Staying Safe and Comfortable When Winter Biking
Advances in exercise wear have made bicycling a feasible year round sport for many. While Rhode Islanders don't wrestle with ferocious cold or heaping amounts of snow that our inland New England neighbors contend with, we do get to wrestle with the occasional Nor'easter rainstorm or blizzard and even a hurricane now and then.
January is our coldest month with a daily mean temperature of 29 degrees and lows will drop to 10 degrees. The winter is also our wettest time of year with March averaging nearly 4 and a half inches of rain. It's safe to say that those of us who hop on two wheel transportation in February definitely have our challenges.
If you do choose to pedal for fun (here's a map of local bike routes) or commute in the late fall and winter months, there are a number of things to consider.
Make sure you can be seen
People driving vehicles are not as used to seeing cyclists on the road this time of year, so be extra aware with cars and trucks. The nights are also considerably longer with darkness settling in long before an evening ride and perhaps lasting through the morning commute. While they may not make your bike look cool, make sure you have light reflectors as well as bike lights (ideally LED on the front and a red taillight in back). It's also a good idea to wear clothes that are bright.
Speaking of clothes
Any winter outdoor enthusiast will tell you that manufacturers have come a long way from wool sweaters and thermal underwear. These days it's all about the layers with a shell to break the wind, a fleece jacket underneath to retain body heat and a breathable under layer next to the skin that whisks away sweat and moister. Good socks, warm but functional gloves and a thermal skullcap for under the bike helmet will keep the extremities comfortable.
Not everyone can afford to or wants to get one of those fat-tired monster bikes. Winter tires - some are even studded like car tires -- on a bike will ensure that you can maintain better control of your ride, which is more crucial than ever as vehicles slide around the streets in winter. Fenders are a good idea for commuters who don't want to change their clothes when they get to work. Generally, it's also a good idea to use a bike that is more durable and less fancy: grit on the winter streets plays havoc with a bike's moving parts.
Use your head
Avoid streets that are extremely busy unless there is a bike lane whenever possible. Also, well-lit routes help with being seen and spotting obstacles. After watching all the crashes on the Tour d' France, every biker should be well aware of the dangers of falling when riding on wet or (often in our case) frozen streets. And finally, drink water: you may not feel the need on a cold winter day to stay hydrated because you aren't sweating as much, but your body still needs it.
Unfortunately, no amount of proper gear and precaution will completely eliminate the chances of losing control of your bike and/or getting hit by a car or truck. If you, a friend or a family member is hit or injured while riding a bike, an attorney skilled in personal injury or vehicle accidents will be a tremendous asset. If the injuries or damage is severe, there's a chance that insurance - either yours or theirs - will not cover all the expenses of a serious accident.