Road Cycling Skills

Cycling in Icy Conditions: Areas to Take Special Care

Stay safe in the depths of winter with these tips

Nine months of the year, we’re all about encouraging our readers to get out and ride. However, in the very depths of winter when ice becomes a genuine risk we’d rather make sure our TWC community exercises precaution to stay rubber side down.

The mercury dropped dramatically last week, and we’ve already seen our Facebook and Twitter feeds awash with riders sharing the effects of unfortunate tussles with the slippery stuff.

The best way to avoid falling on ice is to stay indoors until the sun has been awake for long enough to melt the stuff. However, that’s not always possible, and on some county lanes you’ll find sheet ice remains all day.

We’ve got a post on precautions to take here, but the basic rules of thumb are:

  • Ride later if you can, when temperatures have risen. If you can’t do that, stick to busier roads, where cars will have warmed the road surface and gritters might have been out in force
  • If you’re not commuting, and just after a fitness fix, ride indoors or try going off-road
  • Riding in a group means you’ve got people to look out for you, but increase distances between riders, so you’ve got more room to brake if one of your group goes down (better one than all of you!)
  • Reduce your speed and assess the road surface closely, don’t brake suddenly and avoid sudden changes in direction
  • Reduce tyre pressure, to increase your contact with the ground, and ideally ride with wider tyres than you would in the summer

Following these basic guidelines will help to keep you safe. But there are some specific road surfaces, situations and areas where you need to take particular care. These are….

When riding over bridges and overpasses

Bridges and overpasses can serve as great barometers for how likely ice is elsewhere. In both cases, the section of road is attacked by cold winds from above and below – losing heat from both surfaces and taking much longer to warm up. On a normal road surface, heat from underneath can melt ice more quickly, but bridges don’t have this luxury – and they’re often made from concrete and steel, which loses heat from the surface more quickly. Bottom line: be really careful. On the plus side, most bridges are straight, so you’re less likely to run into trouble trying to corner on a potentially icy surface.

Try to ride away from the edge of the bridge, sticking to closer to the centre where cars have travelled. Keep moving in a straight line, and stop and walk (ideally on the pavement) if you have to.

When riding around the edges of puddles

If you can see a puddle, and it’s obviously wet and not solid, you know that spot is not icy. What you sometimes miss is the thin film of ice around the edge, where the puddle was less shallow, and thus more susceptible to freezing.

To avoid falling foul of the hidden shallow path and its icy potential, give puddles a wide berth.

When riding around corners

Cornering reduces your tyre contact with the ground, leaving you more susceptible to a wheel sliding out beneath you.

When you approach a corner, scan the ground for danger, and try to use areas of road closer to the centre. Slow your speed before you enter the corner, and try to take the straightest line possible. Don’t brake on it – as this will further reduce your traction.

When climbing

Majorca in March. Yes, really.

Last time I crashed on ice it was after I’d ignored the slippery surface on a bridge over the motorway, and continued to ride UP towards Caterham-ON-THE-HILL. I cursed myself and my huge bruise for the next couple of weeks.

The higher up you go, the colder it gets – you’ll notice this in its extreme if you leave the sunny foothills on a mountain ride and find yourself freezing at the top. If ice is a risk, keep your rides on the flatter side where you can. If you are climbing, stay in the saddle rather than climbing out of the saddle – this will keep your weight further back over the rear wheel and reduce the chance of skidding.

When it’s rained and been cold

Ice can crop up any time, but it’s particularly likely if there has been precipitation. That simply allows for more wet stuff to freeze over – so if you know there’s been more rain than usual, and temperatures are close to zero, take extra care.

Tips for Happy Riding in the Rain 

When riding on roads that are not widely used

Most cyclists prefer to use pleasant country lanes when and where they can. However, if it’s cold enough that ice is a risk, it’s usually a good idea to stick to busier roads. As much as most of us don’t like riding around car fumes, they do warm up the roads, and busy roads are more likely to be gritted.

Try not to ride too close to the curb, where ice is more likely to accumulate and beware of standing water around the edge of drains and gutters that may have frozen over.

When using roads where there are overhanging trees

Tree lined roads – beautiful in autumn, risky in winter

In summer, shade is a blessing, as you hide from the beating sun on a sweaty, sticky ride. In winter, it’s a danger, as covered roads won’t warm up and are more likely to be dangerous. Avoid them, or ride in the sunny patches closer to the centre.

Looking for more advice on dealing with winter road conditions? Check out this post on riding on roads that are wet or strewn with gravel or grit. 

Struggling more with rain where you are? Here are 10 tips for riding through the wet stuff. 


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