So my B-icicle challenge has hit a snafu. But better the challenge was hit than my being hit, though I was hit, so to speak. This past weekend, I was biking home along a slushy, icy street webbed with streetcar tracks and lined with parked cars. It’s a street I’ve biked regularly at night, but not one I usually take when there’s snow on the ground. Not wanting to get caught in the rightmost streetcar track when passing a stretch of parked cars, I attempted to cross the track so I could ride up the middle of the lane, between the two tracks. But I didn’t cross the track at a 90° angle (I know, I know), and my front wheel suddenly slid straight into the right track and I was immediately thrown from my bike. And as I was lying in the middle of the road – stunned and unable to move due to the sharp pain in my left shoulder, arm and knee – I was seriously hoping that no cars or streetcars were going to motor right into me, and wishing that I’d been wearing my helmet and more reflective gear. Fortunately, there was nary a vehicle (or pedestrian) in sight, save those parked in a lot and on a side street. Two witnesses quickly got out of their cars to ask if I was alright, then came over to help both me and my bike up, and offered me a ride to the hospital or home. Good Samaritans, indeed! So, for my own peace of mind and for you, dear reader, I’m sharing my dos and don’ts for safe winter riding.
DON’T go if there’s snow That applies to ice, too! Your goal is swerve-free cycling. Roads devoid of the slippery stuff make for better traction and stability, so pull into the middle of the lane to avoid curbside snow if you must. Drivers will understand. This also means taking high-traffic roads instead of side streets, as main roads will be cleared first and cleared up to the curb for city buses.
DO steer clear of cracks Did you not read what I wrote above? Beware of the evil trio: streetcar tracks, cracks, potholes. They’re all out to catch your wheel, and your wheel doesn’t want to be caught. Smooth streets make for much smoother sailing, er, cycling. I said smooth, not slick. Avoid ice (see above). And avoid streets lined with streetcar tracks and parked cars (see waaay above).
DO be visible Indeed, fluorescent reflective strips are geeky, but who cares if you’re geeky? You want drivers to see you. Remember: drivers don’t expect to be sharing the road with cyclists in winter. Besides, bike geeks are cute! So put reflective bands on both ankles. Heck, put one on your left wrist so drivers can see when you’re signalling (I wear a battery-operated reflective yellow band that flashes red). And don’t forget your lights – front and back! What’s that? You don’t have lights?! Check out the über-bright Knog Gekko.
DON’T overdress As with runners, cyclists warm up within the first five minutes of activity. The fact that it’s winter doesn’t change that. The key to winter warmth is to wear layers, stay dry and keep your extremities covered. Wear a base layer that wicks sweat away from your skin so you stay dry (avoid cotton and opt for merino wool, bamboo or synthetic). Top that with a thermal layer for warmth. Finish with a breathable jacket (a non-breathable outer layer will trap your sweat and make you cold). SmartWool socks will keep your toes toasty. Icebreaker liner gloves inside actual gloves are great, though I prefer mitts. A scarf is a must, but watch out for foggy glasses! And under my helmet, a synthetic balaclava provides a much-needed shield against the wind but is still breathable, plus it doesn’t impede my vision when I change lanes or turn.
DO maintain your bike This is a no-brainer. Winter road conditions are tricky, so a well-maintained bike is a must. Make sure your brakes are stellar. Wipe your bike down when you get home, as road salt will corrode your bike in no time. Clean your gears and chain every few rides, and don’t forget the wet lube.
DO wear your helmet OK, so this is the real no-brainer. Do you know the postal workers’ creed? “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”? Well, neither snow nor rain nor heat should keep you from wearing your helmet. I admit I haven’t worn my helmet since the temps dropped, but I was lucky that my shoulder – not my head – broke my fall. (Thanks to physio, that shoulder is now recovering from a painful injured nerve.) No excuses. Wear. Your. Helmet.
Psst. Over here. Let me tempt you into buying a new helmet. Like polka-dots? Or a warm liner? I’ve got what you’re looking for right here! Lights, too! And even merino tops, both short-sleeve and long-sleeve ones. Nice, right? Now, don’t forget the girly reflective gear, you fashionista, you!