The very thought of winter is enough to put off even the most hardened cyclist.
Freezing conditions, poor visibility and hidden hazards can be lurking around every corner, turning that daily commute into a daunting journey.
And with the clocks set to change this weekend, the hours of daylight will start to diminish.
But before you abandon your trusty two-wheeled steed, Newtownards cycling technology company See.Sense have put together these 11 safety tips to keep you on the road this winter.
1. Know your route
It is important to plan a suitable route for your ride, whether it be a morning commute or a weekend spin. Try to avoid any hazardous roads, lanes or highways, or areas prone to flooding. Always carry a mobile phone in case you need to reach someone for assistance. Also take into account the weather forecast before venturing too far.
2. Make sure to ‘tread’ carefully
Your bike may have survived hundreds of miles during summer and autumn, but is it ready for the winter elements? Checking your tyres is a must before you head out onto the cold and icy roads. Grit, thorns, leaves and mud will also be your enemy for the next few months, heightening the chance of losing traction or getting punctures.
A decent pair of winter road tyres will help you make it through to spring without too much drama. Check traction and tread, and look for a tyre that is puncture resistant..
3. Pick the right clothing
Choosing the right clothing means you can focus on the enjoyment of cycling instead of wondering if parts of your body will drop off in the cold! Invest in some waterproof and windproof garments that protect you from the elements. Think thermal when it comes to bibs, tights, undervests and gloves. Also look for clothing with luminous or lurid strips on them to improve visibility. It won’t be the most glamorous look, but at least you will be warm in the saddle.
4. Be on your ‘guard’
Mudguards are another important addition to your bike this winter. Spray from the roads and general grunge from greasy, muddy surfaces can kick up into your face and impair your vision. Not ideal if you are riding beside busy traffic or approaching congested junctions. The spray can also flick off your rear wheel and soak your backside - which can be embarrassing - not to mention uncomfortable.
5. Be vigilant around traffic
More people tend to use their cars during winter, and that increase in traffic - coupled with reduced visibility - should keep cyclists on their guard. But if you are extra vigilant around cars, buses, taxis, lorries and other vehicles, you can avoid any unnecessary spills and bumps.
Always be aware of the traffic around you, and try to anticipate any manoeuvres motorists may make such as pulling out of parking spaces, reversing and cutting across your path. Remember, in the morning commuters might still be squinting at the low sun or peeking out of a misted windscreen. Also beware of car doors suddenly swinging open in front of you.
6. Avoid slippery road hazards
Rain and ice can transform the road into a hazardous terrain for cyclists. It will take you longer to stop when braking in the wet because of the build-up of water between your wheel rims and brake pads. Also try to avoid road markings as they can be slippery when wet. The same applies to drain and manhole covers. Be careful when crossing over them, especially if you are turning. It is easy to lose grip when turning sharply over a slippery surface at speed.
7. Light up your ride
Gone are the days when your cycle light resembled a plastic brick loosely attached to your bike frame. The emergence of LED technology means you can illuminate your cycling experience with a pocket-sized light weighing in at just 60g. Whether you are commuting through a busy city centre, or free-wheeling down a quiet country road - make sure to light up your ride - during the day and at night.
8. Slow down - or fall down
Trying to emulate sprint king Mark Cavendish on a cold, dark morning probably isn’t the greatest idea in the world. Be aware of the conditions around you. Don’t forget the danger of black ice during the winter months. You could be flying along your imaginary Champs Elysee at breakneck speed and suddenly you hit a hidden patch of ice. That’s when your Tour de France turns into a Tour Disaster.
9. Protect your eyes
You are exposed to all sorts of elements when riding a bike. Low-lying sun, teeming rain, heavy snowfall, road spray, vicious headwinds and general grit and debris - your eyes will have a lot to contend with this winter. Sunglasses can help eliminate the glare of the sun, while at night plain glasses will give you some protection. Goggles are another option in very extreme conditions - just be wary of them steaming up.
10. Safety in numbers
Cycling with a friend or group of buddies will give you the added comfort of knowing help is at hand if anything goes wrong - especially when cycling at night. It’s good to have assistance if you have a mechanical fault or a puncture, and if you do fall off then someone is there to help you out. It is also someone to chat to to relieve any boredom that may set in.
11. Most of all, enjoy it!
There is no reason to stop cycling just because the winter chill has arrived. Get out there and enjoy riding your bike! If you take some sensible measures like the ones outlined here, it should hopefully get you from A to B without any need to visit A&E…