Tips for biking safely through snow, ice and bitter winds

Beijing snows

Winter B-icicle challengers in Beijing woke up to the sight of thick, fluffy snowflakes falling from the sky. I snapped the above photo on my way to work. Over the next three months the weather will most definitely throw a few hairy snowballs your way, so it’s important to know how to ride safely when temperatures begin to fall (and fall) below zero.

Luckily All Weather Sports (via Take Part) has some great advice:

  • Try to pedal smoothly and relax your upper body, especially on ice and soft snow.
  • Road ice can provide lots of traction or very little. Learn how the different types look and sound. Try not to brake hard on the slippery sort, or if you must, use only your rear brake. Watch for dry patches where you can do your braking or turning.
  • Wide tires with widely separated knobs work best on snow.
  • Use low pressure: start with 15-20 psi and experiment for yourself. Sometimes 5 psi feels great.
  • Studded tires and chains improve traction on ice, but will slow you down.

Along with that we’d add a few ‘common sense’ pointers for bad weather days:

  • Be overcautious: ride slower than usual and best not to have your headphones on.
  • With poor visibility try and use bike lights or wear reflective vests or stickers.
  • Dress warmly – even if it makes you look like a stuffed sausage. Thermals, beanies, thick socks, big scarves, gloves, vests and boots are all musts.

Head to All Weather Sports for a full rundown on tips and all-weather equipment, especially for those cycling out in the countryside or for long periods of time.

Have any other tips to add? Leave them in the comments section below!

  1. Julia

    “# Road ice can provide lots of traction or very little. Learn how the different types look and sound. Try not to brake hard on the slippery sort, or if you must, use only your rear brake. Watch for dry patches where you can do your braking or turning.
    # Use low pressure: start with 15-20 psi and experiment for yourself. Sometimes 5 psi feels great.
    # Studded tires and chains improve traction on ice, but will slow you down.”

    This is not the best advice I’ve seen on winter cycling. Fact is, ice and snow are difficult to cycle on, and can be very dangerous. Even surface frost can make roads and paths surprisingly slippery, even without looking it. “Watch for dry patches where you can do your braking and turning” – as if it was that easy. Basically, you will just have to brake and turn at certain points in your journey, whether there is a dry patch or not. It’s not like you can just keep going straight at a constant speed until you find a dry patch. And using just the rear brake won’t make it that much better either.

    And it’s exactly the braking and turning that is the problem – it’s those situations where you will slip (and very likely fall) if the surface provide little traction. So rather than trying to avoid braking and turning on less than ideal surfaces (because you really can’t always choose when to brake or turn), in my experience it is a far better strategy to avoid slipping if you do need to brake and turn. Low tyre pressure helps somewhat, and lowering the pressure below “normal” levels to get more grip is a good idea – but I doubt that “sometimes 5 psi feels great” – really?? Studded tyres are by far the most effective way to stop you slipping on ice, and they will slow you down much less than frequent falls, or getting off your bike to walk over icy patches, or tyres inflated at 5 psi.

    I have ridden a lot on ice and snow on studded tyres and I cannot recommend them enough. They are the ONE thing that for me made all the difference to the enjoyment and safety of winter cycling. Being extra cautious, wrapping up warm and making sure you are visible in darkness or poor visibility conditions should go without saying. But really, nothing is as bad about winter cycling as falling off your bike and hurting yourself. And nothing is as good for preventing falls as studded tyres, in my opinion.

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