The Cycleplan Blog

Country Commuting: How To Keep Safe This Winter

Much is written about the city commuter, and London inevitably dominates the conversation. However, not everyone who chooses to get to work by bike lives in a city; some live in rural or semi-rural areas, even if they only cycle to the local train station and then carry on to the city by rail.

With house and rental prices in many inner cities, especially in the capital, forever skyrocketing, more and more people are opting for a life outside of the city limits.

While there are some similarities between country and city commuting, cycling in the country has plenty of its own unique hazards; such as unlit roads, blind bends, animals in the road, and the challenge of being seen by other road users. Here are our top tips for staying safe on the UK’s country roads this winter.

Ice and Snow

If you live in an area that gets a lot of ice and snow, make sure you get winter tyres for your bike and particularly avoid using thin racing ones – as they are far more likely to slip on ice. Tyres are also more easily punctured in winter, so having some hardier treads will make your commute a little easier. They will also grip better on icy roads. Plus, try and stick to treated roads whenever possible.

Flood Water

Don’t ever cycle through flood water, it’s hard to tell how deep it is. If you get drenched and are unable to dry off quickly enough, there’s a chance of illness, chills and even hypothermia. If the weather turns foul unexpectedly, it might be best to abandon your ride and find another way home or to the office. Really, when riding in ice and snow, its always best to use your common sense and make sure you know the weather forecast, so you’re as equipped as you can be.

Riding on unlit roads

Unlike the city, many roads in rural or semi-rural areas are either poorly lit or not lit at all. This can even include roads that pass through some of London’s larger and wilder green spaces, such as Richmond Park or Barnes Common.

If you know your route will take you on unlit roads, you must have, by law, both a front light and red backlight, as well as a red rear reflector and amber pedal reflectors. In more rural areas, as you may not meet much traffic, we’d recommend a light which can swap between spotlight and wide beam – these can also be useful if riding on footpaths or bridleways. It is always wise to wear reflective gear whenever you’re cycling, but it is completely essential when cycling in the countryside.

Being dazzled by drivers is also a constant issue on unlit roads. If you have a helmet or hat with a peak, it can shield you from the worst of it. The best tactic is to look down towards the road, a little in front of your front wheel towards the road edge. Also, closing one eye can help you keep some of your night vision, but you need to be careful to maintain awareness of what’s going on around you to stay as safe as possible.

Be Visible

Unfortunately, on rural roads, cars do not always expect to see a cyclist – especially at night. In particular locals, who know the roads well, can sometimes fly around those blind bends. Most country roads have a speed limit of 60mph; which for any cyclist can seem very fast. With poor visibility and fast-moving traffic being particular hazards for country commuters, being visible becomes all the more important.

As mentioned above, by law, you are obliged to have a front white light, a back red light, a red rear wheel reflector and pedal reflectors. The lights must specifically be fitted on your bike and not on yourself. In addition, it is always recommended that you have spare batteries or lights to hand in case you forget to charge them or they get damaged. Lights aren’t the only recommended way of being visible though, wearing reflective clothing such as a hi-vis vest or cycling jacket is also hugely important and hugely encouraged.

Horses

Horses are a hazard that you are unlikely to meet in the city, but clearly far more common in the countryside. Jessica Drake, a member of Horses and Road Safety Awareness, told the London Cyclist that the problem with cyclists is they are usually silent and so to the horse seem to creep up from behind. A horse’s natural instinct is to flee if something surprises it and this can put both the horse and rider in danger. Horses have a large blind spot and can’t always see until you are level with their heads. Jessica recommends “As you approach a horse, please let us know you are there by either ringing a bell or just shouting “MORNING” or “BIKE BEHIND” anything (nice!) that will alert us that you are there. We can take measures to alert our horse you are there and we recommend you take a wide berth, making sure it is safe to overtake.”

Farm traffic, trucks and lorries

Again, you are more likely to encounter HGVs or industrial traffic on rural roads than on urban ones. Farm machinery such as tractors, combine harvesters and animal trailers are commonplace, while some agricultural vehicles can easily take up a two-lane road. If you see a tractor coming the other way, especially on a one lane road, stop and let it pass. If you get stuck behind one, follow at a safe distance until it’s safe to pass.

Lorries are even more dangerous. They have many blind spots and if you encounter a lorry, make sure you ride positively and decisively. Avoid riding up the inside of large vehicles, where you might not be seen. If a lorry is indicating left, passing on the inside can be highly dangerous. Hang back at the junction to reduce the risk of a collision.

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