Practical Tips for Riding in Snow and Ice

Winter is upon us and there's a strong possibility of snow and ice in the weather forecasts.Here's some sound advice from CityLab about riding during the worst of the bad weather.

Even for dedicated bike commuters, cycling in the worst parts of winter can be a step too far. For those of us who approach any physical activity with mixed emotions, the sight of snow on the ground is a perfect excuse to find any other way to get around. But still, in cities where cycling is common, bike lanes stay busy even when the snow is piling up.

If they can do it, surely there are ways you can prepare to bike through the next cold spat, right? For some advice, CityLab turned to Anna Luten, the Global Development Director for the Bicycle Mayor Programme. Here’s what she recommends:

Lower your saddle

Simply lowering your center of gravity is likely to make your bike far less wobbly, a small change that can make it far easier to manage icy patches. A lower saddle also makes it easier to manage any risk of skidding, says Luten, because you can use your feet to keep your bike balanced. “If your feet can sit flat on the ground, you’ll be far more stable and less likely to slip.”

Let some air out of your tires

An ever-so-slightly saggier tire will give you more grip on a slippery road surface, Luten says. Some Scandinavians go for special winter tires, with die-hards using spiked versions that can look a bit Ben Hur at first glance. That may well be a step too far for most, who are probably fine with a standard fat tire. Icy weather may indeed be a signal to leave your skinny-tired racer at home, however.

Watch the snow

A dusting of fresh snow can prettify a grimy curb—and that can actually be a problem for a cyclist. Simply put, you have no idea what lies beneath, be it rubble, grates, or garbage. Accordingly, it’s best to cycle a little bit further from the curb and avoid any snow banks. Bear in mind that any road surface that glitters will likely be slippery even if it appears dry.

Get out your ski gloves

While everyone bundles up when temperatures drop, the combined warmth and flexibility of a good ski glove makes an especially big difference on a bike, where a chill wind can quickly rub your knuckles raw. There is indeed a whole wardrobe of winter gear specially tailored to cyclists, but people who don’t want to change clothes when they arrive at their destination might still consider bumping up their cold resilience by wearing a mask that covers their head and mouth—or maybe just a scarf worn ninja-style across the face. Oh, and wear a thermal layer. You won’t regret it.

Keep your bike clean

It’s only when you find yourself cycling through grit-laden slush—that can easily spray the seat of your pants—that you fully realize how worthwhile it is to get a bike with proper mudguards on its wheels. But while road grit is great for helping tires get a grip, it can be corrosive. It’s not a bad idea after cycling on snowy roads to wash your bike down with warm water at the end of the day, just to make sure all that salt doesn’t risk rusting your bike up.

Bearing all this in mind might tempt you to give cold-snap cycling a miss—but getting around in icy weather is a little more complicated no matter how you do it. There’s no guarantee whatsoever that driving or walking will stop you from skidding around. If done carefully, winter cycling really can be pleasant, even practical.

“Winter days can be so beautiful to cycle on,” says Luten. “When you’re out on the road you’re often the only person around. It’s also surprisingly reliable. In cold winter there are often delays on public transit. On a bike you may ride slower than normal, but at least you have clearer idea of how long it will take you to get from A to B.”

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Become a cycling instructor

If you love cycling, you might consider becoming a cycling instructor. Whether you would like to make it a full-time job or you just want to pass on some skills at your local school or youth club, undertaking the National Standard Instructor training is the first step.

Kingston is the only London borough recognised as an instructor training organisation (ITO). Since 2007, we have trained more than 300 instructors for local authorities and independent providers.

You can read more about our training here, and learn more about being a Bikeability Instructor here

Get involved?

Cycling is a fantastic way to exercise, travel, and enjoy the great outdoors. Wind in the hair (under your helmet of course), sunglasses on, and a picnic in your bag. However, not everyone sees it this way.

Therefore, CycleKingston is appealing to you to share the good, the bad (and the ugly?!) We want to hear your cycling experiences, news and showcase success stories along the way too.

If you have material you think we should feature on the website, drop us an email on info@cyclekingston.net with the information and some images and we'll do our best to feature them.

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