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Cycling in winter: Steering towards safety

Friday, 17 October, 2014

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As autumn creeps in there’s a decidedly festive atmosphere in the air. Leaves turn golden and our heads are filled with visions of cosy nights and crisp December mornings. It’s all perfectly lovely, until we remember the other half of it.

Winter brings with it treacherous roads, slippery pavements and short days: all bad news for cyclists. The temperamental weather can make journeys a chore, with ice and rain hitting the streets in abundance. It’s these conditions that make cycling accidents all the more likely.

So, as a leading life insurance provider, we had to ask: How can cyclists stay safe when the British winter seems determined to make our journeys so treacherous?

Roll for Soul is a Bristol based community bike café, so who better than their very own Rob Wall to give us some invaluable advice?

LV=: What’s the most important aspect of winter cycle safety?

RW: Being seen is the most crucial thing. Wear a brightly coloured jacket. It doesn’t have to be fluorescent, but you’re making it very hard for other road users to see you if you’re in black or grey. Being seen also means lights.

LV=: What kind of lights would you recommend?

RW: The ideal combination is one flashing and one constant, on both front and rear. The flashing one makes you more visible and the constant one helps other road users to judge your speed and distance from them.

You should expect to spend upwards of £30 on a front and rear set. If you sit at a computer for work, then USB rechargeable ones are a great idea because you can make sure they’re always charged for your journey home.

LV=: What’s the best way to handle wet and icy roads?

RW: Cyclists should always be aware that braking distances are increased in wet conditions. In icy conditions it’s a good idea to reduce tyre pressure a little, as this gives you a bigger contact area with the ground.

LV=: Would you recommend carrying a repair kit when cycling?

RW: Absolutely. The bare minimum you should carry is a spare inner tube of the right size, a puncture repair kit (that you know how to use!) and a pump. You may also need a spanner or key to get your wheel out.

LV=: What kind of clothing is best for cycling in the winter?

RW: Cycling specific clothing is best as it’s designed to fit your body when in a cycling position and will have reflective panels or trim. Invest in mudguards as well. They’ll keep your bum dry and keep the worst of the dirt and wet off your bike, meaning fewer mechanical problems and lower maintenance costs.

LV=: Do you have any advice for cycling when it’s snowy?

RW: Look for areas where snow isn’t totally compacted, as you’ll get a bit more grip. If it starts feeling very sketchy, get off and push. There’s no shame in that.

Inevitably you’ll end up riding in the worst of the slush, as it collects at the edge of the road where cyclists generally have to ride. So make sure you clean your bike properly (at least the moving parts like chain, derailleurs and cables). The salt and grit that’s spread on winter roads is very bad for your bike if allowed to stay on it.

LV=: Do you have any technical tips on maximising your bike for safety in the winter?

RW: It’s well worth having a service in autumn. Replace brake pads, as they wear much more quickly in wet conditions, so you should start with a fresh pair.

Thanks Rob! It seems that a little preparation and common sense can go a long way in keeping you safe on your bike this winter. Don’t make yourself invisible, keep your wits about you and invest in the right equipment. Bring it on British winter, we are well and truly ready for you.

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