Surviving Black Ice on Bike

I present you with my new God Hypothesis: if and only if God exists, he is far from benevolent. It would appear the legendary Pure Mathematician Godfrey Harold Hardy agrees: “Another example of [Hardy] trying to fool God was when he went to cricket matches he would take what he called his “anti-God battery”. This consisted of thick sweaters, an umbrella, mathematical papers to referee, student examination scripts etc. His theory was that God would think that he expected rain to come so that he could then get on with his work. Since Hardy thought that God would then have the sun shine all day to spite him, he would be able to enjoy the cricket in perfect sunshine” (Toller made me aware of this; quotation taken from here). God, in order to spite me, over the last two weeks has strategically placed black ice in exactly the same spot of road causing me to fall spectacularly on both occasions causing grievous (= light) damage to my elbow followed by my face, as some sort of obscene joke.

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In fairness I shouldn’t be blaming some being who was invented a long time ago and exists solely in books. The real reason is that my bike’s tyres were worn almost smooth by regular trips to Richmond Park over the Summer and Autumn. But as Winter is setting on, a relatively high tyre pressure (pumped up in the hope of improved speeds) and non-grippy road (rather than mountain-biking) tyres are hardly ideal for the conditions. So I decided to do some research on how not to die at the hands of Winter, squashed between a bus and a centimetre of ice. I’ve organised my incoherent thoughts into a list of tips for anyone who is, like me, foolish enough to attempt to overcome whatever God throws at him, including icy road conditions. Since my expertise with ice cycling is evidently somewhat lacking, I’ve nicked half of these from different sources.


Keep upright and turn slowly

Both times I fell it was because P was too great; too great to be resisted by friction (F). To minimise this you want to minimise the torque created by N and W, i.e. minimise the angle theta: keep as vertical as possible as increased torque increases the effect of P. You also need to slow down (as Dr Zetie has just taught us, centripetal acceleration v^2/r where r is the curve radius and in this case it is provided by friction – if friction isn’t enough to resist the centrifugal force created by high-speed turns, God wins and you fall). I’ll shut up about Physics now.

Brake gently

This might seem obvious but it’s actually even worse than you might think. Friction with the ice when braking melts some of it creating water, which on ice is amazingly ‘fail’ at friction. Bad.

Brake with rear wheel

When you brake, torque makes the bike lean on its front wheels, so if that front wheel locks you’re screwed. Don’t brake with it. Braking with the rear wheel is also great for skidding down icy hills (apparently).

Let the bike get it

If it does come to it and you’re about to crash, a friend of mine advises you just throw the bike at whatever you’re going to hit and either land on it or hit the ground at a much reduced velocity. Not sure how good this advice is, but it’s probably a good idea on the personal safety front. Maybe not for other road users or indeed the bike…

It’s also better to get scrapes than go head-first into a solid object – I’m no expert but I’m pretty sure grazes heal faster than fractures.

Ride the gravel

There tends to be a load of crap at the side of roads, especially gravel which is great for cyclists when the rest of the road resembles an ice-rink. Snow is also better than ice.

Kit out your bike

Use studded tyres

These are the best tyres for grip in icy conditions. Also consider chaining your tyres.

Click for original image

Lifehacker also did a post on it.

Also, slightly underinflating car tyres helps for low-grip surfaces. Presumably the same applies for bikes, especially for wide tyres.

Dress for the Arctic

Wear an anti-God outfit complete with crash-helmet so you’ll just bounce if you hit the road.

– –

Hopefully when I try (most of) this next week I won’t die in the process. And don’t blame me if you do attempt it all and still get hit by a bendy-bus after skidding into the middle of a road.

Most of these ideas and images came from here.

Click for original image


One Response to Surviving Black Ice on Bike

  1. egbertonline says:

    Yeh, turning properly is a crucial part of not letting God win. Basically its all about shifting as much weight as you can onto the other side…which usually involves sticking your knee out. Admittedly this may cause any pedestrians to have a ‘lose to God’ day, but that also ties in with what you said about sacrificial protection.

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