16 Apr 2015 Winter is coming
Winter is coming… Winter is the time of year when cycling becomes slightly more challenging as daylight hours diminish and the weather changes. When winter arrives, you might think that the cycling season is over. Not so. With a little knowledge and planning, winter riding can be highly rewarding, and commuting to work can be a significant time saver as more people generally use their cars in winter (and get stuck in peak hour traffic).
New cycling equipment, better apparel and a growing awareness of the feasibility of wintertime riding makes cycling in winter quite doable.
So, what should you do to ensure that your winter cycling is a pleasant experience?
1. LIGHT UP
It’s actually illegal to ride a bike in the dark without lights and reflectors, so make sure your bike has good lights, fitted where they can be seen.
Advances in lighting technology means you don’t anymore have to rely on heavy but feeble lamps that need new batteries every few days. Instead, invest in powerful, lightweight LED lights with beams to rival car headlights, and are rechargeable via USB and last for hours between charges.
2. BE SEEN
Reflective clothing should be top of your list. Reflective strips work by reflecting back any light that plays on them and has nothing to do with colour. Use knee and ankle strips too as the constant movement can alert drivers to your presence.
3. POSITION YOURSELF SO THAT YOU ARE VISIBLE
You should always be at least 50cm from the pavement, and sometimes further if the road edge is uneven, or when road debris has collected there (especially watch out for sand or oil). Position yourself where you are visible, even if it forces cars to wait until it is safe to overtake you.
And if you’re worried about inconveniencing other traffic, don’t: You are traffic too.
4. CHECK YOUR BIKE REGULARLY
Look after your bike and be sure to check especially your brakes, gears and lights. There’s more detritus on the roads at this time of year and that can affect the performance of your bike, especially when it comes to braking, so make sure your brake blocks are correctly aligned and have enough wear left.
You’ll also have to clean your bike more often as rain in winter can cause corrosion. Keep your rims clean so that your brakes bite easily.
And it’s an idea to look at changing your tyres for something more suited to wet weather or to ones that are puncture resistant. Run them at a slightly lower pressure than usual for better grip on the road.
5. BE VIGILANT
It is obviously much harder to see things in the dark and that includes potholes and pedestrians as well as other traffic. Watch out for slippery sections, especially after recent rains.
If you can’t make eye contact with a driver on a dark evening, don’t assume they’ve seen you. And don’t wear headphones at any time. It’s not only against the law, but takes out one of your senses. Use your ears for warning you about oncoming traffic instead!
6. DRESS PROPERLY
Making sure you’re warm and dry go a long way to making sure you’re comfortable on the bike in winter. Layering is key with a base layer to wick sweat from the body, a light mid-layer to keep you warm (but can also be removed if you heat up) and a wind-proof outer layer with reflective strips. If it rains, use a thin rain cape or jacket. And don’t forget your extremities: numb fingers aren’t just uncomfortable; they could also cause you to lose control of your bike if you cannot pull the brakes.
7. GET A GRIP
A good set of tyres go a long way to prevent unnecessary skidding. Inflating the tyres a little less than in summer will improve traction in slippery conditions.
8. PEDAL ON SAFELY
Pedals get slippery in the wet too. If you are not comfortable with clip-in pedals, invest in some with extra grip, they are really easy to fit
9. RIDING TIPS
- Start slowly so that your body can warm up properly
- Leave extra time to cycle slower in wet conditions
- Remember braking is up to six times longer when rims are wet
- Avoid puddles that might hide potholes or other road hazards
The Pedal Power Association, a Public Benefit Organisation with more than 18 000 members, launched the very successful ‘Cyclists Stay Alive at 1.5’ campaign back in 2011 which resulted in a 1 metre passing law being promulgated in 2013 in the Western Cape. The STAY WIDER OF THE RIDER campaign urges motorists to pass cyclists at a safe distance of at least 1 metre or more, and continues to fight for the rights of cyclists.