Winter Biking Safety Tips

With potential snowfall looming over the horizon, late November is great time to get your bike, wardrobe, and psyche ready for winter cycling. Here are some tips on how to stay safe on your bike this winter:

1. Be Seen

Lights and reflective gear are a must, especially in winter riding when motorists simply don’t expect to see you. Flashing lights are better for being seen, solid lights give you a better view of the road. Reflective materials worn as an over-layer are mandatory for survival. Look for the “Scotch-bright”™ reflective material. Make sure you have reflectors on each wheel as well so that cross traffic can spot you better.

2. Stay warm

Look to skiers and other winter outdoor sport enthusiasts for specialized gear:

  • Ski helmets make a great difference, and they’re goggle ready! The helmets feature adjustable vents and also provide warmth for your ears without obstructing hearing
  • Goggles are a must to avoid tears. Just be sure to keep turning your head to compensate for any loss of peripheral vision.
  • A balaclava can extend your comfort range.
  • Layering is critical to avoid overheating. You’ll need 1) a base layer that rests against your skin to wick moisture away, 2) an insulating layer such as wool or fleece, and 3) an outer “shell” such as Gortex™ to help you stay dry. Also, use zippers, vents, etc to stay comfortable as weather or exertion levels change throughout your ride.
  • What about pants? I favor lined, uninsulated full side-zip Gortex™ pants. That lets me get them on and off over whatever bottom layers I happen to be using.
  • How about shoes? I use neoprene booty covers, but riders with longer commutes may chose to opt for an insulated boot and forgo the cleats, especially below about 20*F.
  • Good socks are a must. I favor using a polypropylene liner sock under wool. The polypro promotes wicking moisture out, while the wool remains warm even if it gets damp.
3. Stay dry

Gortex: it passes water vapor, but not liquid water. Hence, your sweat gets out, while rain and snow cannot get in. I use neoprene lobster-claw gloves over a smart-wool™ liner. Also, fenders are always a good idea. You can make them from 2-liter pop bottles if you’re so inclined, but most winter riders prefer a close-fitting traditional fender on stays.

4. Stay on the bike!

I use studded snows by Schwalbe. I normally ride on 700X25 slicks at 120 psi during the warm seasons, and 700X35 studded knobbies at 35 psi in the winter. The lower pressure gives me a larger contact surface area. When it comes to brakes, there’s no doubt hydraulic discs are the best brakes year-round. I get by with my conventional calipers, leaving extra stopping room whenever it’s wet or slippery.

5. Stay sane

There may be a few days when riding is impractical. Remember that motorists have to be able to control their cars to avoid you. On a few really bad days each winter, they may not be able to. Is this your issue? Clearly, no one should be driving then, but the reality is that they will anyway. And the “mass” part of the Newtonian physics equations means you will always lose in the event of a collision. Remember, you can be right, you can be dead right, but you can still wind up dead!

6. Maintain your bike

Winter ice and salt can destroy your bike if it’s not well lubricated! Regularly lubricate your chain, brake calipers (not the pads!), cables, and all moving parts with an oil such as Triflow™. Some hardware stores sell Triflow in a large aerosol can, making it easy to lubricate. You’re bike may look oily and dirty, but it’ll last throughout the winter.

For more information:
Wikipedia: Winter biking Winter Biking 101

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