Bike to Work Hazards Part 2: Mother Nature

A giant pile of leaves eats four bike riders.

You may think you’re doing right by Mother Nature when you bike to work, but don’t expect her to return the favor. She is too busy adding beauty and variety to the earth by dropping multi-colored leaves all over the place, covering the ground with pure white snow, sending life giving rain, and generally strewing hazards all along your route.

A giant pile of leaves eats four bike riders.
Mother Nature’s road hazards claim more victims. Photo by k. steudel.

There’s a saying among cyclists: keep the rubber side down. I never knew there was another option until I rounded a corner one October morning and saw that Mother Nature had dropped a twig in my path…thinner than a pencil and about a foot long. I approached cavalierly: I run over bigger things than this before breakfast; but somehow this twig got into my spokes, jammed my fender into my front wheel, and threw me over the handlebars. I found myself on my back with my bike on top of me—rubber side up.

As I noted in my previous post, the majority of bicycling accidents don’t involve another vehicle. Today, I’ll look at hazards created by Mother Nature. By being prepared for what she may throw at you, you can ride safely under almost any conditions.

Mother Nature Likes Debris

Autumn (we don’t say fall) leaves are beautiful; but not only can they cover potholes, sewer grates, twigs (shudder), and small children, they are extremely slippery when wet.

Ice comes in the black and white varieties. Black is smooth and hard to see but it can take your wheels out from under you if you try to turn while on it—and don’t even think about braking. Look for black ice in gutters, flat areas and anywhere puddles form. Slow down, and don’t use brakes, pedals, or try to turn while on it. White ice is usually snow that has been fossilized by the tramping of boots or the press of snow tires. Sure, it’s slick, but it’s also bumpy and just trying to ride straight on it is challenging because your tires want to slide sideways. Avoid white ice…it’s usually on the sidewalks anyway.

Mother Nature Likes Weather

Riding in rain and snow can be a great if you are dressed properly; but both forms of precipitation make roads slippery. They also make it harder for drivers to see you. Make sure you have bright colors and flashing lights and ride as though you are invisible: between the fogged windshield and the worn out wiper blades, you almost are.  The only form of precipitation I won’t go out in is hail (ouch)…well, that and volcanic ash (word from a friend in Portland who experienced Mount St. Helens).

There is a form of weather you can’t see: wind. I have been blown off my bike twice; most recently into a bed of dead flowers while I was looking behind me for a lane change. I’m sure it was hilarious. If it is windy, keep your hands on the bars and be aware that every tree, and building will block or intensify a crosswind. If you’ve got a tailwind, enjoy it; if you’ve got a headwind, stick to tree-lined streets…or take the bus (no shame, just sayin’). And don’t forget that large, fast-moving vehicles can generate wind almost as effectively as Mother Nature.

Mother Nature Likes The Dark

I don’t know how else to explain the fact that its dark half the time. But don’t worry about it; if you are prepared with lights and reflectors, night can be a great time to ride.

Just watch out for twigs.

3 thoughts on “Bike to Work Hazards Part 2: Mother Nature

  1. In the summer heat of the Arizona desert, you almost HAVE to ride at night. And we’re lucky to have virtually NO ice on Phoenix streets and sidewalks (because sometimes you’re REQUIRED to ride the S/W!

    1. I have enough experience with Phoenix to realize I should have included another road hazard: the melted road surface. Blacktop must be unbearable in the summer, is it any cooler on the sidewalk?

  2. I’m not sure I can tell whether the S/W is any hotter than the street. I bet it is, but I think the second the temperature goes above 130°F under the tires … I lose my ability to distinguish which part of Hell is the hottest!

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