Posted in Cycle
How to stay safe cycling on snow and ice

As we head into winter, snow and ice on the ground can put many of us off cycling outdoors. If you're determined to keep riding through the worst of the winter weather, here's our guide to staying upright and staying safe.

According to our recent survey, only 18% of our social community would ride their bike if there's snow or ice on the ground, with 53% opting to jump on the turbo and 19% taking a rest day, and for good reason. 

In the UK, the generally temperate climate means it's rare that we endure extremes of heat or cold, but when we do it can badly affect our plans since we're not as well-equipped to deal with it than people in other regions where extremes of weather are more common. This means that when the white stuff turns up, we don't have the same infrastructure to keep the roads clear and most cyclists either don't have the appropriate equipment or are daunted by the higher risk of injury. 


Keep an eye on the weather forecast

This might seem like it goes without saying, but it's especially important if you're travelling even a short distance to ride somewhere. If you're living in a city, it might look fine out your window but once you're out in the countryside the temperature can drop significantly and the risk of ice increases. Remember that it also gets colder at higher altitudes.

And always heed local weather warnings and if in doubt, don't take unnecessary risks. If you're in the UK, the MET Office marks severe weather with a exclamation mark symbol - click on it to get a detailed description of what to expect before you decide whether to head out.

Met office snow and ice warning


Winterize your wheels

Your tyres will grip the road more effectively at a lower pressure, since you're making the contact area greater, so try letting a little air out. If your bike can take wider tyres, it's worth investing in a pair. Look for extra puncture protection - they might weigh a bit more but not dealing with a flat when your fingers are frozen is well worth it.

If you live somewhere where you get a lot of snow and ice over winter, it might even be worth your while keeping a pair of spiked tyres on hand as this will give you extra traction. A low-cost alternative is to fasten zip ties around your tyre and rim with the nobbly bit facing out. They won't be as hardy as spikes but they'll offer a bit of extra grip in a pinch.

The best winter tyres for snow, ice, mud


Take the primary position

British cycling recommend that, even in more clement weather, you should ride in the 'primary position' which is the center of the lane. This maximizes your line of sight and ensures you're visible to other road users too.

In icy conditions this is extra important. The camber of the road means that water, debris and rotting leaves end up collecting at the side which can be extra treacherous when they're frozen over. 


Stay cool

You might be feeling the cold but try not to tense up as this can lead to jerky movements which means you're more likely to go over.

Stay nice and loose, stay in a comfortable gear so your pedaling is nice and smooth, and please, please stay away from those breaks.

If you hit some ice, relax and ride it out. A sudden pull on the anchors will have you skidding to the ground in no time. 

It's unlikely anyone's going after Strava records in this weather so relax and take it slow, especially on corners. That Q/KOM will still be there after the ice melts.

How to cycle on snow and ice


Be seen

Low winter sun and snow showers can affect visibility out on the roads so make sure you stand out. Bright colors and retro-reflectives will help you to get noticed by other road users and it's hard to miss flashing lights which will boost your visibility even in daylight hours. 

Be seen - which lights and reflectives are best for cyclists


Keep yourself warm

Frozen fingers are never fun but especially on a bike. If your hands get too cold, you'll find it harder to operate the brakes and gears which can make riding all the more dangerous, and let's not get started on the painful thawing-out process once you get home.

Wearing liners over bulky winter gloves is great because layering up helps to trap warm air close to the skin. Plus, you won't lose too much heat if you need to take the top layer off to do something you need a bit more dexterity for. Just make sure your gloves have enough room to allow good circulation. You might want to size-up for the outer layer.

Keeping your core warm is key in keeping your hands and feet warm since your body will naturally prioritize circulation to vital organs over your extremities if you get too cold. Make sure your cycling kit is appropriate for the conditions, If rain or snow is forecast, you'll need a decent waterproof because, as most of us know, the cold feels so much worse when you get wet. 

How to avoid frostbitten fingers this winter


Change-up your old routine

Ice is often at its worst overnight, so if you're normally an early or late rider you might want to head out in the middle of the day instead. Even if the roads haven't quite thawed out, visibility is likely to be a little better.

If you normally ride on the roads but you have access to a gravel or mountain bike, this is also a great time to do some exploring off-piste. Wider, knobbly tyres and lower speeds mean less risk of a serious incident and if you do take a tumble it won't be on hard tarmac.

If you don't have access to an off-road bike, this is the one time when you might prefer busier roads. Lack of traffic means those quiet rural roads are great most of the year, but they're more likely to have standing water and less likely to have been gritted. As much as we dislike a lung full of vehicle exhausts fumes, they do actually help to melt the ice. 

How to ride your bike on snow and ice


Look after your bike

We know it's good practice to clean your bike after every ride but who actually does? Whilst it's kind of OK to skip washes most of the year (we all do), it's more important to treat your bike to some more regular TLC if you're riding through deep winter.

Extra salt and grit on the roads can grate on components and cause them to rust if left to build up. Make sure you wash, dry and lube your bike after every ride and take the opportunity to check it over for any signs of damage or wear. Spotting a nick in the tyre at home is going to be much easier to deal with than at the roadside.

Whilst you're at it, you might want to lower your saddle too since a lower center of gravity means you'll have greater control over your bike.

How to protect your bike in winter


Riding solo? Let someone know!

Riding with friends is fun, but if you're the only one who thinks it's a good idea to go for a ride when Jack Frost's been spreading his wintery magic, make sure you tell somebody where you're going and when you expect to be back.

Even if you're 100% confident in your abilities, a momentary lapse in concentration and a patch of black ice can have you hitting the deck before you know it. 

If you ride with a GPS computer, smart GPS light (like the Vodafone Curve) or you have Strava Premium membership, this is a great time to activate real-time tracking so any loved ones can watch your progress.

The best GPS bike computers


If in doubt, don't go out

You are the best judge of your abilities. The risk of a bit of FOMO when your riding buddies are hitting the roads without you is one thing, but the risk of finding yourself wheels-up at the road-side can have far longer-lasting consequences. Play it safe and don't ride if you're not confident in the conditions. And always follow the advice of your local weather agencies. 

Rest and recovery are just as important as training, but if you're still itching for a work-out, that's what turbos are made for!

The swift path to Zwift - turbo training made easy


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About the author

NChamanian's picture
Nassrin Chamanian
Published on: 30 Nov 2021

Pretty OK at bikes. Enthusiasm outstrips ability.