Snow, for many, is already here. And after I'm done writing this, I'm going to put the knobbliest tyres I have on my bike for this morning's commute.
I've got used to riding with a big crowd of cyclists on my way to and from work, but I suspect that as it has snowed overnight in London, the rank and file of two-wheeled commuters will be thinned out substantially.
But really, there's no need to leave the bike at home, just because of a bit of the white stuff. In fact, with bus, train and London underground services reduced by the inclement weather, cycling might be about the best bet for getting to work vaguely on time.
Only ice is the real no-no, but riding a bike in snow is not only easy, it's even fun. And you get the added kudos because people think you're incredibly intrepid getting to work, as though you'd just pedalled to the South Pole or something.
With all the hype about the winter weather, I did start web searching for some serious winter tyres the type with metal studs that will bite and give grip even through hard-packed icy snow. I found a very useful article on tyre choice from this New Hampshire cyclery, but there's so little demand for studded tyres in the UK that these products are hard to source, and by the time your order arrives, the snow will almost certainly have disappeared. So I'd suggest that unless your commute takes you over the Cairngorms, a pair of studded tyres for £70 is a slightly over-the-top technical fix for a problem that occurs a day or two a year at most.
Assuming, then, that we're doing cycling in the snow the cheap and cheerful way, I've got a few tips, but I'd be interested in yours, so please share below.
- The more tread on your tyres, the better. You can ride in snow on slicks, but I wouldn't choose to. If you have a mountain bike, with chunky off-road treads, this is the day for it.
- Let some air out of your tyres, whatever sort they are. Ride them soft: you'll get more grip.
- It's natural, when you're a bit anxious about conditions, to ride leaning forward and tense, with your hands on the brakes. But try to relax the hands and arms, and keep your weight back.
- As in any slippery conditions (such as very wet roads), do your braking early and as much as possible in a straight line. Definitely only use the front brake in this way; otherwise, use the back brake more. And you can also use the back brake to test the amount of adhesion you have.
- Try to steer "with your hips" rather than your hands: in other words, make directional changes progressively and with your whole mass on the bike, rather than by sudden sharp steering inputs at the handlebars.
- As snow gets grooved by car tyres and refreezes, you can encounter rutted tracks and momentary "tramlining" effects. Deal with this by allowing the front wheel of the bike to go where it wants; again, keep your weight back, stay relaxed and don't be too ambitious about your speed.
- Mostly, on British roads, the snow is cleared or turns to slush quickly, but beware of transitions from snowy side streets to clear roads: this is where you're most likely to encounter ice or tricky ruts.
- I generally ride around town with some sort of hat, rather than a helmet. But in the snow, I'll wear a helmet there's just a little more likelihood of a slip. Most likely, it would be slow-speed and harmless, but I'd factor in the extra risk by wearing a helmet.
- Unless you have mudguards (with good clearance!), wear old clothes: that slimy black slush is perplexingly indelible and a dirty stripe up your arse is not a good look in the office.
- The most dangerous time, as with any analogous activity (skiing, skating, downhill mountainbiking etc), is when you get over-confident. The day I got a little cocky on the back roads in the Green Mountain State, I found myself sliding down the road on my butt. So hey, what do I know?
Taken from the dailymail online