Is your journey essential?
In some winter conditions heading out onto the roads, on two wheels of four, just isn’t a sensible idea. If it’s already snowing or significant snow is forecasted, stay put or consider other options such as public transport. Similarly, in other adverse conditions, such as heavy rain, ice or fog, avoid going on the roads if at all possible.
Many cyclists perceive a false sense of safety from riding as close to the curb or side of the road as possible. Aside from the gutter often being full of puncture causing debris and po-tential hazards such as drainage grates, riding in it will make you far less visible to other road users and can cause them to try to squeeze pass you.
You’re most visible if you “take the lane”. This is riding in the middle of a lane in the position normally taken by a motorist. In this position you will be most visible and preventing other road users from attempting dangerous overtakes.
If the road is wide enough to allow safe overtaking and you don’t feel as though your safety or visibility is compromised, you can move nearer to the curb. You should position yourself roughly 1m to the left of the traffic flow and not less than 0.5m to the edge of the road.
As a driver you should adjust the gap between yourself and the vehicle ahead depending on the conditions. In rain you should leave four seconds, and in ice or snow, drop right back as much as possible. Stopping distances are double in the wet, and can be 10 times great-er in icy weather.
Being close passed while on a bike can be terrifying. In poor conditions and on dark, wet and slippery roads it is doubly scary. When passing someone on a bike wait until it is safe to do so and then give them at least 1.5 metres.
When you are on your bike, always acknowledge a safe pass or any considerate driving. A quick thank you wave seen in the rear view mirror helps to embed good driving.
Kit and clothing
Always keep an ice-scraper and de-icer in your car and make sure your windscreen and all windows are clear before settling off. Remove snow from your roof and bonnet too. Pack a winter driving kit in case you get stranded or break down. You should consider including a torch, warm clothing and a blanket, food and drink, a first-aid kit, a spade, warning triangle and a hi-viz vest. Check that your phone is well charged before heading out.
On the bike, in the sort of mixed light conditions that you can typically encounter during the winter, there’s no one type of clothing that will get you seen at all times. Fully reflective garments, which can be great at night, can easily be washed out in flat daytime light when there are no headlights to bounce off them. Even hi-viz, in certain light conditions, isn’t a guarantee of being seen. The key is to be sensible and reactive to the conditions. Also, if you do want to enhance your visibility, moving body parts, such as your feet and hands are the most effective to make bright.
The key to staying warm and dry when riding in the winter is layering. Start with a wicking baselayer next to your skin, followed by an insulating mid layer and finally a waterproof shell layer. Quality gloves, overshoes and a windproof beanie or cap under your helmet will keep your extremities warm.
Carry basic spares and tools that’ll allow you to deal with punctures and other minor me-chanical issues. Also, in case you are held up, having an additional warm layer can be a good idea.
Make sure your phone is charged, unlocked and has an ICE (In Case of Emergency) con-tact saved. Also let friends, family or colleagues know when they should expect you to ar-rive.
Look after your bike and it’ll look after you. Simple pre and post ride checks can prevent a cold, inconvenient and possible dangerous roadside hiatus to your journey. Check your tyres are inflated and keep an eye out for embedded stones or shards of glass that could work their way deeper and cause a puncture next time you head out. Wash your bike regu-larly, lube the chain and, if you’re not mechanically minded, book it into your local bike shop for a service.
It goes without saying that your car should have an up to date MOT and be serviced regu-larly. Check your tyre pressure often, that you have at least 3mm of tread depth and con-sider fitting winter tyres. Make sure there’s anti-freeze in your radiator and windscreen washer bottle.
Investing in a safe, efficient vehicle can dramatically impact your driving ability – especially in harsher weather conditions. Thrifty’s FlexiFleet can provide you with the latest models that receive frequent full vehicle checks to measure safety and efficiency, as well as up to date servicing. The FlexiFleet service also comes with roadside cover and all maintenance is completely free.
Turn dipped headlights on about an hour before sunset and keep them on an hour after sunrise to ensure you’re always clearly visible to other road users. Also turn your lights on in poor light conditions caused by rain or snow.
In fog, avoid using high-beam headlights in fog as fog consists of tiny water droplets that spread and reflect light. Turn on your low-beam headlights and fog lights to help other driv-ers see you.
If you’re cycling after dark, you’re legally obliged to have a white front light and a red rear light. Both can be flashing but be considerate about dazzling on-coming traffic. During the winter, with poor light conditions or low visibility levels common during the day, it’s a sensi-ble precaution to always have your lights on.
Speed and awareness of other road users
In any adverse weather or if visibility is reduced, all road users should slow down signifi-cantly to allow more time to react to hazards, increased braking distances and the higher likelihood of other road users having to take aversive action.
Cyclists sometimes have to swerve to avoid a hazard, such as a pothole, and this should always be taken into account if you’re following in a car, especially if you’re considering overtaking. Also, if it is icy, a cyclist can slip suddenly and without warning so give them plenty of room.
Be aware of large vehicles on the road such as tractor-trailers and recreational vehicles. They are more susceptible to high winds and drivers may have difficulties staying in their lanes.
Skills and techniques
As a cyclist, If you come across a hazardous road surface, ideally you should try to avoid it. If snow or ice are forecasted, you’re probably better off leaving your bike in the shed. You should only choose to take evasive action if you can do so in a safe and controlled manner that won’t further endanger yourself or other road users. If possible, avoid braking or steer-ing suddenly and try to observe all around before changing direction to avoid a hazard.
Sometimes you will be forced or it will be safer to ride over the hazardous surface. If you can, reduce your speed by pulling gently on both brakes before coming to the hazard but make sure you release your brakes once you’re on it. Move your bodyweight back slightly and keep your knees and elbows soft to absorb any shocks. Try to stay relaxed and don’t overreact or suddenly tense up if the bike moves underneath you slightly. Steer as straight as you can and try to meet any obstacles or defects, such as tram lines or potholes square, on.
If you find yourself driving in snow or ice, use the highest gear possible to avoid wheel spin. Take corners very slowly and steer gently and steadily to avoid skidding. Never brake if the vehicle skids, instead, ease off the accelerator and steer slightly into the direction of the skid until you gain control.
Thrifty’s FlexiFleet is a great way of fulfilling your driving needs for the winter months with-out any commitment of keeping a car long-term. FlexiFleet gives you great mileage allow-ances, plus the choice of a wide range of vehicles including people carriers, estates (always handy for transporting bikes), and more.
Thrifty UK can take care of road tax, maintenance and roadside cover making your summer trip as care-free as can be. And, if you’re heading out in a larger group, they can even offer you a 10% discount on the 2nd car.
The team also offer short-term rentals for any other road trips you might be planning. And, with over 110 locations across the UK it’s sure to be easy to find a branch near you!
Are you a British Cycling member? Head over to the Thrifty UK member benefit page to access your discount code and begin your journey today.