21 October 2015
How to Stay Safe in the Saddle This Coming Winter
As the nights get longer and the days get darker, we look at ways cyclists can ensure they remain safe if they choose to stay in the saddle throughout the coming months.
When winter sets in cyclists can either choose to hang up their wheels and cosy up to their fellow passengers on the train or bus into work or they can dig out those thermals and embrace the coming change in both road and weather conditions.
Remember though, the risk of suffering an injury in a cycling accident is unsurprisingly much higher during the winter months. What with poor visibility and treacherous winter weather making the road beneath you either slick with rain or lethal with ice, there are a number of key safety aspects to consider before you winter up and don those all-season gloves.
With only eight hours of daylight available each day throughout December and January, cycling in the dark is inevitable for those who choose to continue two-wheeling into autumn and beyond.
So, what can you do to stay safe?
For the rural cyclist, spinning out the miles swathed in the dark on those exhilarating lonely night rides, you’ll need to be lit up like the space station to ensure you’re seen by all and sundry.
Don’t underestimate just how dark it can get in the sticks. When riding at night on unlit country roads, as well as ideally having two rear lights - one steady and one flashing - you’ll also need a hefty front light with at least 500 lumens of retina-melting firepower. Remember, it will need a long enough reach to identify any nasty surprises lurking in the road ahead such as potholes, especially on descents, and you’ll need to angle it so as not to dazzle oncoming drivers.
For the urban cyclist, such powerful front lights aren’t necessarily a requirement, bathed as you are in the constant tangerine glow of overhead street lamps as well as the fore and aft red and white dazzle of surrounding traffic. You just need to make sure you can be seen by those behind a wheel and that drivers can differentiate you from the confusion of lights around them.
Believe it or not, motorists will actually give you more room at night than during the day especially when overtaking. As they’re already scanning the road for red and white lights, if you’re lit up like a Christmas tree, they should by and large, grace you with an extra precious inch or two when passing. Just make sure none of your lights are obscured by your clothing, bags or panniers.
For urban and rural riders alike, you should always ensure your lights are fully charged and that you’re carrying back-ups with full batteries just in case. Remember, the law says that when you’re out cycling on a public road at night you’ll need a white front light and a red rear light as well as a red rear reflector.
Prevention is better than cure as they say, so practise winter-proofing your bike. Clean and lube your drivetrain regularly as all that annoying winter road mush loves nothing more than to gunk up your chain.
Remember to check your brake pads regularly too, replacing them if necessary, and winter tyres are always a good idea if you want to avoid messing about with inner tubes in the dark as the rain gives you an early shower. For an extra browse on how to properly maintain your bike, you can have a look at an earlier blog we wrote here.
White, fluorescent or light-coloured reflective clothing is what you should be wearing to remain visible to traffic during the day or in bad weather. In fact anything reflective, whether it’s a gilet, ankle band or simply reflective tape stuck to your pedals, backpack or panniers will greatly increase your visibility to other road users.
What are the Hazards?
According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA), the cycling casualty rate in terms of miles travelled is higher over the autumn and winter. An investigation into the causes of non-collision-related cycling accidents found that ice was the most common cause of winter cycling mishaps, closely followed by slippery roads.
Icy tarmac, roads made slick with wet leaves hiding potentially lethal potholes, cracks, gutters and drain covers, and impatient motorists punishment-passing you in poor visibility, not to mention the driving rain in your eyes and not being able to feel your ears, face or fingers, what’s not to like about winter cycling?
How to Avoid Them
In wet or icy conditions, pump your brakes, ride slower, and try to avoid leaning into turns so much. Braking earlier than you would do in normal conditions is important if the road is slippery, and keeping your weight on your back wheel will help with stability. Remember, your stopping distance will be increased in the wet due to water between your brake blocks and wheel rims, so it’s a good idea to leave a little more distance than usual between you and the person in front.
Don’t be afraid of taking a more dominant position in the road - at least a metre from the kerb. It is obviously much harder to spot potential dangers in the dark, that pothole or drain cover might be partially hidden by leaves or shadow, so there won’t be any way of judging its depth until you either hit it and lose your front teeth or you manage to swerve in time to avoid a trip to A&E. The gutter is seldom an enticing place to ride at the best of times, let alone in winter, and it will help with your visibility if you’re sitting proud in a driver’s focus rather than just a wet blur in his peripheral vision.
Cycling in winter doesn’t have to involve a degree of masochism. Just remember to keep your bike ready for the conditions and keep your wits about you especially if you’re cycling in town at night as you’ll be less visible to traffic, some other cyclists may not think they need lights, and pedestrians in dark clothing may step out absent-mindedly in front of you.
For a free consultation or to claim compensation for cycling accident injuries, call our specialist Cycling Accident Solicitors 24/7 on freephone 0808 175 8105 or contact us online and we will call you.