Sunday, February 1, 2009

A few hints for cycling in the winter, part 3: cycling

Let's come to the last part about winter cycling, namely cycling itself. Is it more dangerous? Is it more difficult? That's something I can't answer generally. It depends on the road conditions. If they are dry it is no different to cycling in the summer. If the road is wet, then you could compare it to cycling in the rain. The other possibilities are snow, mud and ice. Snow is not a big deal if it's fresh and less than 15cm. Riding on mud requires more skills – it is slippery, wet and dirty. Ice is a topic on it's own. The biggest problem there is that sometimes it is difficult to see it.
Here are a few things you might want to think about if you cycle on “winter roads” (wet, muddy, snow covered, icy):
  • start your trip a few minutes earlier than usual
  • turn on your lights also at bad weather conditions and not just at night
  • use your brakes with care and mainly use your rear brake
  • be cautious if you have to cross road markings, rails (cross them at a right angle) or cobbled pavement – sometimes I stand up for a better balance
  • be aware that generally you can't see sneaky potholes, manholes or edges underneath the snow
  • ride rather in the middle of the lane but certainly not too far right (that part generally is not so well plowed and there might be manholes and edges you can't see if they are covered with snow) – it also gives you more space to react
  • slow down for turns and try keep your bike upright
  • watch out for cars, even more than in good weather conditions, cause they have also problems operating their vehicle and even less time nor sight to watch the traffic (some of them don't even believe that there are still cyclists out there)
  • don't use bike lanes or paths if they are in a bad condition, e.g. not plowed (unfortunately, in Vienna, snow clearance often clears the car lane and the sidewalk and just shuffles the extra snow/mud onto bike lanes making it impossible to ride there)
  • you may want to ride in lane grooves if the snow is fresh, but sometimes these are the most slippery parts of the road and make it difficult to yield something (try to adapt to the situation, you will find out soon where it is safest to ride)
  • if there is ice on the road, don't brake or pedal there and try to keep your bike up straight – if you see it early enough you can also get off your bike and push it for a few meters – once you lost your balance on ice it is impossible to react, and hitting the ground definitely hurts

A cyclist on a bike lane between two car lanes (to some unexperienced cyclists that might seem dangerous – but actually it is one of the safest bike lanes in Vienna cause car drivers are always aware of the cyclists, plus the speed is low)

Well, it is difficult to tell you some tips about cycling in the winter. The most important thing is to start out slow. You will recognize soon what is possible and safe and what isn't. Don't hurry, that's the main thing. Only cycle at a speed at which you feel comfortable and safe. Don't give in to a honking car driver behind you. You have as much right to be on the road and safe as s/he has. If s/he honks it's actually a good sign, cause s/he is aware of you ;-).

Maff enjoys cycling in the snow in Linz

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