Traveling in the winter can pose huge risks, especially to cyclists. These range from slippery roads to sloppy drivers and many more variables brought by the winter months. However, there are ways to make riding in the frigid weather safer and avoid preventable repairs along the way.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 783 cyclists were killed in traffic accidents in the United States in 2017. A majority of these crashes took place between 6 p.m and 9 p.m.
Less daylight in winter and Flagstaff’s dark sky ordinance limits visibility, especially when cyclists do not have reflective gear or lights.
Single Track Bikes sales associate Gage Acha recommended finding the safest traveling route. Acha said to avoid roads that have heavy traffic to minimize vehicular collisions. Riding slower and avoiding hills also ensures safety. Dressing warm and in layers is also important when the weather gets nippy.
“I always recommend wearing a good helmet, especially in the winter when cyclists are prone to slide on the road,” Acha said.
Icy and wet roads can collect debris and road salt, which Acha said can cause a bike’s brake pads to wear faster than usual. Commuting on cleaner roads prevents this issue almost entirely.
Winter roads create less traction, which makes cyclists prone to sliding. Susan Hueftle, sales associate and bike mechanic for Bici-Mundo Bicycle Sales & Service, said there are ways to make bikes safer to ride when braving icy roads.
Hueftle said studded tires have little spikes that allow them to grip the road. These can be purchased or even handmade. Fat bikes are another option, because they have thick tires. These bikes are meant for off-road travel but perform well in icy conditions, too.
“These are best modifications to travel safely,” Hueftle said. “They may get expensive, but they’re worth it in the long run.”
The way a bike is stored can also affect wear and tear. Flagstaff Bicycle Revolution sales manager Michael Murphy said indoor storage is optimal, because there is low moisture, warmer temperatures and the possibility of theft is nearly eliminated.
Murphy said if outdoor storage is the only option, bikes should be covered so they do not get too cold or wet and potentially freeze. Moisture and freezing temperatures have the possibility to wreak havoc on a bike’s inner workings. Cold temperatures can cause a bike’s tire pressure to decrease. To avoid this issue, it’s best to check tire pressure regularly and pump when necessary.
Moisture from snow can also cause a bike’s chain to rust. Wet and oil-based lubricants repel water so the chain stays intact. Water also causes seats to wear faster.
Murphy said bike shops do certain repairs more often in the winter, such as replacing rusted chains. Icy roads can cause more accidents, which calls for repairing bent wheels. Worn brake pads are changed, and brake adjustments are also common.
“I’ve heard of people getting into accidents that are preventable,” Murphy said. “It’s important to know the risks associated with riding bikes, and drivers need to be aware of them, too.”
Accidents can happen at any time and anywhere. Junior Ryan Byrne is from California and said he is not accustomed to the cold weather in northern Arizona. He was hesitant to ride his bike to class when it first started snowing.
On his way to work, Byrne had to ride down a steep hill. He was running late and had no choice but to continue on his bike. Halfway down the hill, he rode onto some ice and lost control of his bike. He fell and landed on his shoulder, which was heavily bruised and extremely sore for several days. His bike was in better shape, with no damages.
“I was glad I was wearing my helmet, because I would be in worse shape,” Byrne said. “When it gets frosty, I’m more cautious with my bike, and I’ve made adjustments, so it is safer to ride.”
Leading into winter, every traveler should make a preemptive strike against ice and snow. These actions make the road a safer place for everyone.