With the spate of cycling accidents and deaths on London’s roads recently, my bike had remained safely tucked in the corner of my work car park, waiting for lighter (and warmer) evenings when I’ll feel safer on the roads. I know that I’m a bit of a fair weather cyclist, and I’m ok with that, however, I would like to start cycling again in the New Year- even if I’m not ready to tackle Hyde Park Corner during rush hour just yet.
Last summer I had a cycling lesson with a lovely guy called Craig, who really helped me feel more confident on the roads, and a less of a danger to myself and other road users. I asked him what tips he would give to cyclists that are braving the roads this winter what they can do to stay out of danger.
Cycling in the winter is probably more rewarding than its summer counter-part. The sense of achievement is tremendous after cycling in to work on a cold winters day, especially considering sometimes it’s hard to even get out of bed. Truth be told, regardless of the weather, you adapt to it within the first few minutes of cycling, so the big mental leap is taken at the beginning and it’s all downhill from there. As Billy Connelley once said, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’.
How can you ensure you remain safe on your bike this winter? The following points should be taken into consideration.
Make sure you can be seen! In these winter nights, and days, it’s very important that you ensure you maximise your visible presence. This can be done through reflective material, lights and bright clothing.
Make sure you;
- have bright lights fixed to your bike (single bulb LEDs will not be sufficient, spend £20 per light). Front should be white, rear red.
- have reflectors fitted to your bike. White on the front, red on the back, orange on your peddles and white or orange on your wheel spokes.
- this is commonly over-looked, but keep your lights and reflectors clean! Wet roads equal dirty water being splashed all over your bike. There’s not point having reflectors if they’re covered in dirt and can’t be seen!
- wear hi-vis clothing. Hi-vis refers to the reflective property of clothing, not the actual colour of the clothes themselves. Thus it’s the reflective strips sewn onto clothing and bags that is high hi-vis and not the colour of the garment itself.
- have brightly coloured jackets, these are useful in daylight where there’s no light source to be reflected.
- Buy a bell if you don’t have one and USE it. These are worth their weight in gold when it comes to pedestrians crossing the road without looking.
Keep Warm. Fingers and toes rapidly cool on bikes. Cold fingers mean less dexterity and therefore braking can be harder. Cold toes, well they just suck! With waterproof clothing you really do get what you pay for. The more expensive, the more breathable it will be. The more breathable the more comfortable you will be. A £10 pair of water-proof trousers will keep you dry, but if you plan on cycling more than a mile in them expect lots of sweat since theres zero airflow to remove moisture. Spend £100 on a pair of water proof trousers and you’ll feel a huge difference. If you find you need to wear a hat under your helmet, adjust your helmet internally and buy a thin, thermal hat.
I found out the hard way that cycling on snow is a bad idea, coming off my bike twice whilst crossing London Bridge in the snow a few years ago. Ice is more of a problem as it can be impossible to see. Check the temperature online before you head out cycling. If it’s below freezing try sticking to the main roads as these have a higher chance of being salted. Cycle slower, adding ten minutes to your journey is far superior to skinning your hands or worse. Remember it will take you longer to stop in wet or icy conditions and you may find your rear wheel skids. If you find yourself away from your home and the weather has changed since you cycled to your present location (ie work, pub, friends house) consider locking your bike there and collecting it when conditions are a little safer.
Get your bike serviced. Most importantly make sure your brakes are working correctly, wet weather means most brakes become less effective. Brake blocks that are worn down have a vastly reduced effectiveness, and this will only registers when you’re speeding along in the wet, a driver pulls out without seeing you, and you squeeze your brakes to horrifyingly limited effect
These are similar to the tips Craig gave me during my lesson on how to cycle safely on the road, but it’s worth recapping them!
- Look behind you frequently, gaining eye contact with drivers (it really works to get them to slow down, or give you more space when overtaking)
- Remember lots of signalling, hugely important anyway, but in low visibility it becomes much more so.
- Think about your road positioning- try and stay centred in your lane when negotiating a junction. This prevents any vehicle sitting next to you and keeps the drivers behind you, looking directly at you= safe. Try to stay away from parked cars so you don’t get ‘doored’.
Crucially, stay back from HGVs, buses, cement mixers, garbage trucks and pass on the right side of them if you must. By passing on the left side (even though cycle lanes invite you into this area) you’re putting yourself in danger of being crushed. This is due to the rear wheels of the vehicle taking a different line to the front ones when turning. These vehicles account for the majority of cycling deaths in London, please don’t filter down the left hand side, the driver CANNOT see you.
Please stay safe this winter, and if in doubt walk, use the tube or bus! Are you cycling this winter? What is your number one tip that you share with other winter cyclists?