road.cc's tips for riding on ice… and snow

Our annual guide on how to ride your bike through a wintery wonderland. Without falling off

by Barney Fletcher   February 2, 2009  

Icy bike

Given that some parts of the country are having their worst snow for 20 years we thought we'd better re-publish this…

In countries where Winters are colder than ours cyclists are well used to riding on ice, so what are the best ways to deal with the slippery stuff? Here are road.cc's top ice riding tips for the cold snap.

Before you set off…

Maximise your contact patch. Road bike tyres have a larger contact patch on the road than a more knobbly mountain bike tyre, but you can maximise that precious contact by fitting a wider tyre, and/or not running it at quite such a high pressure.

Flat pedals – okay you may be sacrificing some pedalling efficiency but you are buying some get out of jail extra control if things go wrong.

Ever thought about a fixed? This is the time of year when continuous drive really does come into its own – a fact known to old school roadies through the ages. You can slow a fixed bike down on ice without using the brakes and while maintaining traction and power to the back wheel. That's a very good thing when its slippery.

Get down! Some people suggest that you lower your saddle slightly so lowering your centre of gravity.

On the road

Choose your line… If you can, in many parts of the country the weather is very cold, but also dry so the roads aren't uniformly covered in ice, rather it's lying in patches on the road or in gutters, or if you are really unlucky where some run off water froze. The simplest way of avoiding have problems riding on the ice is to choose the dry line where possible. Of course that is not always possible, so what do you do then?

If you hit ice…

Lay off the front brake. Most of us know the old mantra “your front brake is for slowing down, your back brake is for stopping” but the bit that usually gets missed out is “except on ice where you really don't want to be losing any of your front wheel's traction. At all.” Haul on the front brake going over ice and any loss of control at the front is going to be sudden and very hard to recover from.

The ideal thing to do if you find yourself riding across a stretch of icy road is to smoothly pedal through it. If you need to slow down… the ideal thing is to be on a fixed. If you're not on a fixed gentle braking on the back is your best bet – in countries where ice is more the norm some cyclists practice making the back step out under hard braking so that they will know what to do when it happens on ice.

Keep it smooth. Avoiding sudden changes of direction and maintaining a smooth pedalling action really pays off. Many experienced ice riders also say that you shouldn't ride in too low a gear mainly because it's harder to keep things smooth if you are really spinning the pedals – and potentially the back wheel.

Keep pedalling. Never take both feet off the pedals while you are moving – however, you may want to be able to get your feet off quickly to dab the ground and help in correcting any slides. The suggested method of dealing with your front wheel sliding is to relax your ankle on the opposite side to the slide and either dip your knee out or dab your foot to drag the bike out of the slide. In our limited experience though though this is only going to work at lower speeds…

Don't panic! This should probably be first on the list. Keep your head, neck and shoulders relaxed – what you don't want to do is to stiffen up and get twitchy… twitchiness can cause problems.

Right, now that we've posted this it should start warming up any minute! In the meantime if you have any ice riding tips don't be shy - get on here and share them with the rest of us.