Cycling in icy conditions
Whenever the mercury plummets, no matter how you get about, the risks of incident increase.
Whether you're on two, three, four or more wheels a little bit of caution won't go amiss. Clear winter days are, however, a glorious time to cycle. All you need to do is head out with a few precautions. While snow may fall at around 1.5 mph, taking about an hour to reach the ground, if you slip up on some ice you'll be hitting the deck much quicker!
At this time of year, with lying water now freezing over on thousands of roads, ice is just as much a problem as the sun low in the sky. Cycling UK, the national cycling charity, has therefore prepared seven tips for cyclists, and gathered advice from motoring organisations for driving around cyclists in icy conditions.
Beyond our normal advice for cycling in traffic, Cycling UK advises cyclists to:
1. Let out some air - grip is improved by increasing contact with the road. Letting a little air out from your tyres can make a real difference.
2. Slow it down - icy conditions and narrow cycle tyres at speed can be a recipe for disaster. No need to break that Strava record, give yourself more time and if in doubt about conditions, take it easy.
3. Keep out of the gutter - this advice stands no matter the conditions, but after rain and following a freeze, the sides of roads can be treacherous.
4. Chill out - if you do hit some ice or a similarly slippery surface, sudden steering movements and sharp braking can see you go from the vertical to the horizontal in record time. Relax and ride it out or, if it's an extended stretch, consider walking the distance
5. Stay seen - low winter sun and the longer nights can make visibility both for you and other road users all the harder. If it's dark make sure you have the appropriate front and rear lights (a legal requirement) and if in the day, watch out for that low sun - it's a hazard for all road users.
6. Dress appropriately - layers are best for trapping in warm air and can help you regulate your temperature while riding. Pay particular attention to your extremities like hands, feet and head, as these are all set to suffer more in the cold. Also consider bringing a thermal top in case you need to stop for a long period of time.
7. Consider alternatives - you may want to think about changing your route or the time of your journey to avoid icy conditions.
On some days, when weather conditions are extreme, you should consider whether cycling is a safe option.
All road users, cyclists and motorists alike, need to ensure they get into a winter mind-set. People need to appreciate that it could take longer to stop than it usually does.
Cyclists can face a minefield of icy patches, especially at the side of the road where so much water has accumulated because drains have been unable to cope. This might mean the cyclist has to make sudden and unplanned shifts in direction as they negotiate their way through the hazardous conditions, such as ice, drains, potholes and other road debris.
Cycling UK would therefore urge drivers to bear this in mind and give cyclists an even wider berth than they normally might when overtaking. Highway Code Rule 163 illustrates one car's width, but this might need to be more during treacherous conditions.
The low winter sun can also be a particular problem at this time of year, especially as it is at its most dazzling at the end of the morning commute and the beginning of the evening rush hour when the roads are at their busiest.
There are innumerable accounts of cyclists and other vulnerable roads users who have been hit, resulting in serious injury or, worse, death, under such conditions. Drive (and cycle!) to the conditions - if you're having trouble seeing the road ahead clearly, slow right down and if possible consider stopping until the conditions improve.
Ultimately, it's worth remembering that while cyclists are more vulnerable than car users, they have the same rights to share the road as drivers, and at the end of the day, we're all just trying to get to our destination safely.
For more top tips on cycling, visit Cycling UK, national cycling charity web site.