Winter has an icy grip on the UK, with temperatures plummeting and large parts of the country seeing significant snowfalls.
It’s nothing new – snow and ice represent a significant hazard for UK cyclists most winters – but it’s easy to be caught off-guard and it pays to be aware when the mercury plunges.
If you’re determined to get out whatever the weather – whether that’s to log valuable winter miles or on the ride to work – here are seven tips to ensure you stay safe out on the road.
It always pays to check the weather forecast before heading out for a ride, if only to make a decision on the best clothing combination for the day, and not least in winter to assess whether ice may be a threat.
A quick glance at the Met Office website will also tell you if any weather warnings have been issued and also details types of ice, be it a glaze that forms when drizzle or rain hits a cold surface, or, the nemesis of any cyclist, black ice.
Ice is most likely to form overnight, which is particularly bad news for cyclists who will be out first thing in the morning, be it on the commute to work or the weekend club run.
Some of Britain is in a perpetual state of freeze-thaw through winter and if the temperature has dipped close to freezing overnight and there’s water on the road, be it from rain or surface run-off, then there’s likely to be ice – particularly on untreated roads – until it’s sufficiently warm enough for it to melt.
Use the weather forecast, local knowledge and common sense to assess how prevalent ice is likely to be and make a call on your ride and route from there.
Stick to treated roads
The joy of cycling is often found in disappearing from the urban landscape and escaping to quiet country lanes, where the soft buzz of tyres on tarmac is the only sound to accompany you.
But these roads are the first to be neglected by cash and time-strapped councils when the gritters are out. Resources and salt are in short supply so key arterial routes, naturally, take priority. If snow and ice are widespread then stick to well-used and treated roads.
Take particular care when turning from a main road, which may be clear of ice, to a back street or country lane which may not have been treated.
A tip for year-round cycling, this, but particularly pertinent when the temperature drops. Ice is more likely to form in the gutter rather than the centre of the lane, where cars have ground the road salt into the tarmac in order to put it to work.
What’s more, while the rest of the road may be free of ice, puddles are more likely to form in the gutter and these will freeze when the temperature drops low enough.
As ever, staying out of the gutter will also help avoid the glass, thorns and other puncture-happy debris that collects at the side of the road. You also become part of the traffic, rather than an obstacle for drivers to skirt around.
As is the case when it’s wet, avoid riding, and particularly turning, on road paint or manhole covers.
Be cautious into corners
Widespread ice will form on untreated roads which are wet, most likely as a consequence of rain which then freezes, and this will turn into the slippery stuff.
However, even if a road looks dry it still pays to be cautious into corners.
Choose your line early, do your braking well in advance and try to pick a dry route through the corner. Even if a road looks ice-free, slippery patches may lurk in shady sections of the road which have not yet been warmed by the sun, or where water has run across the tarmac.
While the road looks dry in the picture above, a suspiciously shiny patch lies in the shade on the right-hand side near the roadside snow. Take care.
Adjust your riding position
Consider dropping your saddle by 5mm to lower your centre of gravity, which in turn may have a positive impact on control and will enable you to get your foot down quicker if you encounter tricky conditions.
You can also maximise your contact patch with the road by fitting a wider tyre (25mm tyres are popular year-round, and 28mm rubber offers even more traction and comfort in winter) and reducing the pressure accordingly.
If snow has fallen then consider taking a mountain bike or cyclo-cross bike out for a blast. Knobbly tyres provide a decent amount of grip on fresh snow and it’s great fun for a blast around the woods or park.
Still keep an eye
Take it easy on the brakes
Favour the front brake when it’s dry as your weight ‘loads’ the front wheel, giving it much more grip than the rear – but that goes out of the window when grip is unpredictable.
A hard pull on the front brake on a slippery surface can quickly result in a loss of traction and an all too sudden encounter with the tarmac.
Gently dab away at the back brake or, better still, if you find yourself on ice, completely avoid braking altogether, stay relaxed and try and pedal smoothly over the hazard.
If you must brake, it helps to unclip one foot, slide it along the ground and gently apply the back brake only.
While you may want to get out on the bike whatever the weather, there becomes a point where common sense has to take hold. There’s always tomorrow.
It’s always tempting to get out, especially if you’re short on training miles or it looks like a beautifully sunny but ice-cold day, but make sure you properly assess the risk before clipping in. Going down on black ice could set you back weeks, rather than skipping a ride or hitting the turbo.
Indeed, the turbo trainer is always a willing partner, whatever the weather, and interactive platforms like Zwift and TrainerRoad have made indoor training more enjoyable – and effective – than ever before.
If there’s a serious chance of encountering widespread ice out on the bike then it’s just not worth the risk.