Slippery When Wet: Fall Cycling Safety

Ouch. A wipe-out on a bike ride last weekend, in which autumn leaves were complicit, was a timely, if bruising, reminder to slow down and exercise caution. A slippery accumulation of damp leaves can interfere with fall cycling safety, especially when braking and turning.

Those layers of fallen reds, browns and oranges can also hide road hazards such as storm drain grates, potholes or surfaces that become slick when wet — metal manhole covers and street striping, for example. In my case, the front tire of my bike became lodged in a road seam that had become obscured by leaves. (Not to worry. I was wearing a helmet when I hit the tarmac; the only tragedy was a huge rip in my favorite bib tights.)

To keep safe while savoring autumn’s beauty by bike, follow these simple tips:

  • Scan the road ahead to anticipate obstacles or hazards.
  • If you need to slow down, brake before or after you encounter leaves.
  • Maintain a steady speed when riding on leaves; don’t accelerate.
  • If you spot leaves on a turn, maintain an upright posture as you enter the bend, and avoid braking.
  • If a bike lane is blocked by an accumulation of leaves, it may be necessary for you to enter the adjacent traffic lane. Glance quickly over your shoulder to look for oncoming cars. Signal your intention to take the lane, then ride with traffic for as long as the obstruction persists.
  • Even when roads are dry, the underside of leaves may remain damp, so continue to be cautious.

Remember, if at any time you feel unsafe, dismount and walk your bicycle along a sidewalk or other location that’s free of traffic.

Note: This was originally posted on 10.31.12 and has been updated.

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