01/13/12

10 Tips for Safer Winter Bicycling10 Tips for Safer Winter Bicycling

      

10 tips for safer winter bicycling

Jamez Smith works at Bike Walk Twin Cities and is a League Certified Instructor of bike safety. He's been a bike commuter in San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles and, for the past 4 ½ years, in the Twin Cities.

Though climate change has bestowed upon us an unusually mild season, we still need to take precautions for biking in the winter. Having let the unusually balmy weather we've been experiencing get the better of me, I have yet to fully winterize, so my bike commutes have been chilling in more ways than one recently. However, I've made it safe and sound to work each day, and as a result, have been inspired to share the following methods I use for safer winter cycling.

1.       Strap on the snow tires! As the roads, trails and sidewalks ice up, snow tires are a very good idea. After nearly four years in Minnesota, I finally purchased my first pair of studded tires last winter.  Those little metal studs make a huge difference going across a patch of ice.

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2.       Slow down. I understand that we have all types of schedules, timetables and deadlines to meet, but I don't believe any of those things are worth risking injury for. Realize that the roads are icier, and slow your pace to allow for better control of your bike in the event of sudden slip.

 

3.       Stop and look. At intersections, when making turns, when changing lanes ... where the roads are especially icy, come to a complete stop and assess the traffic around you before moving on. When feasible, wait until the oncoming traffic has passed before getting back out into the road.

 

 

4.       Use the main roads. Between plowing, salt/sand and high automobile traffic, most of the main roads are ice-free compared to the side streets I usually prefer to take.

 
   


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Side Street

 

Higher Traffic Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.       Watch for black ice. Shiny dark patches of ice stand out in contrast to the white/grey frost covered surfaces. On your bike, at a slower pace, you should be able to recognize and avoid black ice far easier than if you were in a car.

 

 

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6.       Ride in the rut. Most of the main roads are ice-free, but some of them do have a healthy sheet of ice. On these streets I ride in the rut created by car wheels. Again, ride slower, so you can better recover should you hit an ice patch. Sometimes the left-tire rut is preferable to the right-tire rut, to increase visibility to any motorists.

 

 

 

 

7.       Take the lane. Minnesota State Law says it is permissible for cyclists to take up the full travel lane, so don't be afraid to do so ... especially on icy roads. Make yourself conspicuous to other road users. To those motorists who give you a wide berth as they pass on your left, give them a big thank you! Metro Transit drivers often give their horns a little "toot" to let folks know they are behind and/or passing. However, if you sense that you are slowing traffic down, in the spirit of Share the Road, pull over (as in #3 above) and allow others to pass. Much safer than trying to increase your speed on an ice-covered road.

 

8.       There's no shame in walking. Some sections of bike lane or bike trail are so covered with ice, attempting to navigate them without studded tires seems ridiculous. So, why not hop off your bike and walk it across these stretches of mini tundra? This is also a good tactic when crossing bridges (such as the Loring Greenway Bridge over Lyndale) and in areas where the safest thing to do is to use the sidewalk.    

across this sudden patch of ice!

 

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It might be advantageous to dismount

and walk your bike

 

 

 
  

 

 

 

9.      Combine your bike commute with a bus trip. Metro Transit busses all have bike racks on the front. Winter is a great time to use them.

 

10.      Bundle up. My winter cycling outfit includes: thermal underwear, thick wool socks, winter boots, a warm scarf, a bright yellow jacket over my winter coat, a bright yellow winter hat with a polyester/spandex face mask, cotton/wool gloves under a tactel/polyester /spandex liner under ski gloves, ski goggles, my helmet and a head lamp.



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