It’s exhilarating to be a winter bicycle commuter in Washington – at least if you can stay dry. It’s challenging, but you’re free. You feel hardy. You don’t envy those denizens of cars.
Yet bicycle commuting is somewhat more dangerous in wintertime, so it’s best to be prepared. You need to be visible – noticeable – to motorists. You need to be warm enough and dry enough. The conditions are challenging, and you need to be up to that challenge. Here are 7 tips that will keep you safer on the roads this winter:
Choose a basic bike you’re already familiar with. There’s no real need to upgrade to a winter-specific bike. Many bikers prefer a simple bike with fewer gears and shocks to get gummed up by winter sludge. A bike with disc brakes works better in wet weather than one with rim brakes. Add fenders to avoid splash-back and spray.
Maintain your bike throughout the season. Bike tires deflate by about a pound a week, and colder weather causes them to deflate even more. Top them off every couple of weeks or when needed. After each ride, wipe the muck off your tires, chain, brake pads and track, as this can reduce wear. Check your treads for damage regularly – you don’t want to have to change a flat in the rain.
Brighten up your bike and gear. Invest in the brightest lighting you can get, especially your front lights. (You should have two lights in the front and two in the rear just in case one goes out.) Ideally, place one bright, flashing safety light on the rear of your bike and the other on your backpack or helmet. The fact that the two lights move independently has been shown to draw motorists’ attention. As for gear, the more lighted or reflective elements, the better. At the very least, there should be a light and a piece of reflective equipment visible from every angle.
Ease into the routine. Start slow and build up your endurance over time. Wet weather is more challenging than dry. Riding after dark is more challenging than during daylight. Give yourself time to make sure your gear works as expected. Consider driving or taking public transport part of the way, or alternate riding days to build up to full-time commuting. A bad experience because you’ve overextended yourself could hurt your enthusiasm.
Check your tire pressure before each ride, and consider swapping your tires for knobbier or wider ones. Correct tire pressure is a safety issue and, as we mentioned above, good pressure is harder to maintain in the winter. To reduce flats, install a tire liner between the rim and your tube.
Wear warm gear. If you’re biking further than you would care to walk, be sure you’re prepared to walk it anyway if a component of your bike should fail. Dress in layers. Wear a cap under your helmet and wear gloves and warm footwear. Consider keeping chemical hand- and foot-warmers in your pockets.
Use winter riding tactics. Be aware that most motorists aren’t looking for you, so you need to ride in a way that makes you more visible. Take up the whole lane so drivers aren’t tempted to pass you. Be on the lookout for ice, and slow down when you’re not sure how slick the surface may be. Ride relaxed; don’t lock your knees and elbows. This makes it easier to react smoothly.
We hope you intrepid riders out there have found this tips useful. Stay safe!