Tips wanted for cycling in the snow and ice

Following my post Bullitt cargobike in English snow I am looking to collect wisdom on cycling in British winter conditions where there is snow and ice about.

There are plenty of films on youtube showing ordinary people cycling through snow, even blizzards in the Netherlands and Copenhagen.

However, things are somewhat different in the UK:

  • I have not yet been anywhere in England where any cycle path has been cleared of snow or gritted. Pedestrians are frequently forced to walk in the road due to ice on the pavement.
  • Generally we don’t get much snow (compared for example to the 40cm that fell in Copenhagen yesterday).
  • The result of doing nothing to make walking and cycling safer is that car traffic levels are often appalling when there is snow about. People panic about getting to the shops and so the roads fill up with frustrated and inexperienced drivers.
  • We have very little cycle infrastructure and what we have is rarely properly separated from motorised vehicles. Being on the road is very scary when there is snow about as the lanes end up narrower so there is little or no passing space and you are being followed/overtaken by several tons that can’t stop and do not realise how little control they have.

I am not very experienced to be offering advice. I have had 2 winter falls in the last 3 years. One where the bike just seemed to slip out from under me on ice and the other where I cam a cropper in deep snow when there was a frozen stream under the snow that I reached at about 20mph.

So I am interesting in hearing from more experienced riders.

Here are my initial thoughts:

  1. Consider studded snow/ice tyres such as the Schwalbe Marathon Winter range. I have got a front studded tyre on order for my Bullitt cargo bike (I think the front tyre is more critical as you can control back wheel skids but if the front wheel goes then you are likely to come off)
  2. I have been told it is a good idea to ride with lower tyre pressures fro better grip. Seems to me that works better if you have tyres with a lot of air in them rather than skinny road tyres.
  3. Lowering you saddle to make it easier to get your feet down might be a good idea.
  4. Make sure your bike is lit up like a Christmas tree. Car drivers are not expecting to find a cyclist on the road if it is not a summers day.
  5. Go slow, allow plenty of time. Use your bike as a support to walk across tricky bits. Don’t try to prove anything, particularly near moving cars.
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10 Comments.

  1. Here’s my experience in January’s freeze last winter (it also links to the Guardian’s bike blog advice on the same subject). You’ve got most of it – lower pressure tyres and good treads on the soles of your shoes, take it slow (it took me 1hr 40 mins to do an hour’s ride), keep to the white stuff, not the black stuff (snow is easier to ride on than ice), don’t steer, don’t brake … you’ll be fine. On our quiet country roads the middle of the road was the safest place to ride as there were fewer ruts – it’s easy to get caught up in a ‘tram track’ but at least there was no traffic. And the most important thing is to enjoy it!

  2. I cycled in to Waterloo from West Norwood in South Londonthis morning. The first part of my journey was as you described, along the tracks of heavier traffic where possible, weaving around traffic was difficult becasue of ridges of harder snow and ice. In places there was knobbly hard ice under the slush. I rode slowly in a low gear, stayed in the middle of the part cleared by tyres where possible, braked and steered as little and as gently as possible and reacted calmy when I slipped by gently steering into the skid. I also set my seat lower than usual so that I could put both feet on the ground if I needed to (I didn’t!). I’m leaving early today to try to get home before the slush all freezes again.

  3. Conventional cycling is just not possible in the present type of winter. Could someone invent large size roller skates with spikes on wheels and run by batteries??! This would give four points of contact with the ground, thereby improving balance, and provide less exertion for the legs.
    I trust we shall remain on speaking terms! Best wishes, Murray

  4. I liked your ‘Copenhagen’. No wonder Canute and his Danes scared us. He was a Christian as well !

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