Winter Riding Safety -Portland Bicycling Club

Winter Riding Safety

I have noted that in winter, unlike the other seasons, I often recognize many of the cyclists on the road. Our members appear to be more dedicated to cycling year-round than other northwest residents. Although safe cycling requires situational awareness in all seasons, winter presents a unique combination of hazards. 

The first hazard that comes to mind is the cold. Most of us have figured out a combination of cycling gear that works for us. I prefer lobster gloves and insulated winter riding boots to avoid frostbite in sub-freezing weather. However, unlike frostbite, hypothermia is a much more insidious risk that can occur in cool temperatures, especially if you are wet, dehydrated, or have over-exerted. Be sure to hydrate, even in cold and rainy weather. Apart from feeling chilled and shivering, hypothermia can present as fatigue or altered consciousness. No clothing is waterproof; there are only varying degrees of water resistance. Always check the weather reports, and choose your rides and clothing appropriately.

Road hazards are also more common in the winter. Besides patches of black ice in shaded areas, riders should be watching for slippery wet leaves and road gravel that can accumulate in bike lanes. Glass is harder to see on wet streets, and punctured tires are more likely to occur when glass shards, nut shells, and even sharp pieces of gravel are lubricated by rainwater and road oil that has built up over the summer months.

Darkness is yet another hazard more prominent in winter with the shorter daylight hours. Both Oregon and Washington state laws require bicycles to have a headlight visible for 500 feet and a taillight or rear reflector that is visible for 600 feet when illuminated by a vehicle’s low beam headlights. Reflective clothing should also be worn. Most importantly, never assume that drivers can see you despite all your precautions. This is especially true during the holidays and on weekend evenings, when drivers are likely to be distracted or, worse yet, intoxicated. My best advice is that if you own a car or can take public transportation, leave your bike at home after dark. If not, stay at home and enjoy a quiet evening with your bicycle in the warmth and safety of your house, dreaming of your next ride together in the daylight.

Have a safe and happy New Year!

Doug Myers, Member at Large