According to a report from Ontario’s coroner, the vast majority of fatalities from bicycling happen during the spring and summer months. Only 9% of accidents happened in the winter from 2006 to 2010. But those numbers don’t necessarily take into consideration that fewer people bike in the winter.
Winter raises a new set of challenges for anyone who commutes by bicycle. Fortunately, there are things you can do to improve the comfort and safety of your winter bike ride. Here are 10 helpful tips for a comfortable and safe bike commute.
Always wear a helmet
Almost 75% of fatal bicycle crashes involve a head injury, which makes wearing a helmet critical to your safety. You should wear a bike helmet year round when you’re biking, but especially in the winter where icy, snowy conditions make you more likely to experience an accident. Don’t sacrifice your helmet in order to wear your favorite beanie.
Use the right headwear
Picking the right cold weather headwear is important. It is not recommended that you use your jacket hood to protect your head. Hoods can cause cold air to funnel into your jacket as you ride your bike. Ski goggles, sunglasses, and balaclavas will keep your eyes and face warm. Tight fitting beanies work too, provided you can still get your helmet on.
Bike on plowed roads
Most city governments will provide a map of prioritized streets for snow plows on a website or at their offices. Plan your bike route accordingly. It is considerably safer for you to bike on a street that has been plowed than one which hasn’t been. You may also want to ask your city if bike paths are plowed as well.
Defensive biking is important year round, but ride extra defensively in wintery conditions. Cars may be more focused on other factors, like the weather, and be less likely to see cyclists in snowy conditions. Be more aware of who’s on the road with you. Make eye contact with motorists. Wear colors that help you stand out and always use bike lights when riding at night.
Perhaps second in importance only to keeping yourself safe while biking is layering up and protecting your core. It is recommended that winter cyclists have a base layer, like a shirt, then wear an insulating fleece top under a waterproof and windproof shell. You may also want to wear tights or thermals under your pants to help keep your legs warm if your biking commute is long.
Ditch the gloves
Gloves may seem like an ideal hand warming garment when biking in the winter, but keeping your fingers separated that way may cause them to become cold faster. Instead, choose handwear that keeps your fingers close together. “Lobster” style handwear is ideal for biking in the winter.
Choose the right shoes
When the weather gets cold, put your lighter biking shoes away and bust out the heavy winter boots. If something happens and you find yourself needing to walk the rest of the way to your destination, you’ll be glad you have winter boots. Make your your bike pedals have a strong grip as well. This will help prevent slipping as you ride.
Keep your bike cold
In the winter, avoid keeping your bicycle indoors. Storing it in a shed or garage is ideal. A warm bike will melt snow which, as the bike cools, can cause your tires and brakes to ice up. Riding an already cold bicycle prevents this dangerous icing up from happening.
Grab a fat tire
No, not the beer! Drinking and biking definitely don’t mix. Fatter bike tires are becoming increasingly popular, especially in the winter months. A wider tire will help you safely pass over fresh and packed in snow. Getting carbide-studded tires is another good option for improving your bike’s grip on snow and ice.
Slow and steady wins the race
When it comes to winter biking, take it slow, ride steady, give yourself plenty of time, and bike extra extra carefully. Leave ample time to stop at stop lights and stop signs. On slick surfaces, use only your rear brake when stopping to avoid spinouts.