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

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

This article was originally published in 2018.

The Beast from the East has come for us, and, for lots of people at least, snowmageddon is here!

The cold winds we’re experiencing are being blasted over from Russia rendering ‘feels like’ temperatures as low as -15°C.

There are yellow and amber weather warnings in place across southern and eastern England as well as the Midlands and Wales, with a red being issued in Scotland - parts of the country are told to expect to up 50 centimetres of snow in the second half of the week.

Whilst elsewhere in the world the UK’s inability to function under snowfall is considered laughable, we know that as soon as the white stuff begins to drop we can expect traffic chaos.

Trains won’t work, roads will be gridlocked – so riding a bike could seem like a sensible choice; to someone who doesn’t know much about cycling. Seasoned cyclists will know that riding a bike in the snow is something that brings with it a fair degree of trepidation.

Before we go on, that trepidation isn't the irrational sort. Riding in snow and ice can be risky, so if you can avoid it, then get your miles in indoors if you can. If you need to ride, it is doable – here are some tips to help you out.

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

Snow isn’t so much your problem. Black ice is your nemesis. It’s hard to detect in advance, and once you’re on it it’s even harder to stay upright.

Avoid areas where water is likely to have built up and frozen – gutters, at the edge of puddles where there may be a thin sheet of frozen water, under bridges and around drains.

Though we’d not usually advise it, opt for busier roads where – frankly – plumes of exhaust fumes are likely to have melted ice. Don’t ride too close to the kerb, taking the primary position (that's the middle of the lane, and entirely legal - even encouraged - where it's unsafe for drivers to overtake) where necessary and giving yourself plenty of space to move around obstacles.

Go loosey goosey

cycle in snow and ice

Don't deathgrip the bars

You’re cold, uncomfortable, and frankly a little bit nervous that the road surface beneath you may be about to turn into the performance arena for ‘dancing on ice,’ so it’s quite natural to tense up.

Being tense on the bike makes you much more rigid – and this influences the way you control your body weight. Try to relax your shoulders, and sit as naturally as you can, concentrating on keeping your weight over the rear wheel. Pedal smoothly, limiting unnecessary movement; getting out the saddle is well worth avoiding.

If you feel like you’re death gripping the bars, wiggle your fingers – this will release the tension and help you take a more natural control of the front end.

In this instance, the front brake is not your friend – pulling the lever hard could cause you to lose traction. When you need to slow down, use the rear brake to scrub off speed then gently use equal pressure across both levers to come to a stop - or consider putting a foot on the ground (only when you’re really crawling).

Adjust your tyre choice

cycle in snow and ice

Wider tyres will provide greater grip

When it’s wet, we’d advise that you reduce tyre pressure in order to increase your contact patch with the tarmac beneath you. The same applies when ice is a risk.

Wider tyres in general provide a greater contact patch and therefore more grip, so if you’ve got the option choose rubber with a greater girth. Fixing a puncture when you can hardly feel your fingers is best avoided so those with better protection are ideal.

There are brands that offer studded tyres, such as Schwalbe’s Marathon Winter tyres. However this is quite an investment for weather we experience a couple of times a year.

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.

>>> How to clean your bike

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...

Michelle Arthurs-Brennan
Michelle Arthurs-Brennan

Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is Cycling Weekly's Tech Editor, and is responsible for managing the tech news and reviews both on the website and in Cycling Weekly magazine.

A traditional journalist by trade, Arthurs-Brennan began her career working for a local newspaper, before spending a few years at Evans Cycles, then combining writing and her love of bicycles first at Total Women's Cycling and then Cycling Weekly. 

When not typing up reviews, news, and interviews Arthurs-Brennan is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 190rt.

She rides bikes of all kinds, but favourites include a custom carbon Werking road bike as well as the Specialized Tarmac SL6. 

Height: 166cm

Weight: 56kg

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