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Old 01-05-09, 07:55 AM   #1
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Safety and Winter Cycling

In our local rag there have been a series of editorials and letters to the editor in regard to the safety of winter cycling. Last month, a man was killed north of Waterloo while riding and since then there has been significant public comment. It should be noted that the cyclist who was killed was wearing reflective gear and had lights up, visibility was good and the pavement clear and dry. An editorial writer, who is also a recreational cyclist, wrote that bikes have no business on the road in winter, followed by a letter asserting that cyclists had the right to the road at all times. Here is the latest installment of the thread from the Record:

http://news.therecord.com/Opinions/article/467156

I am curious to hear the perspectives of people on this forum in regard to this issue. I realise that I am treading close to the winter cycling board but I thought it an important safety issue that should be discussed.
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Old 01-05-09, 10:38 AM   #2
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Many years ago, I rode all winter in Wisconsin, through snow, ice, rain, etc and I was always able to ride safely. I would often change my route to avoid danger, but it was always doable. In fact, when there was a lot of new fallen snow, I found it actually safer to ride since most cars wouln'd venture out and the roads were very empty. Its also easier to get traction ion a bike in 6+ inches of snow than an inch.
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Old 01-05-09, 12:09 PM   #3
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I bike in the winter at night all over. I don't care for slush and snow (as I don't like cleaning my bike,) but the cold and dark doesn't bother me. Lots of layers.

Also I am very cautious on ice.
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Old 01-05-09, 12:39 PM   #4
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In the United States alone, automobiles kill over 40,000 people per year, and maim countless others. With any other activity that causes death or injury, we look to the cause of the death not to the victim. When we have a big school shooting the discussion is not on banning schools, but on banning guns. When we have terrorists flying into high rises, the discussion centers around keeping terrorists out of airplanes, not on a building height restriction. Why then when a motorist kills a cyclist is the discussion on how dangerous it is to ride a bicycle? The danger is with the deadly weapon that we have come to accept as an indispensable part of our society. Why not have a discussion on the practicability of driving?
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Old 01-05-09, 01:13 PM   #5
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I ride and commute through the winters - have been for decades.
Rule of thumb - if it's too nasty to drive, it's too nasty to bike...and visa-versa.
Even here in NE Ohio, that doesn't happen much. I tend to avoid major blizzards and ice storms mostly.
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Old 01-05-09, 01:26 PM   #6
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As a bike commuter, I use my discretion as to whether I ride to work or not based on the weather. To be honest, my primary factor in choosing whether or not to ride is based on my comfort, not how I feel the streets will be. Based on that, however, I find myself parking the bike when it's wet and slick.

Under normal, dry conditions I don't hesitate to ride before daylight and after dark under these conditions:
1) I'm well lit, with two lights in front and back and spokelights highly visible from the side.
2) I ride established bike routes for the bulk of my commute. These are city streets which have been designated as bike routes due to their traffic volume and appropriatness for cycle traffic.
3) I'm very vigilant, and ride very defensively.
4) I obey all traffic ordinances, and make sure I don't do anything unexpected.
5) I'm not in any hurry.

Under these conditions, I don't think winter commuting is any more dangerous than summer commuting or summer road riding in general. There is always the danger of an inattentive driver, and that's one of the factors I understand and live with as a cyclist.
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Old 01-05-09, 01:36 PM   #7
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I was thinking of starting a similar thread so I'm glad to see someone else is pondering this issue as well.

It's an issue that I feel gets right to the heart of many advocacy and safety issues and our "right to the road".

I have been riding a bike for transportation purposes in New England winters for almost 40 years now. A few things I've observed during that time:

#1) A bicycle can be an excellent means of transportation in the winter, even in relatively extreme conditions if the cyclist is well prepared and aware of the limitations and liabilities of winter riding.

#2) Bicyclists are a small percentage of vehicles on the road in mid-summer, maybe 2% at maximum. Meaning 98% of the population has chosen to drive a motorized vehicle, usually a car. In the winter bicyclists are an even smaller percentage. A really small percentage of vehicles on the road in the winter are bicycles, perhaps 0.0002% of the vehicles will be bicycles. That means more than 99% of people have chosen another means of transport- usually the automobile.

#3) The number of people who will think you are "crazy" for riding to work mid-winter will be much larger than those that roll their eyes when you told them you just rode 100 miles to the company picnic mid-summer. Many of those people will also be "bicyclists" themselves. What this means is that you will have few allies and very few people who understand why you insist on riding a bike in the winter. It is an uphill battle and one that may not be worth engaging in with most people.

#4) In really bad conditions the only motorized vehicles on the road will be snowplows, emergency vehicles and people in cars who are too stupid to stay home. That means that the bicyclist must be prepared to take evasive maneuvers and ride with extreme caution when in the proximity of any motorized vehicle during the winter.

#5) Snowplow drivers are super dangerous. Don't mess with them. They have often been driving the plow in horrible conditions without sleep for 24-48 hours and are soused in coffee and possibly worse and they may not be able to discern whether your reflectorized vest and blinkie is an alien spacecraft landing or the beginning of a migraine headache but the last thing they'll expect it to be is a bicyclist.

#6) Take the lane and be visible. Drivers often hop into their car after having scraped a small 4" diameter circle in the ice on their windshield and soon the interior of their car windows are fogged to such a degree to turn all drivers into Mr. Magoo. But be prepared to give way when necessary or to take alternatives that will not put you in the way of too many cars. A plowed MUP can be a healthy alternative to the road.

#7) Mid-winter, IMO, is not the time to politicize your bike riding. Take the lane as a necessity but a snow storm is not the time to assert your right to the road in any self-righteous fashion or in a way that can be perceived as such. See point #2- YOU WILL HAVE FEW ALLIES! This is a fact of life, a reality. Most people think you're nuts to be out in that weather- even other cyclists. If the bike lane isn't plowed, if the MUP isn't plowed you're entitled to being ticked off about it but be realistic most town/city/state budgets are cash strapped and special plowing for the .0002% of vehicles during a snow emergency may not be a priority right now and that means being prepared to ride in crap. My commute to and from work can turn into something more akin to a challenging MTB ride than a pleasant road ride. Don't expect a smooth ride. Sorry but no one really feels they owe that to those of us who bike ride in these conditions.

#8) Outfit your bike for winter riding. You have to be an extremely skilled rider to get through a New England winter on a fixed gear with 23 mm slicks. If you're a messenger and only riding downtown on well traveled streets you might be able to get by but if you're commuting 10 miles out of the city you'll encounter roads and conditions that will be challenging to say the least. Have a bike just for winter riding or modify the bike you have. Having a poorly equipped bike in the winter is the equivalent to the jerk in the car driving on bald tires, old windshield wipers and no defroster.

#9) The reality is that people driving their cars are far more dangerous to both themselves and others on the road than a cyclist is in winter conditions. Someone just slid off the road the other day, across the bike path and into the Charles River in their car and died. My sense is that some people have no business being in cars in those conditions bikes actually do fine.

#10) Winter cyclists are definitely marching to the beat of a different drummer.
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Old 01-05-09, 02:18 PM   #8
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I ride all year. England usually doesn't have such vicious winters as some parts of the US, but we get some ice and snow, fog and so on. Plus it's darker. But I don't have a car, so I'm going to ride whatever. I ride fixed all winter (28c slicks btw), for better control and better training too. Big mudguards come in handy, with a mudflap to protect your mates eyes, if you ride in a group. Lots of reflective stuff and lights, and keep your wits about you if the road surface is treacherous or it's foggy. There are those motorists who behave like maniacs in the fog, you have to pay attention and listen out for them. Remember you can't hear so well through fog though.
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Old 01-05-09, 03:24 PM   #9
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Cycling on the streets in marginal conditions gives car drivers an automatic 'get out of jail free' card. It gives every driver a plausible and acceptable (to the police and society at large) excuse to kill you without consequences.
Feeling lucky?
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Old 01-05-09, 04:06 PM   #10
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In the United States alone, automobiles kill over 40,000 people per year, and maim countless others. With any other activity that causes death or injury, we look to the cause of the death not to the victim. When we have a big school shooting the discussion is not on banning schools, but on banning guns. When we have terrorists flying into high rises, the discussion centers around keeping terrorists out of airplanes, not on a building height restriction. Why then when a motorist kills a cyclist is the discussion on how dangerous it is to ride a bicycle? The danger is with the deadly weapon that we have come to accept as an indispensable part of our society. Why not have a discussion on the practicability of driving?
Because the number of mentally challenged gun owners in the country pales in comparison to the number of schoolchildren.

Because the number of terrorists in the country pales in comparison to the number of high rises/high rise dwellers and airplane users, for that matter.

Because, finally, the number of cyclists in the country pales in comparison to the number of drivers.

Finally, regardless of what your ideals may be, driving will be "indispensable" to the majority of Americans for the foreseeable future. For example, I have never driven for my commute but drove four times over winter break to pick up and drop off two people at an airport 45 miles away (that's a 90 mile round trip, to the closest passenger airport).
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Old 01-05-09, 04:12 PM   #11
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Because the number of mentally challenged gun owners in the country pales in comparison to the number of schoolchildren.

Because the number of terrorists in the country pales in comparison to the number of high rises/high rise dwellers and airplane users, for that matter.

Because, finally, the number of cyclists in the country pales in comparison to the number of drivers.

Finally, regardless of what your ideals may be, driving will be "indispensable" to the majority of Americans for the foreseeable future. For example, I have never driven for my commute but drove four times over winter break to pick up and drop off two people at an airport 45 miles away (that's a 90 mile round trip).
And such an infrequent long trip is hardly "commuting..." and by nature quite infrequent... and not likely to be the cause of congestion.

However the daily trips to school and the market and even the job... need not and should not be compared to such infrequent trips.

As you well point out, you don't drive to commute, but only to when needed for unusual circumstances... but that also puts you in the extreme minority... as others would tend to use the car for any and all trips, no matter how minor.

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Old 01-05-09, 05:38 PM   #12
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I was thinking of starting a similar thread so I'm glad to see someone else is pondering this issue as well.

It's an issue that I feel gets right to the heart of many advocacy and safety issues and our "right to the road".

I have been riding a bike for transportation purposes in New England winters for almost 40 years now. A few things I've observed during that time:

...#3) The number of people who will think you are "crazy" for riding to work mid-winter will be much larger than those that roll their eyes when you told them you just rode 100 miles to the company picnic mid-summer. Many of those people will also be "bicyclists" themselves. What this means is that you will have few allies and very few people who understand why you insist on riding a bike in the winter. It is an uphill battle and one that may not be worth engaging in with most people...

...#8) Outfit your bike for winter riding. You have to be an extremely skilled rider to get through a New England winter on a fixed gear with 23 mm slicks. If you're a messenger and only riding downtown on well traveled streets you might be able to get by but if you're commuting 10 miles out of the city you'll encounter roads and conditions that will be challenging to say the least. Have a bike just for winter riding or modify the bike you have. Having a poorly equipped bike in the winter is the equivalent to the jerk in the car driving on bald tires, old windshield wipers and no defroster...

...#10) Winter cyclists are definitely marching to the beat of a different drummer.
Hey buzzman, this is an excellent and well thought post, and particularly meaningful after this morning's treacherous ice storm. I drove this morning which I do as rarely as possible, mainly because I had a work related issue needing a car, but also with some trepidation about icy roads and a delay getting to work (I actually just rent a car when I need one near my workplace). Just yesterday I was out shopping for studded tires, but as of 5:30 AM today my commuting roads from Kenmore Square to Norwood were pretty good, but the sidewalks were indeed deadly. So I'm re-thinking my need for studs (item #8).

I also have taken a lot of heat from well-meaning people who comment with genuine concern, "You didn't RIDE today, did you." This problem was discussed in a previous thread, "Coworkers trying to discourage bike commuting!?!" (items #3 + #10):

Coworkers trying to discourage bike commuting!?!
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Old 01-05-09, 05:44 PM   #13
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One has to see who it is that says 'bicycles have no business on the road in the winter,' because it isn't cyclists. The editorialist in the story claims he is a recreational cyclist. Fair enough, maybe he is, but what does that mean? He owns a bike and rides only in ideal circumstances? He rides in parks with his kids? He is too afraid and intimidated of traffic to commute? He is inexperienced? Such a qualifier does not make him qualified to offer a balanced, unbiased view. In fact, he was stating he is primarily a motorist.

The fact is, cyclists don't kill themselves in winter: they get killed by motorists who invariably failed to allow adequate space, attempted to pass too closely and/or failed to handle their vehicle properly considering the traffic and road condtions. Most motorists have the false, distorted and misguided opinion that cyclists will fall because they are on two skinny wheels on ice and snow. However, most cyclists don't, but even if they did; if the motorist is allowing for extra space as he should afford any vehicle in bad weather, he should be able to stop in time. Whenever I have heard a motorist claim cyclists fall and get run over by a car, I ask for examples wherein many will lie and claim they witnessed one of these phantom events. They forget that Toronto keeps very detailed stats on such incidents and there are few, if any, instances of cyclists falling and being struck or run over by a car. So, such events remain solely in the motorists imagination. Even if such things occured, it would be no different than a car stopping suddenly ahead of another car and if the car following struck it, the driver was not affording a safe margin of space and is at fault. I know, I know...what good is it to be right but dead. Yet the facts are, it is rare that a cyclist falls in inclement weather and even rarer to be run over after a fall. The editorialist needs to say what he really means and that is that he and the people who agree with him (motorists all) really don't like driving in bad weather, are aware they are a danger because of longer braking times and inability to maneuver and that they really don't like having to slow down or wait to pass a cyclist, so they prefer to take risks and would really rather not have the cyclist...ahem...force them to take such risks. When an editorialist or letter writer proclaims such nonsense, they merely reveal themselves as fools and hypocrites who refuse to take responsibility for their own failings as motorists and as decent human beings and refuse to grant others basic common courtesy, safety and their rights. If anything, it is cars that have no place on the road in bad weather.
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Old 01-05-09, 08:48 PM   #14
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First of all, I do not commute to work. Being retired I have a bit more time flexibility than many.

I do though ride all year and use the bike for errands and getting to meetings etc.

When possible I want to ride between 10:00AM and 3:00PM. Then I like to ride between 6:30PM and Ten PM.

School and work traffic is generally gone by ten AM. The fog may have also lifted by then. At around 3PM school lets out and kids are connecting with one another on cell phones. As we approach five PM more adults are also on the phone and traffic is increasing.

I live in a small town and my side streets get me to a bike trail that heads into the downtown area. Night riding is very safe as I am well lit and I can see and hear cars from a distance.
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Old 01-05-09, 08:51 PM   #15
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6:30PM and Ten PM

That is the most dangerous time to ride a bike.
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Old 01-05-09, 09:04 PM   #16
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I commute only too work in the winter and that is at 4:00 AM when nobody else is on the road. I would not ride the same road home in the afternoon. The road is squeezed too narrow by snow. While there was no shoulder before, at least there was some kind of escape route. Now, snow banks. Add reduced traction to the mix and I don't believe it would be smart to ride no matter my rights. I don't mind imposing my will on traffic but not to the extent that winter roads would require.
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Old 01-05-09, 09:11 PM   #17
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Drivers generally take it easy in the winter. It's probably best to avoid high speed roads, but I think cars and bikes can continue to share the road during the worst of winter. Minneapolis is probably worth a solid look. There's a solid bike culture there, TMK, and the winters are terrible.

It is my opinion that if it's slick you have no business trying to share the lane with drivers. Yes you'll slow them down, but not nearly as much as you'd slow them down during the summer.

If cars are truly so dangerous that it's unsafe for other vehicles to share the roads with them during slick conditions then it is an egregious violation of the rest of our rights that anyone is allowed to drive a motor vehicle without the appropriate punitive damages if they kill someone (manslaughter). Fortunately for us all they're not that dangerous unless operated in a ridiculously negligent manner.

Here's ice bike's survey: http://www.icebike.org/SurVey/20QuestionResults.htm
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Old 01-05-09, 09:17 PM   #18
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All the arguments against riding in the winter can be hastily re-tooled to argue against:

1. Riding in the rain
2. Riding at night
3. Riding on busy streets
4. Riding on arterial roads
5. Riding during rush hour
6. Riding on narrow streets
7. Riding on badly-maintained pavement
8. Riding a bicycle anywhere other road users might be present

If you suck at winter riding and fall all the time, then you shouldn't do so in front of a car. But nobody seems to have done that here.

The information indicates that the cyclist was struck from behind while riding on the travelled portion of the road, with ample visibility equipment used, during clear weather.

The type of crash a lot of posters on this board like to question the existence of, but which continues to represent most of the fatalities in Toronto and area nonetheless.
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Old 01-06-09, 10:26 PM   #19
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It should be noted that the cyclist who was killed was wearing reflective gear and had lights up, visibility was good and the pavement clear and dry.
Then it sounds to me like winter had nothing to do with it. Conditions would be the same after dark in the summer. I submit that the editorialist is drawing an invalid conclusion.

Certainly winter cycling in messy conditions must be done with caution and consideration for other drivers. Many times I need to take the right-hand tire track because it's the only clean spot on the road, and I have never had a problem doing so. I have noticed that most motorists are tending to be more careful under those conditions already, so they seem to extend that even to me. I do wear reflective gear and multiple lights front and back. If cars starts lining up behind me, I will pull off and let them pass. (As far as I know, Maine law does not require this, but I consider that respect for road sharing does.)

The editorialist's proposal is a "slippery slope" (no pun intended).
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Old 01-07-09, 09:21 AM   #20
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6:30PM and Ten PM

That is the most dangerous time to ride a bike.
people coming home from work/coming home from drunk?
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Old 01-07-09, 11:46 AM   #21
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This is slightly aside from the point, but did anyone notice "...and I laugh out loud at..." What the hell? LOL is to convey laughing out loud when you're talking to someone online, otherwise, how else would you laugh? I saw a good movie that really made me laugh out loud... How do you laugh silently?

And I love the connection of drunk driving to riding a bike in the winter. Well if its comparable to driving drunk then damn it must be bad! For what it's worth, I've only ridden in the middle of a huge storm once just 2 miles down the road to a friends house. While the conditions were challenging to bike on, the traffic was mostly non existant. I rode right down the middle of the road so if a plow or car came from either direction I didn't have far to get out of the way. A day after a smaller snowstorm and the main road in my commute was clear enough that I was pretty much riding on the white shoulder lane as usual. Then again, I'm kinda stupid and will ride anywhere and assume I won't get hit =P
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Old 01-07-09, 12:09 PM   #22
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I used to live in Lansing, MI and the climate there is very similar to Waterloo, Ont. I have been to Waterloo in both winter and summer.

I rode throughout the year and the weather conditions during the winter were usually pretty good. They used salt and plows so the roads were usually pretty clear. It really was not that much different than riding in the spring, fall or summer. The major difference from a safety angle was the shorter day length which meant a cyclist could be out in the dark and that was handled with lights.
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Old 01-07-09, 05:37 PM   #23
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Old 01-13-09, 10:56 AM   #24
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The cleaning is the worst part of it in my experience so far.

Changing the law is an essential first step. If winter or night or rain excuses vehicular manslaughter of cyclists or pedestrians, there will be little change in the status quo.

Till then I will be brightly colored, helmeted, lit, reflective, and defensive.
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Old 01-13-09, 11:03 AM   #25
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Driving is more dangerous in the winter too, people shouldn't do it.



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