Winter's coming... so don't let yourself slip!

NHS report suggests ice biggest cause of non-collision injuries to cyclists – so how to keep upright this winter?

by Mat Brett   November 23, 2010  

Studded tyre

Winter is heading this way fast and while all right-thinking folk like a bit of snow and ice from time to time, it’s bad news as far as cycle safety is concerned. A new report suggests we can't rely on the gritters to keep us upright in icy weather.

The Met Office forecast an early dose of winter any time now, so you might want to check out road.cc's guide to riding in ice and snow a tad earlier than usual.

“The cold weather is clearly on its way this week,” said Chief Forecaster Steve Willington. “Snow will be confined to the north and east during the working week, before other parts of England and Wales see snow as we head through the weekend.”

Gulp! It was summer five minutes ago. Even if you don't get snow around your way, you're likely to see frosts and daytime temperatures that don’t rise about 3-4°C. It all adds up to a difficult time ahead for us cyclists.

A new study says that slipping on ice is the most common cause of non-collision cycling injuries in England – in other words, damage sustained by cyclists when no other vehicle or object is involved.

The study – by NHS Bristol, Cycling City and the West of England Road Safety Partnership – reckons ice is behind 26% of all reported non-collision injuries. That’s way higher then the other main offenders: slipping on wet roads, 8%; and slipping on soil, mud, gravel and wet rock (the report includes mountain biking) at just 7%. Potholes, which seem to be everywhere after the past couple of harsh winters, account for another 3% of the total.

Of those ice-related injuries, 50% happen on the commute to or from work and the vast majority (75%) on the road, although a significant 16% happen on cycle paths. Just one more stat for good measure: the study estimates that during 2008/09, 1,662 admissions to hospital in England were caused by non-collision cycling injuries that result from cyclists slipping on ice.

The interim report of this study says, “The fact that the majority of ice related incidents occurred on the main highway or road stimulates consideration of whether we need to raise awareness of the necessity for cyclists to limit the reliance they place on gritting activities to keep them safe from slipping, or to review the effectiveness of gritting for this purpose.”

Huh? In other words, we can’t rely on the gritters to keep us upright.

It also says, “The sight of the gritting lorries is a reassuring sight to many. This feeling needs to be balanced with a caution aimed at cyclists to the effect that salting of highways is not guaranteed to remove all ice and that small patches of ice (which are insignificant to four wheeled vehicles) may remain and be sufficient to unseat a cyclist.”

Again, don't rely on the gritters. Not the best news ever – or the biggest news ever – although we can always badger our local authorities not to skimp on the gritting… providing they don’t run out this winter. There's more on the NHS report here.

All that said, it’s interesting to note that in another recent report, the snappily titled Collisions Involving Pedal Cyclists on Britain’s Roads: Establishing The Causes from the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), ice isn’t specifically mentioned as a significant cause of non-collision cycle accidents.

It is included in a ‘slippery road (due to weather)’ category, but even that accounts for just 8% of serious non-collision accidents, according to the report, and 7% of slight non-collision accidents.

Why the disparity between the figures in the two reports? Well, the first is based on a survey of cyclists whereas the second includes only incidents that occurred on the public highway and which were reported to police. So incidents included in the TRL report tended to be more serious; thankfully, non-collision accidents aren't usually that serious.

On a related note, if you want spiked tyres to help you stay rubber-side down over the winter, get in early because they have a habit of disappearing from the shops as soon as a bad spell of weather arrives.

Chris Hearn of Bohle UK, distributors of Schwalbe, tells us that you need to put pressure on the retailers you use to ensure delivery. Bohle’s initial orders are already sold through and new deliveries won’t be arriving until mid-December.

The Schwalbe Marathon Winter tyre, for example, is designed to give you control on icy roads, even through tight corners and under hard braking. You let the pressure down for riding on ice, and pump it up hard for riding on ice-free roads without too much noise.

The Marathon Winter comes in 20 and 24in versions for £36.99 a go, and it’s £37.99 for 26in and 700c versions. You’ll need a decent amount of clearance for the 700c models though, because they’re 35 and 40mm widths.

Schwalbe’s Snow Stud tyre is a touch cheaper and it’s available in 26in (£32.99) and 700c (£31.99) versions too – again, the 700c one is wide at 38mm. The studs don’t run down the centre section here but are positioned towards the shoulders where you’ll need them most, and like the Marathon it has a Kevlar puncture protection belt underneath the tread – which is especially valuable on a winter tyre. As with the Marathon Winter, you need to lower the air pressure for the best grip on icy roads. Go to www.schwalbe.co.uk for all the details.

A Google search for 'studded bike tyres' will get you a few other contenders, or you could go for a more general-use winter tyre like the Continental Winter Top Contact (£39.95). You get two layers of Vectran puncture-proofing under the tread to save you from fixing a flat in the cold, and Conti reckon that sharp granules in the rubber compound help with grip in wet and snowy conditions. We've not given them a go but we'll try to get some in for review. If you've tried them, let us know what you think below.

For road.cc's guide to riding in ice and snow, click here. Wrap up warm and go careful out there. We can get through this together!

24 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

hmmm, turbo Smile

jimmythecuckoo's picture

posted by jimmythecuckoo [1256 posts]
23rd November 2010 - 19:08

4 Likes

Have I read this right, this report says 'Cyclists fall off when riding on ice'?

This story just seems nothing more than some PR puff piece for tyre manufacturers. I rode through the entire winter last year on skinny road tyres, avoiding the icy spots, the main roads were gritted and clear. (They were Conti's, ha!)

You can't honestly expect cycle paths and side-roads to be gritted (unless you want to be pay a lot more council tax).

posted by mspoke [33 posts]
23rd November 2010 - 19:10

5 Likes

Diamond profile tyres are ideal for snow and ice, my Vittoria cross tyres have done a good job last winter, although they do wear out quite quickly. Conti have got a similar thread, but with bigger studs on the sides. Wouldn't mind giving them a go this winter.

posted by JJ the Flying D... [65 posts]
23rd November 2010 - 19:35

3 Likes

mspoke wrote:
Have I read this right.

Nope.

posted by Mat Brett [1887 posts]
23rd November 2010 - 19:50

4 Likes

Well if you've got to ride on side roads you're going to have to ride on ice or snow mspoke, the point the NHS study makes is that gritting on main roads doesn't remove all the ice, while it might make it safe(r) for motorists that's not necessarily the case if you're on a bike because gritting won't remove all of the ice. I'd add that last year it got cold enough here for even the gritted roads to re-freeze. I rode pretty much every day last year through the snow - on skinny tyres too, but it was extremely sketchy at times and I did fall off when my back tyre lost grip on a steeply cambered bit of road.

As for this being "PR puff" for the tyre companies well that's obvious nonsense because you'll be hard pushed to find many proper winter tyres in this country cos most tyre companies don't bring them in and when they do they usually can't sell them because predicting exactly what the British weather is going to do is a mug's game. So not much point in "puffing".

All right for you JJ! I'm guessing you're in the Netherlands where you're a bit more used to winter - think 'cross tyre route sounds like a really good option.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4143 posts]
23rd November 2010 - 20:04

4 Likes

It's worth noting that while shops in the UK ran out of studded tyres pretty swiftly the german online shops had plenty last year.

posted by mr_stru [23 posts]
23rd November 2010 - 20:51

6 Likes

Me the road bike is getting wrapped up and put in a room with a heater Big Grin The flat bar gets chunky tyres and will get me through this winter like it did last year - and yes the snow didn't deter me then! There were some mornings I had to scrape the ice of my lid and jacket it was that cold Big Grin

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1055 posts]
23rd November 2010 - 22:07

4 Likes

I've got a pair of Schwable Snow Studs and they are phenomenal on compacted snow and ice. No, I don't work for Schwalbe, they actually are that good. But for off-road riding in thick snow you are probably better off with normal chunky off-road tyres. And there are other manufacturers, although most aren't sold in the UK, and some still use steel spikes instead of the far superior carbide studs that the Schwalbes have.

I bought mine last winter, after being stranded for a week the previous year when the council decided not to bother gritting the A-road through my village. That turned it from a fast link road between two market towns into a black-ice skating rink (there were literally dozens of cars stuck at odd angles in the hedgerows) and forced the bus company to stop running due to health and safety regulations (actually, the weight of the buses meant they could run, and did on the first day, but if some old dear slipped while stepping off they could be sued, so they were stopped.) This year, with the ConDem cuts starting to hit, it'll be far worse. Although actually, when the snow sets in, not gritting, and everyone (buses included) preparing ahead by buying chains or studded tyres, like they do in the colder parts of the Continent, makes much more sense. It'll be the new pot holes next Spring that will be the real danger, for cyclists at least.

As mentioned above, you do need a frame with plenty of clearance. Some cyclocross bikes might not even have enough for the 700x38C size. And they are incredibly heavy - best part of a kilo each. Given that mine are mounted on a pair of 36-spoke Mavic A719 heavy-duty touring rims, if I do need them this weekend they'll make quite a contrast to the Ksyrium SLs and Vredestein Fortezza Tricomps on my summer bike I last rode about three weeks ago! For my five mile commute the weight isn't a problem, but if you think buying studded tyres will allow you to carry on with club rides, forget it. The furthest I have been on them was a 30 mile ride, mostly on a pancake flat disused railway line, and my legs felt like I had done a 100-mile sportive in the hills. They're also like the infamous Schwalbe Marathons to get on and off, so you should probably factor in the cost of extra wheels, if you haven't already got a spare set, or your's lack sufficiently wide rims. Also one of those outdoor thermometers with pins in them to mark the lowest overnight temperature are worthwhile getting too, so you know when to switch to/from the normal tyres.

posted by handlebarcam [529 posts]
23rd November 2010 - 22:07

2 Likes

Mate of mine ran studded tyres a few years ago. He swore by them but they were pricey and the studs tended to rip out if you skidded (although the sparks were cool Cool ).

There are many sections of my commute which don't get gritted - and I've had offs in the past. My worry about the studded tyres is that they won't help much on black ice, as opposed to deeper ice or compacted snow.

Chuffy's picture

posted by Chuffy [185 posts]
23rd November 2010 - 22:27

5 Likes

@tony - do you think the tyre manufacturers underestimated the demand for these tyres last year and have now imported loads into the UK and are desperate to sell them, because as you say predicting the weather in the UK is a mugs game.

I just think for the average commuter these tyres are complete overkill.

Also, a quick read (I'll look properly later) from the initial report analysis published in August 2010 says...

"We must assume that figures for potholes, dogs, and failure to mount kerbs are
underestimated due to an assumed response bias towards recording causes that were listed in
the drop down menus of the web form and that therefore did not require free text entry.
Before 19-07-2010, these causes were not included in menus but were added subsequently.
This assumption can be tested by comparing rates before and after their inclusion in the
menus."

What kind of survey looking into non-collision accidents involving cyclists doesn't put potholes as a possible cause?

posted by mspoke [33 posts]
24th November 2010 - 9:44

6 Likes

mr_stru wrote:
It's worth noting that while shops in the UK ran out of studded tyres pretty swiftly the german online shops had plenty last year.

From the inside the UK stock of Marathon winters was gone by end of Jan last year. A second shipment was brought in and gone in a month. (I shipped 40 tyres in one day) By the first week in March it was decision time for (a) Schwalbe and (b) distributors; Is there enough Winter left for another production run and will the bad weather last more than three weeks to make it financially viable to wrap up a serious amount of cash in winter tyres? Answer on both counts, No. Yes there were plenty in Germany it has a stable continental climate, you can, almost, set your watch by the weather changes. We have a maritime climate that changes with the wind.
I'm still frustrated that this years stock hasn't arrived!!!!

Wooliferkins's picture

posted by Wooliferkins [48 posts]
24th November 2010 - 9:51

5 Likes

@mspoke no I doubt there are many about as Wooliferkins comments would seem to back up.

As for the Bristol NHS study - we're reporting it not endorsing it, hence the comparison with the TRL report. I don't think we've got to the stage yet where NHS trusts are producing reports to help boost sales of what are, in this country at least, specialist cycle tyres. In fact the advice that seems to accompany the report is if it's icy don't use your bike even on gritted roads.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4143 posts]
24th November 2010 - 10:55

5 Likes

i had to enjoy a 13mile commute this morning in snow. i managed it well considering ive just got some cheap XC tires on. (MTB)
oh how i love the north east weather (Not!)

David Clark- Competing in the 1st ever Global race, covering 18,000miles in over 20 Countries. 18th February 2012.
While trying to break the following world records at the same time;
- Fastest person to cycle the world
-Youngest person to cycle the wor

posted by David cycling t... [66 posts]
24th November 2010 - 11:18

6 Likes

I just ordered a pair of Marathon Winters from starbike in germany. bike24 apparently also have stock. I have a Cotic Roadrat and normally run 28mm Marathon+ so the weight will be a step up not an utter shock

vorsprung's picture

posted by vorsprung [291 posts]
24th November 2010 - 11:19

3 Likes

My marathon winters are in a DHL depot and being picked up this afternoon. I only commute 6mile round trip usually, but a few days a week i have to go into town during the day so thats another 8mile round trip. Total it up and im doing about 50+miles, at least 50% of which is back streets and cycle path so not gritted and usually with patches of ice hiding. Now when its snowy its alright, you can always find grip, but the 2-3 times i went down last year were on roads where it looked clear and you wouldnt expect ice (roundabouts etc.) so studded tyres will make it easier all round.

Weight is not an issue, who would want to rush TO work? ;0)

STATO's picture

posted by STATO [415 posts]
24th November 2010 - 13:34

6 Likes

anyone else gone the DIY route?
Was all the rage last year on a certain MTB forum.
I have an old pair of nobblies all I need now is some screws and some tough masking tape Thinking

posted by mrchrispy [293 posts]
24th November 2010 - 14:18

5 Likes

I rode my MTB with 26" slicks through last winter's weather but kept to the main road - the untreated back lanes would have been too treacherous. Pity really, as I'd have had less traffic to worry about and it would have been fun - as long as I stayed upright.

A colleague got hold of some studded Marathons, so she deliberately chose to use the back lanes some days and had a laugh. They are very draggy (and loud) on tarmac, though.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1966 posts]
24th November 2010 - 14:50

6 Likes

mrchrispy wrote:
anyone else gone the DIY route?
Was all the rage last year on a certain MTB forum.
I have an old pair of nobblies all I need now is some screws and some tough masking tape Thinking

i've certainly considered it in the past, maybe this time round is the one. Not short of screws or tyres Smile

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7385 posts]
24th November 2010 - 15:57

4 Likes

… although I notice all the weather sites seem to be backtracking a bit today on all the snow, checked Metcheck for Bath last night and it was looking like it was time to stock up on tinned goods and lay in some shovels for the next couple of weeks. Today… its turned to rain, well the second week has. Pah!

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4143 posts]
24th November 2010 - 16:14

3 Likes

Billy's in Cambridge are currently claiming to have the Marathon Winter's in stock:

http://billys.co.uk/english/group.php?prod=tyse-mara-winterstud

It's where I got my Snow Studs from last year.

posted by handlebarcam [529 posts]
24th November 2010 - 20:48

3 Likes

Any advice from Mr Chrispy is sound advice!

Trev Allen's picture

posted by Trev Allen [163 posts]
25th November 2010 - 11:35

3 Likes

I find that as long as you don't lean, when cornering, you'll be fine.

posted by dr_damo [8 posts]
7th December 2010 - 14:10

3 Likes

I have been using Schwalbe Marathon Winters on a hybrid for commuting the last 2 weeks in Scotland. They are completely useless on any thickness of snow, you'd be better off with cross tyres. On ice however, they are rock steady, they give you complete confidence cornering and braking.

They are extremely hard work, it's like riding on velcro even at maximum pressure. My commute is 8 miles each way and it feels like twice that with these tyres. I'm definitely going to invest in a second set of wheels so I can switch them quickly in the mornings.

Tony Leach

posted by tonyleach [1 posts]
8th December 2010 - 17:08

4 Likes

I’m the author of the ‘Slipping on Ice' study.

ü I found it amazing that slipping on ice is the largest single cause of non-collision cycling injuries, given how rarely the weather freezes!

ü It seems likely that compared to the high profile that potholes, opening car doors and other vehicles (among other hazards) have in the mind of cyclists, we may underestimate the difficulty of cycling on ice.

ü We estimate that on average slipping on ice causes around 1,666 emergency admissions to a hospital bed each year. These are injuries too serious to treat in emergency departments and require “formal admission” i.e. they are serious.

ü Omitting potholes from an earlier version of the web form (at http://www.betterbybike.info/non-collision-incidents - please visit it!) was a mistake; we’ve corrected it now.

ü www.icebike.org contains lots of advice about modifying bikes to ride (and race) on ice. Well worth a look.

ü The TRL report mentioned in your article is based (as most road safety evidence is) on STATS19, the police collision database. Our non-collision incident study found that only 4% of non-collision incidents were known to the police. This creates a problem for cyclists and pedestrians – since there is so little evidence of the causes and circumstances of the injuries that they suffer, we are not able to do as much as we would like to encourage them to keep riding and walking by reducing the risk of serious injury.

We are hoping that lots more people will log onto the Better by Bike website to tell us about what caused their non-collision (or single vehicle, as the police refer to them) incidents.

Injury Prevention Manager
NHS Bristol

posted by Rob Benington [16 posts]
25th January 2011 - 18:14

2 Likes