Cycling in snow and ice: how to stay safe and have fun

Top tips to have fun in the snow (and stay upright)

Cycling in the snow
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Winter is here! It wasn't just a warning on Game of Thrones, it has arrived in the northern hemisphere and has already hit northern Europe hard.

This can halt trainlines, cars and busses are left stranded and planes are grounded, with most people opting to exercise inside instead or build snowmen and have snowball fights.

And yet, in this frozen landscape, people are still riding their bikes. So, even though the weather has calmed a bit, it is still frozen out there with ice being the main danger for cyclists. We've gone through a few things to look out for and other things you will need.



Tips for cycling in snow and ice

Beware of black ice

cycle in snow and ice

Snow is easy to spot - black ice is less so

It's never really the snow that's the problem, that's manageable even on a road bike, but black ice is your slick tyres nemesis. It's often very hard to see and if you're going at a decent speed it could prove very costly.

If your ride goes over areas that regularly have water build-up and, like many country roads, isn't gritted you should either avoid or be very careful. Try to keep central to the road as much as you can avoiding the gutter of the road.

Under bridges and around drains are also hugely hazardous in these conditions so take it steady.

This may sound odd as a cyclist, but aim for busier roads. While vehicle exhaust fumes are causing climate change (among other things) they do help melt the dangerous ice making it at least safe to ride a bike on.

Don't get bullied by the cars either, your safest place on the road is in the middle of the road which is even recommended as well as being legal.

Go loosey goosey

cycle in snow and ice

Don't deathgrip the bars

As my driving instructor once said, "don't show the whites of your knuckles", basically don't grip too hard. This applies to cycling in snow and ice too. You're likely very cold, in discomfort and maybe tense but you should keep in mind that you have a loose grip on the bars father than holding on for dear life.

When you're tense you go rigid which changes how you control your bodyweight. Chill out, hum a happy tune, think of the coffee, mince pie and hot shower you're going to have when back home.

Relax your shoulders and sit lie you would on any other ride with most of your weight on the rear wheels with a smooth pedal action. Don't go all Alberto Contador and be out of the saddle all the time, be more Bradley Wiggins or Tom Dumoulin.

If you find yourself gripping hard on the bars just move your hand about a little bit and it should relieve the tension that's built up and give you more control.

Try and avoid the front brake, that is not your pal in this weather, using the rear brake with early gently braking with both levers being used to gently come to a stop, put your foot down if you're really unsure but that is for when you're barely moving.

Adjust your tyre choice

cycle in snow and ice

Wider tyres will provide greater grip

If you really go into detail about tyre pressure such as reducing the pressure when riding in the wet so that there is an increased contact area with the asphalt below, this also applies to ice.

The wider the tyre anyway gives you a better contact patch and more grip because of that. So if you have got the option to use wider rubber then go for it. Also, better puncture protection is vital as you won't be wanting to change an inner tube when you can't even feel your fingers!

Dress for the conditions

cycle in snow and ice

Light up to improve visibility

It goes without saying that you're going to want to layer up. Your hands and feet suffer particularly when it's cold. Quality winter gloves and overshoes will help to keep you more comfortable and ultimately safer due to increased ability to concentrate (and feel then handlebars).

Visibility in snow flurries is important both for you and other road users. Clear glasses will prevent your eyelashes from working on overdrive, whilst a set of bike lights will help mark you out on the road.

Treat your bike afterwards

cycling in snow and ice

Grit will act as an exfoliator for your bike. Image: Ben Wightman

Whilst we Brits aren't typically great at dealing with snow and ice, councils are fairly good at gritting the roads (in some areas). Grit prevents the ice from forming and snow from settling - but it's basically an exfoliator for your bike components.

Whilst you'll be thankful the crystals are there as you ride, make sure you give your bike a thorough wash after your ride, drying it down and applying a thin layer of lube to prevent rust. All ready to do it all again tomorrow...

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Tim Bonville-Ginn

Hi, I'm one of Cycling Weekly's content writers for the web team responsible for writing stories on racing, tech, updating evergreen pages as well as the weekly email newsletter. Proud Yorkshireman from the UK's answer to Flanders, Calderdale, go check out the cobbled climbs!

I started watching cycling back in 2010, before all the hype around London 2012 and Bradley Wiggins at the Tour de France. In fact, it was Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck's battle in the fog up the Tourmalet on stage 17 of the Tour de France.

It took me a few more years to get into the journalism side of things, but I had a good idea I wanted to get into cycling journalism by the end of year nine at school and started doing voluntary work soon after. This got me a chance to go to the London Six Days, Tour de Yorkshire and the Tour of Britain to name a few before eventually joining Eurosport's online team while I was at uni, where I studied journalism. Eurosport gave me the opportunity to work at the world championships in Harrogate back in the awful weather.

After various bar jobs, I managed to get my way into Cycling Weekly in late February of 2020 where I mostly write about racing and everything around that as it's what I specialise in but don't be surprised to see my name on other news stories.

When not writing stories for the site, I don't really switch off my cycling side as I watch every race that is televised as well as being a rider myself and a regular user of the game Pro Cycling Manager. Maybe too regular.

My bike is a well used Specialized Tarmac SL4 when out on my local roads back in West Yorkshire as well as in northern Hampshire with the hills and mountains being my preferred terrain.