Of all the major metropolitan areas in the nation, the Twin Cities has the coldest average temperature. Add in an annual precipitation of over 32 inches in the southeastern quadrant of the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and one thing is for sure – bicyclists in the Twin Cities are a hardy breed. But despite the deterrents of both winter and summer storms people are riding their bikes here in droves, pushing Minneapolis to be ranked as one of the best cities for biking in the U.S. by Bicycling Magazine (currently #3).
Fortunately, by taking a few precautions and adjusting your riding techniques you can continue to enjoy biking all winter long while remaining safe and avoiding a bike accident.
Biking safety tips for the winter
Riding a bike in the winter means wearing the proper gear. Avoid long coats and ponchos that can get tangled up and bring you down. Hoods may be great for walking in the rain, sleet or snow but can be dangerous when riding, creating additional blind spots in your vision. Dress in layers and wear a good waterproof or water-resistant shell. Try toe clip covers to keep your feet warm and dry and the very best choice for keeping your head dry is always a well-fitting helmet.
Watch out for slicks
Car drivers learn that the first few minutes of precipitation can prove extra dangerous on roadways, but many bicyclists forget this lesson. Fresh rain or snow can activate the oil buildup on roadways, bringing it to the surface where eventually it will be washed away, but until then this is when the roads are slickest. Pro-Tip: Watch for rainbow patches or puddles, these are a signal that oil is present. Steer clear of braking or cornering mid-roadway, this is where most vehicles deposit their drippings. Also, keep any eye out for metal surfaces like manhole covers and grid bridges, as well as slimy, wet leaves and slippery painted road lines.
Get a fender
Wanna keep being covered in grimy water? Fenders can become your best friend in wet, puddle laden weather. Nuff said.
Pro-Tip: Install fenders on the front and back – especially if you plan to bike with others – they’ll thank you for it. In fact, if you want even more protection for you and your friends, consider making your bike some mud-flaps by installing long pieces of lightweight plastic or rubber to the back of your fenders for extra protection.
Brake for safety
In wet weather your brakes work a little differently than when dry. To optimize your ride consider a hub brake or aluminum rims to power up your wet weather braking.
Pro-Tip: Remember to increase your stopping distance to allow extra time for your brakes to clear water from your rim and begin the slowing and stopping process.
Keep your bike working tip-top for wet weather. Service important items like your brakes (checking and clearing them of debris and road grit regularly) and your chain (lubricating it to prevent rust). Rinse off any debris or mud and dry your bike after a particularly wet ride to keep your bike clean, rust free and ready to ride another day.
Pro-Tip: Good bike shops like The Alt offer after sale service on new bikes.
Be careful cornering
Taking a corner in the snow can end in disaster if you don’t do it right. Try your best to avoid braking as you corner and make sure to shift your weight to the outside pedal as much as possible.
Pro-Tip: Decrease tire pressure from dry weather conditions, to increase roadway traction and help you to corner more safely during the rain or snow. Also, watch out for snow or puddles which can mask potholes and other debris that could leave you all wet.
Light it up!
In low light conditions, drivers have a harder time seeing you, and your visibility is cut as well. Make sure to wear bright colors, use reflectors on winter gear and helmets and install a good quality, rechargeable light set and blinking lights on both the front and back of the bike.
Pro-Tip: Never wear sunglasses when riding in the rain or snow, instead opt for clear, yellow or orange tinted lenses to increase your ability to see road obstacles.