How to Ride in Winter in a City Without Cycling Infrastructure

By Martin Atanasov

Cycling in winter is a challenge, even if you live in a country with excellent cycling infrastructure. However, not everyone lives in Denmark, the Netherlands or Germany. Unfortunately, many of us live in countries and cities where cycling infrastructure is nothing more than paint on the side of the road. Worse, some places don’t have such infrastructure at all. Now, we can play the blame game and discuss in length who is responsible, but it will be far more helpful to give you instead some tips on how to deal with winter cycling in cities with little or no infrastructure.

Be visible

We know Christmas is still a month or so away, but don’t hesitate to light yourself like a Christmas tree so people can see you on the road. Yes, being visible is essential regardless of the cycling infrastructure in your city, but when you have to ride with the rest of the traffic, you need to be extra visible. This includes brighter clothes, more lights and reflectors on your bike, and some blinking elements on your backpack or helmet. Not only should you be visible, but you should also attract attention.

So, buy yourself a reflective jacket, put a reflector on your backpack, and some sort of blinker. Make sure to put some reflective lights on your hands so that when you’re giving a turning signal, other traffic participants will notice it immediately. Finally, make sure your light’s batteries are always properly charged and ready for the ride.

You might think this is only for the nighttime, but that’s not entirely so. Firstly, during winter night tends to be most of the time anyway. Secondly, and more importantly, even during the day, visibility is not perfect, especially if it rains, snows, or there is fog. So, don’t overestimate how good the visibility outside is, and ensure you will be seen.

Winter cycling
Being visible in winter is crucial. Other participants in traffic should see you from afar, as stopping is way harder. © Profimedia

Choose your route carefully

Choosing your route is another must if there is no cycling infrastructure. Now, if you have a bike lane, that doesn’t always mean it is safe. For example, during heavy snow, plows will push the snow to the side of the road, which is usually where bike lanes are. So, as a general rule of thumb, during heavy snow, avoid major roads, as they will be the first to get plowed.

Otherwise, it all depends on how traffic is regulated in your city. If there are bus lanes on major roads, you can use these for relative safety to get moving. Still, make sure not to block the public transport and always try to give it way. Moreover, make sure this is actually legal in your country, or if it is illegal, if anyone enforces the rules.

Another good solution is to choose routes with as many traffic lights as possible. Yes, this sounds counterintuitive and will most definitely prolong your ride, but crossing when there is a traffic light is much safer than the alternative. Finally, whenever there is a safe bike lane or a park that you can take, do it, even if it makes your ride a bit longer. After all, the main point is to get to wherever you’re going safely.

Take the whole lane

That’s another highly controversial tip that will probably spark a debate, but safety is king when we are talking about cycling. Moreover, most drivers will welcome you taking the entire lane, as they will see you much better, and anyway, if they pass you, they will have to cross at least partially in the next lane. Thus, being stuck at the side of the road when there are gutters, water, snow, or mud is not only dangerous for you and the drivers behind but also entirely useless.

So, take the entire right lane, or at least most of it, and be sure to avoid places where water may gather around drains. In colder weather, these are the first places that will freeze over. Stepping on such a spot will send you flying in an instant.

Most often, when you are driving in the city, traffic lights will stop you from time to time. So, when that happens, make sure to give way to all cars and stick to the very last one. This way, you won’t block the traffic, and you will have peace of mind.

Use rush hour to commute

Yet another highly counterintuitive solution that you will find most useful. People tend to avoid riding bikes in rush hour. And yes, it does have its many, many downsides. But still, cars are the slowest during rush hour, and you can traverse relatively safely alongside them. Still, there are some general rules you need to follow. First and most importantly, never ride between lanes while traffic moves. Try to stay in the right lane, and you can squeeze forward while the cars are stopped. Don’t speed, as at any moment, someone may open the door. Yes, in rush hour, you will be slow as well.

When the traffic starts, just stick to the car in front and take over the entire lane. This way, the driver in front will see you in their mirrors and know exactly where you are, while at the same time, the driver behind will keep their distance and won’t be tempted to overtake you. In most cities without cycling infrastructure, the traffic during rush hour won’t allow for high speeds, so don’t worry; you will be able to keep up with the one in front. But don’t forget that the road may be slippery. So keep your distance from the car in front as they may stop abruptly at any moment, and you don’t want to climb in their back seat from the rear window.

Be extra careful

This being said, you need to be extra careful, even during summer. But when it comes to winter, this goes double. There are a ton of dangers on the road, and cars are the least of your problems. Most often, drivers are tolerant enough to let you pass. Still, there is black ice, snow, ice patches, plows, deep puddles, and all sorts of hazards along the side of the road. Keeping your eyes everywhere is a must if you want to ride during the winter when no infrastructure allows it. Still, that doesn’t mean you should give up. Just follow the advice above, and all will be fine. Now, let’s change these tires to winter ones and get going.