I recently read about a cyclist based in Edinburgh, who crashed after hitting black ice. She both broke and dislocated her elbow, and couldn’t even stand up, due to the pain she was in. She was riding with another cyclist, who also crashed and was also injured.

The crash happened at around 11h30, and from then on, things got progressively worse: though people came to the rescue, providing a sleeping bag and blankets, as well as plenty of hot drinks, the cyclist started becoming hypothermic.

The situation was made worse by access problems (made worse by the ice) resulting in the ambulance being unable to get to her. Once the paramedics managed to walk to the casualty, they couldn’t remove her, and in the end a special buggy was sent for for. As a result, by the time she eventually made it hospital, her body had gone into shock, and she was completely hypothermic.

Her story had a good outcome, but imagine for a moment what might have happened if she went cycling on her own, along a route that wasn’t fairly busy with other people. Cyclists typically depend on riding to stay warm on the bike. My winter kit mainly consists on lycra shorts, a long-sleeved jersey and a raincoat on top. Occasionally, I’ll wear a base layer, too.

Dressed like that, you lose body heat extremely quickly, when stopped, and if lying on the cold ground for several hours, hypothermia becomes life-threatening.

So, what does this mean for everyday cycling? How do you manage the risks?

Some cycle computers have crash detection, and can send an SOS message to a designated emergency contact, but even if yours don’t, there are still things you can do.
Especially if there’s risk of ice, consider carrying a space blanket. They take next to no space, and can easily fit in a jersey pocket. A space blanket alone won’t keep you warm, but it’s a great deal better than being marooned just in your cycling kit.

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It’s a good idea to follow a pre-set route (yes, I know that can be boring) and let someone know what time you expect to be back, so they can raise the alarm if you’re considerably late.
Always ensure your phone is charged, before a ride. You can even use an app like Glympse to share your location in real time (as long as your phone retains a data signal) with specific people, but be aware that all GPS apps will drain the battery far quicker.

In a COVID world, when I go for long(ish) solo rides, I take a pannier with, as I carry a flask of coffee, and some snacks. After all, what’s a bike ride without a coffee stop, eh?

In the pannier, I carry a very warm coat, a space blanket, and a powerbank, too.

What do you do to ensure a relatively minor incident doesn’t become a matter of survival?

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