How to Cycle Safely in the Bad Weather

The days are growing short, and the weather is definitely getting worse.  The summer now seems like a distant memory, but that doesn’t mean the bike needs to go into hibernation over the winter.

With a bit of planning and forethought you can carry on cycling through whatever the Irish winter throws at you.

Stay Warm

Keeping warm in the cold weather can be a bit of an art form. Too few clothes, and you’ll arrive at work feeling like an ice-block, and too many, and you’ll arrive in a sweaty heap! The best policy is to probably start off you ride feeling a little bit cold, so that as your body heats up from the exercise, you’ll reach your nice warmth sweet spot.

The key is to dress in lots of thin layers – partly because this is a flexible approach to keeping warm, as you can add/remove layers if you feel too cold/hot – but also because each layer traps some air around your body, and that’s the key to keeping warm.

On the top half of the body it’s easy to add layers, but to create layers on the legs it can be more tricky. For the ladies, you could wear tights/leggings and trousers. And for the gents (unless you want to borrow your girlfriend or wife’s tights), you can add waterproof trousers on top of your normal trousers for that extra layer.

Particular care also needs to be taken of your extremities – your head, hands, and feet.  These are normally the first to suffer once the temperatures drop or the winds whip up.  I have any number of woolly hats and Buff neck scarves for  my head, including waterproof ones.  For my hands, I prefer two layers of gloves – some thin wool (preferably merino) glove liners, and then some big chunky mittens on top.  I know the mittens aren’t exactly the hight of sartorial elegance, but I find the heat from my fingers keeps the others warm.

On my feet, I have some waterproof shoes for normal cold – and some snow boots for when it gets really cold.

Stay Dry

Contrary to public perception, it only rains heavily in Dublin about 5% of the time, or on about 12 days a year. No really, it does – there was a study on it, where they measured rainfall during typical commuting hours for a whole year.  Having said that, having a good set of waterproofs – jacket and trousers – will help guard against when the heavens do open.

If you’re really worries about getting soaked, you might also want to consider waterproof gloves, hats, and socks – to make sure every bit of you stays dry. Brands like sealskinz make all kinds of waterproof accessories.

Stay Seen

Many office workers are now commuting during the dawn and dusk, and unfortunately that’s when the vast majority of road incidents happen. As such, it’s important you make yourself seen.  You need a good set of lights, front and rear, that (as a minimum) should let you be seen by other road users.  But if part of your commute takes you through areas with no street lighting, then you might want to consider something brighter than can also light your way.

I have a Lezyne Super Drive XL light on the front of my bike, and it comes in very useful for illuminating the off-road cycle track I use for part of my commute.

However, staying seen is not just about lights and high viability clothing. It’s also about how you act on the road. If you ride right at the edge of the road in the gutter, studies have shown that you’re much less likely to be seen by other road users.  And so the best advice is to take a more assertive road position, in the middle of the lane – at least 1 meter out from the kerb.

I also like to check that I’ve been seen, by looking straight at drivers that are waiting to pull out of junctions. There’s something psychological going on that, if your eyes meet, then the driver is much more likely to consciously register that you’re actually there. And of course, if you’re looking at the driver, you can assess whether they’ve seen your or not, and anticipate if they might pull out without looking.

Stay Safe

I’m a firm believer that your safety can be improved by your own actions.  I see too many cyclists that throw caution to the winds, act recklessly, and sometime suffer because of it.

In the dark and bad weather it’s important to remember two things – everyone’s visibility is reduced, and the road conditions are less predictable.

In terms of visibility, you know yourself that many drivers start off on cold morning with their windows still covered in frost or condensation. And if it’s raining, their visibility is likewise compromised. And as cyclists, it’s important to make sure you allowances for motorists that (for whatever reason) can’t properly see you.

Similarly, when the roads are dark and/or wet, it’s much harder to judge the condition of the road ahead.  There may be a pot hole hiding in the puddle ahead, or some leaves/twigs on the road after the storm last night.  The road could also be a bit more slippery following an overnight frost. And so it’s really important in these situations to slow down a bit, so that you have enough time to react to the road conditions.

Richard Bloomfield

Richard is the founder of Dublin Bike Blog. He commutes to work every day by bike, come rain or shine, on his Dutch city bike. You can read more from Richard on his blog richardbloomfield.ie.

One thought on “How to Cycle Safely in the Bad Weather

  • 14 December, 2014 at 11:49 am
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    Take your bleeding headphones off and don’t wear a hoody.

    Reply

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