The Twin Cities has one of the most active populations in the country. It’s something we’re proud of because even in the wintertime, our outdoor physical activities do not slow down. While the rest of the country trades the trails and roads for a treadmill or stationary bike, we strap on the skis and fat tires. Snowy conditions do not slow us down in the least, but it does cause us to take extra precautions. Even a seasoned cyclist should practice safe winter biking.
Cycling – whether you’re a commuter or use it for sport and cross-training – is big here in the Twin Cities. That’s why we have over 50 miles of bike trails and bike paths. And, even when the snow is coming down, we’re so committed to physical activity that you’ll still see winter cyclists. But, although most of us can consider ourselves pros when it comes to the snow, we should never take Ole’ Man Winter for granted. Whether you’ve been winter biking for years or you’re just starting out, here are some tips to practice safe winter biking this season.
1. Riding Defensively = Safe Winter Biking
Many cyclists know this yet choose to ignore this age-old advice – even the seasoned cyclists. You should never ride assuming a driver is going to see you and acknowledge you. This is even more important during the winter as road conditions and weather slow reaction times. Not only does your vision decrease as a driver as well as a cyclist, but wet, icy, and snowy conditions can make for long stops. Do not assume that a driver sees you or that they’ll stop on time. You might have the right of way but that’s not going to save you from an accident if the driver doesn’t see you or chooses to ignore you.
2. Be Aware Of Road Conditions
In the Twin Cities, you can bet that bike trails and paths are paved just like the roads. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to be aware of the road conditions. Furthermore, you need to be aware of the driving road conditions as well. Knowing the dangerousness of the road for both cars and bikes can help you make smart and quick decisions when you need it the most. Your path might be fairly clear and dry, but the exhaust and oil from thousands of cars create icy conditions on the roads that make it more dangerous for you.
Also, knowing your own conditions means you can adjust how your ride depending on what’s ahead of you. Slowing down, staying loose, and riding straight on slippery stretches will help you avoid accidents that end in injury.
3. Choose The Right Gear And Equipment
You probably shouldn’t take your nice road racing bike out into snowy and icy conditions. Certain bikes are made specifically for the winter and it’s not just about the tires. Fat tire bikes, as well as studded tires, can get you through the snow, but choosing a bike designated for cold-weather use can keep you safe as well as keep your expensive road racing bike in good condition.
Other than having the right bike, you need to wear the right clothing and gear. Having the right layers – a moisture-wicking shirt followed by fleece and a waterproof or windproof jacket – can make all the difference in keeping you safe. Being cold means thinking less clearly, which could mean making the wrong decision that leads to injury. Staying warm with the right layers, headwear, shoes, and gloves means being able to think clearly and quickly to avoid accidents.
4. Make Sure You’re Seen
Having a bike light, wearing bright colored or neon clothing, and even having a headlight will help you be seen by drivers. Even in the daylight, snow causes visibility issues. A driver should be able to see you just as clearly as other cars. You should have a light in the front and the back.
5. Watch Your Lane Position
You may be tempted to ride right up next to the curb. However, many times this is the most dangerous place to ride due to the road conditions. As snow is plowed, it gets pushed to the side. Along with exhaust from cars, you could be riding on some slick surfaces. While we might do a good job of plowing bike paths around here, you should still watch the road in front of you and choose a position that’s safe for you regardless of the inconvenience of drivers.
6. Winter Riding Body Position
Your body position shouldn’t necessarily be any different than other times of the year. However, many people – seasoned winter cyclists included – may be tempted to hold extra tension. From the stress and anxiety of road conditions, you may be less relaxed. This tension can lead to strain on the muscles. Coupled with the cold temperatures, it’s a recipe for an injury. Stay relaxed and loose but remain alert.
Bike Safely, Bike Smart – Even In Winter
You shouldn’t be sidelined because of the weather. Biking provides so many benefits, whether you do it to cut down on commuting costs or you use it as cross-training – or both! Cycling is one of those sports that almost anyone can do regardless of fitness level. It’s even beneficial for those who are in pain from high impact activities. The wintertime shouldn’t slow you down – except to remain safe. Be alert, be smart and practice safe winter biking.