Winter Bicycling Tips

Ben Barton, University of Idaho assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Communication Studies, is one of only a few safety experts across the nation whose research focuses on the psychological and behavioral aspects of driver, biker and pedestrian safety. He offers these safety tips for riding in the winter:Winter Bicycling

  • Wear A Helmet. Better to mess up your hair than your brain. "To be effective, a helmet must fit properly, and if you crash, replace the helmet," said Barton. While helmets are the single most important safety feature riders can adopt, attitudes about wearing them seem to change as bikers enter puberty. "I've worked at four universities; college-aged students don't wear helmets. The trend seems to be that once children reach adolescence they stop wearing them," Barton noted. Research shows that trend is driven by discomfort, the perception that helmets are not "cool," and user feedback that helmets mess up your hair – all of which are excuses that seem pretty lame balanced against benefits such as reducing the threat of head trauma, brain damage and death.
  • Make yourself visible to motorists. Incorporate flashing lights, headlights and reflectors into your bike gear and clothing. Small children are particularly difficult to see but bikers of all ages benefit from making their presence known to drivers. "That goes for any time of year," said Barton, "but especially at night, and in the winter months when we have a lot more darkness."
  • Avoid traffic, especially during dark hours. "Structure your route to limit your exposure to heavy traffic," Barton advised. "There are specific levels of traffic in which your injury risk drastically increases. Consistently, research shows that traffic volume is associated with injury risk for all ages of bikers and walkers."
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Pull off your iPod. Don't talk on the phone. Don't text. "Don't do anything you wouldn't do while you're driving a car," said Barton. Auditory cues can be as important to safety as visuals.
  • Bike like a driver – a driver surrounded by rude drivers. "Bikes are classified as slow moving vehicles. You have the same obligations as a driver to go with the flow of traffic, signal your turns and do all the things you would do in a car," Barton said. "You sometimes do have the right of way, but a motorist is not always going to give it to you. Bike defensively. Know what's going on around you. Be aware of safety rules." Bikers, like drivers, also should deploy snow tires for riding or weather.
  • Be careful when you cross the street, and be there when your kids do. "Under the age of seven, children just lack the cognitive skills necessary to deal with all the information they're taking in to determine when it's safe to cross," says Barton. "As parents, we need to take the time to give our children guided practice."
  • Weatherize your gear and your awareness. Anybody who bikes in heavy rain or snow also needs good snow tires. Donning a helmet remains vital, and being seen and being able to see should be a determining factor in whether or not to take a ride. "Riders mainly need to be concerned with visibility issues on those days."

University of Idaho