on the handlebars, keep them pointed straight in front of you and concentrate on getting safely to the other side of the ice patch. If you have enough momentum to freewheel, don’t pedal, if you need to keep moving, pedal gently and without jerking.
If you do come across ice, or even if you just feel a little skid on your back wheel, it’s important to keep your weight back, where you can use your body to steady the back wheel.
When riding comfortably on roads that seem safe, but you’re still aware there is risk of ice, don’t get lulled into a false sense of safety. Keep constantly aware. Brake early before corners and junctions, and when cornering, take extra care as it’s when you’re leaning to the side to swoop round a bend where you’re more likely to lose grip.
Try it off road
Many riders choose to take their cycling off road in periods of snow and ice, and this can be a really fun way of safely enjoying your hobby in the grips of winter.
Snow is thicker on the trails, and usually has mud below it, so you can gain some good traction without risk of skidding on ice. Because the risk of hitting tarmac hard is eliminated, you can work up more of a sweat to keep you warm, too.
If you use your bike mainly to commute, see if there is a way you can take more of your route off road, and if you’re comfortable with riding the trails, spend as much of your journey as you can enjoying the brilliant white woods.