Winter Cycling Safety Tips

winter cycling in San FranciscoAs bicycle accident attorneys in San Francisco and Paso Robles, we talk to a lot of cyclists and we ride, too, so we know all too well that the short days of winter won’t stop you from riding.  Many of us ride because we absolutely love it and don’t consider it a seasonal hobby.  Others ride as a means to get to work and need to ride year-round.   However, in the winter months there are some extra precautions cyclists need to take.

Let’s start with the basics; the five most common types of collisions between bicyclists and motor vehicles are:

  • A vehicle making a right turn across the cyclist’s lane of travel
  • A vehicle turning left at an intersection
  • Dooring
  • The failure of a motorist to stop at a red light or Stop sign
  • A vehicle or cyclist passing on the right

This bit of knowledge can help you be more aware in those environments and situations year-round.  In the winter, people may be trying to get in and out of their vehicles faster due to cold weather and rain increasing the chances of a dooring.  A cyclist is permitted to ride in the travel lane without going at the speed of traffic to avoid a hazard (CVC 21650; San Francisco Transportation Code Sec. 7.2.12).  Signal and move over if you need to avoid a door that might open.

Here are Some Winter Riding Hazards and Our Winter Cycling Safety Tips:

Cycling When It’s Wet

California may not get a lot of rain, but it will eventually rain and that rain can flush debris into your bike lane including piles of slippery, wet leaves.  Rain can also hide potholes underneath less conspicuous puddles.

Our winter cycling safety tip – Riding through a puddle is essentially riding into the unknown, so it is safer to avoid them.

Also, road surfaces can be the most dangerous just after the first rain in a while or after rain has just started because oil begins to surface.  A rainbow-y sheen on a road can signal the dangers of an oil spot.  These are most commonly found at intersections.  Slick patches in the road can make it difficult to stop and/or turn.

Our winter cycling safety tip – Treat intersections with extra respect in the winter as they are already dangerous places for cyclists but the added element of oil can compound the problem.  Treat patches with a rainbow sheen as a road hazard.

Remember what we said about avoiding doors – the same rules apply to any hazard in the bicycle lane and you may use the travel lane to avoid them.  Remember to signal as the vehicle traffic may not expect you to come over if you see the hazard before they do.

Cycling In the Dark

We can’t say this enough: as riders it is important to be seen.  The lights and reflectors required by California law are a great start, but more is better in this case.  Fluorescent clothing can aid visibility during the day, but it’s lights and reflectors that make the biggest impact on your visibility at night.

Our winter cycling safety tip – Add reflective tape to your helmet, put lights in your wheel spokes, and/or wear a jacket with reflectors to boost your ability to be seen in the dark by others.

Some riders like to switch to yellow lenses in the winter to help them with glare.  After you’ve outfitted yourself to be seen by others, make sure you can see them clearly, too.

Our winter cycling safety tip – If your usual riding glasses have a dark tint, explore other anti-glare options more appropriate for cloudy days; these might be clear, yellow, or even pink.

When riding at night in California, the following items are required:

  • Forward-Facing Bike Light: A white headlight is required. The light both makes you visible to others and illuminates your path.  It needs to be visible from at least 300 feet forward.  It may be attached to the bicycle or the rider. CVC 21201(d) & CVC 21201(e)
  • Rear-Facing Reflector or Light: A red reflector at the back is the minimum requirement, but a solid or flashing red bike light with a built-in reflector visible from 500 feet is also allowed. CVC 21201(d)
  • Side-Facing Reflectors: White or yellow reflectors are required to be visible on each side of the bicycle in three locations (forward, center, and rear), but there are multiple ways to meet this requirement. Side-facing central reflectors can be on the bicycle pedals, or on the shoes or ankles of the rider.  There should be additional reflectors forward and rear of the central reflectors on each side of the bike like on the spokes, reflective tire sidewalls, or on the frame of the bicycle.  CVC 21201(d)

If you would like more rules of the road for California, download our free Cyclist’s Quick Reference Guide here.

Winter Bike Checkup

Fixing ANY tire in the cold and wet is no fun.  Add dark into that mix and, well… it gets complicated.  Do yourself a favor and give your bike a winter checkup (even if you don’t ride a lot during the winter, seasonal checkups are a good rule of thumb for everyone).  You’ll want to do everything you can to give yourself the ability to stop quickly when needed and avoid stopping for a fix in the rain.

Our winter cycling safety tip – Check your air, replace aged tubes, upgrade your chain lube or reapply it, and even fit your bike with a set of new brake pads before you go out into the winter weather.

Have Us On Speed-Dial

Our final winter cycling safety tip for this article – keep us saved in your phone.  Save our contact information into your phone now so that in the event anything happens, you won’t have to  look very long to find help.  Our consultations are free.  We also have a free guide available on what to do in a vehicle accident available here.

Rahman Law’s Contact Information:

Contact us in our San Francisco office at 415.956.9245 or in our Paso Robles office at 805.619.3108