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IMG_0223It’s autumn. That means the leaves are turning some awesome colors, falling from their trees, getting rained on and potentially causing horrendous crashes on Philly streets.

Wet leaves—whether they’re coming straight from overhanging branches or being raked into the street—present a danger for cyclists on the road, and even more when they’re wet. As leaves decompose, they create a greasy film of which becomes pretty slippery when mixed with water. It gets even worse as they get driven over and crushed by cars. What that means for you: An increased stopping distance and the potential to slip and crash on city streets, especially when making turns.

After scouring the Internet on safety tips for biking on the wet leaves, we came across this post from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in Oregon, who had this to say about ways wet leaves could surprise you, and recommendations for riding on some cellulose-laden asphalt.

 

Here are some ways that wet leaves could surprise you:

  1. They can cause you to slide if you’re turning across them.
  2. They can cause you to skid if you’re braking on them.
  3. They can cause you to lose traction if you’re accelerating (or going uphill) on them.
  4. They may be hiding a pavement hazard, like a big pothole, that will surprise you, and might even surprise you right off your bike!

I’ll bet our readers have tons of great suggestions, but I recommend the following:

Do your braking before you hit the leaves, and then ease up on the brakes as you go over them. Especially if you are executing a turn – do it very slowly, but whatever you do don’t brake while turning.

1. Avoid accelerating on leaves.

2. Avoid braking on leaves.

3. Just avoid biking on leaves altogether! Remember that it is perfectly legal, not to mention fair and safe, for you to leave the margins of the road and get out there in the middle of the traffic lane if you need to avoid a hazard. The key to doing this is that you absolutely must:

4. a) Look behind you first to make sure you’re not going to cut anyone off. b) Use proper signaling before you maneuver towards the center of the lane or into a neighboring traffic lane so the motorists understand, sympathize, and adjust to let you in.

So remember: Brake before you hit leaves and avoid sharp turns. And not just in the city; be careful out there if you’re riding on trails throughout the Greater Philadelphia region.

For heavy tree-concentrated areas, the Philadelphia Streets Department offers mechanical leaf collection with a designated weekly schedule, although it only covers a handful of neighborhoods. May we suggest presenting a good example by raking the leaves in front of your home and depositing them into large paper bags?

If you’ve got any more ideas, leave them in the comments section or tweet them at us at @bcgp and we’ll add them.

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Randy LoBasso

Author

Randy LoBasso is the policy manager at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

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