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Updated 28/2/05 to include tyre noise
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Cycling in snow.

Technique and surfaces

 
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Technique.

Now we move onto riding technique and enjoying ourselves!

The important thing is to sit down and relax. Stay calm and just ride smoothly and normally. If you tense up you risk slipping.

On flat roads stay in a slightly higher gear than normal. This will prevent you spinning your wheels. On up-hills pedal smoothly whilst staying in the saddle, this may mean selecting a lower gear than normal.

Do not combine braking and turning. Brake in a straight line, then release the brake and turn. Use your back brake more than normal and be careful with the front brake.

Stay in the saddle with your feet on the pedals. Some people say to put both feet down on ice so you have 4 contact points, this is a bad idea as you have less weight on each contact point and less ability to keep the bike upright. In fact it is almost impossible to balance a bike with just a little weight on the saddle and your feet spread wide. You're likely to have the bike slide out and then do the splits over it! Painful!

You need to be ultra aware of your surroundings. Cars may be losing control and sliding sideways towards you, cars approaching junctions may not be able to stop as they normally do. No road markings are visible so people might not give way or stop where they should.

28/2/05 addition
Another thing to be aware of is the noise your tyres are making. If they're "scrunching" through snow then all is well, but if they suddenly go silent you are on ice! Likewise, if you're on an apparently wet road but you suddenly start hearing crunching and crackling you are heading onto a surface that is starting to ice (but full ice will again be completely silent). Now, as always, is not the time to be listening to music or wearing earphones.

As usual keep OFF the pavement. You shouldn't be there anyway you should be in the road. Pavements are going to be more icy than the roads, especially after many pedestrians have walked there. The same goes for off road cycle lanes, they aren't gritted so will be much more dangerous than normal. It may be safer to use the roads than use the facilities.

Surfaces.

Finally you have to be careful about what you’re riding on. Loose snow has a good traction, much better than you’d expect. It can hide a multitude of sins though. The first time it snows, especially on un-gritted roads, ride in the loose snow rather than the compressed snow where cars have been (this is icy and slippery). Beware of manholes though (you’ll see them as faint squares in the snow) as these can be very slippery.

If the snow has been around for some time, thawing and re-freezing, and then having new snowfall, be very careful about riding on fresh snow, there may be ice or icy ridges under it. If you hit these you may come off. You need to learn to recognise them and ride on areas which will give you traction, you will come to learn these in time.

On un-gritted roads be careful at bends, cars may have slid and compacted the snow (even worse oncoming or overtaking traffic may slide and hit you).

On un-gritted roads look for junctions with gritted roads. Cars will have dragged salt onto the side roads and melted the snow. You will get more traction riding in the car tracks at these points, unless it has re-frozen!

Gritted roads are fine, but if you are riding late at night after the traffic dies down be extremely careful. That melted snow may re-freeze. The worst re-freeze will be “black ice” this looks like an innocent wet road, up until the point you examine it from close up whilst wondering what happened. Black ice can be lethal.

The other ice to look out for is heavily compressed snow. This is shiny, smooth as glass and pure white, and again is as slippery as the most slippery thing you can imagine.

The other big thing to look out for are "micro-climates". These are areas such as shadows where the sun has not melted the ice and snow on an otherwise completely safe area. Advanced warnings you will get is seeing the shadow of buildings across the road, large trees at the roadside, crash barriers along the road between you and the sun, and so on. Keep your eyes open more than normal.

If you suddenly hit an unexpected sheet of ice. Try to relax, hold the bike upright and if safe go in a straight line. Freewheel and DO NOT BRAKE. Just coast across it and then sort out your gears and anything else you need to before riding off.

The big secret of riding safely, as always, is to plan ahead. Look as far as you can, plan a course, then ride it whilst still remaining alert. There is no point in travelling fast up to a sheet of ice and then hitting it. If there is a problem up ahead do all your braking and adjustments before you get to it.

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