Is it safe to ride a bicycle during the winter in Alaska?

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Riding a bicycle in winter can be tricky, especially when weather leads to poor road conditions and visibility is at a minimum. Even so, some people choose to commute by bike or ride for recreation during the coldest months in Alaska. By taking the right precautions to reduce your risk of an accident, you can safely ride a bicycle in Anchorage this winter.

Bicycle accident

Increase your visibility.

Anchorage winter nights are long, and streetlights and passing cars can make it hard to see a single, solid light on a bike. But a blinking red light on the rear and a blinking white light on the front can make it easier to spot a cyclist in traffic. Also include a solid white headlight to help you navigate. Many cyclists prefer a helmet-mounted headlight light, allowing them to see in any direction they turn their head. This increases their visibility to the left and right during turns, when a motorist who fails to see them can quickly cause a collision.

Adding reflectors to your pedals and wrapping your bike in reflective tape can also help increase your visibility. Wear bright outer layers when you ride, or add strips of reflective material to your coat.

When possible, make eye contact with the drivers around you when approaching an intersection and making a turn. This ensures they are aware of your presence and reduces the chances they will hit you.

If you have been hit, don’t hesitate to call!

Be aware of potential hazards.

Commuting on Anchorage streets can be tricky in the winter if you are not aware of potential hazards along your route. These hazards can be harder to see when it is dark and the ground is frozen, so knowing where they are and carefully navigating around them is important. They include:

  • Potholes
  • Cracks
  • Drains
  • Railroad crossings
  • Wet leaves
  • Wet manhole covers
  • Wet metal bridges

Winter weather brings with it more hazards. When it first begins to rain or snow, or when the temperature is near the freezing mark, hydroplaning is a real possibility.

Other things to look out for when riding in Alaska during the winter include streets that are narrow because of plowing, black ice, and areas where snow has been gouged by vehicle, bike, or pedestrian traffic. Any of these hazards can lead to serious injury if you cannot keep your wheels under you.

Choose the right bike and outfit it with the right tires.

If you notice other Alaskan cyclists in the winter, most pedal mountain bikes, hybrids, or single speeds. For the average rider who is using her bike for road or path commuting, Anchorage bike shop Paramount Cycles recommends a basic mountain bike with enough clearance to run wide, studded tires.

Since snow and salt can be rough on a bicycle, many cyclists will buy an older “beater” bike and outfit it specifically for winter riding. Because sand, salt, and other typical winter debris can cause issues with any moving part, some even choose cold-weather rides with no gearing. Some choose bikes with only front suspension or no suspension at all.
Whether or not your bike will need fenders depends on where you ride. They can become clogged and make matters worse if you mostly ride on snow-coated bike paths. If you are on the street at all during your commute, however, you will probably want them.

Perhaps more than anything else, the key to safe winter cycling in Alaska is having studded tires. Carbide studs allow you to keep control of your bike, on snow and ice. The more studs on a tire, the better. Invest in the best tires you can afford, even if your bike is not worth much.

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Know how to ride on slick streets.

Some best practices for riding in wet or icy conditions include:

  • Slowing down
  • Pumping your brakes gently instead of holding them
  • Using your rear brakes to slow down on ice
  • Avoiding leaning too much when turning
  • Trying to keep your weight over the back wheel
  • Following ruts instead of crossing them
  • Walking your bike through particularly treacherous areas when necessary
  • Leaning away from traffic if you fall

Choose the best route.

Planning your route and several alternates ahead of time is important when the weather may create dangerous road conditions. Both Bike Anchorage and the Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage (NSAA) publish maps that show recommended routes for winter cycling, including bike paths, shared roads and multi-use trails.

In some cases, an unplowed side street may be safer than a cleared major road simply because traffic moves slower. When heavy snow hits, though, the main thoroughfares are often the best bet. They are typically plowed first, and the steady vehicle traffic keeps the lanes clear. If the bike lane is not available because it is covered, you can take the full traffic lane if necessary to ensure you remain safe and visible.

Know when to make other plans.

There is no shame in bailing on a ride because weather conditions make cycling dangerous. It may be best to cancel plans to ride and find other transportation before, during, or after a heavy snow. The state and municipal government typically begin plowing roads as soon as the snowfall allows, but it often takes between 24 and 48 hours after a heavy snow to clear all main roads, side streets, sidewalks, and bike paths.

Winter Cycling in Alaska

If you are not an experienced cyclist, perhaps the best advice is to start out slow. Go for short, recreational rides when the weather is slightly warmer. Build up your stamina, and give yourself time to practice and learn the skills necessary for safe winter riding.

The attorneys at Kelley & Canterbury, LLC represent the victims of traffic accidents in and around Anchorage. If you suffered injuries in a bicycle accident and want to know if you are eligible to collect damages from the at-fault motorist, contact us today at 907-276-8185.

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