This is a bigger hazard for bicycling than most people realize (as are, I may as well mention, other non-car crash causes; a recent study by the state epidemiologist’s office found that 75% of bike hospitalizations were caused by potholes, leaves, rail tracks, ice, equipment failures, drunkenness, and other non-car problems).
Here are all the ways that wet leaves could surprise you:
1. They can cause you to slide out 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 other suggestions, but I recommend the following:
1. 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.
2. Avoid accelerating on leaves.
3. Avoid braking on leaves.
4. Hey, 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 if you need to avoid a hazard. The key to doing this is that you absolutely must:
a) look behind you first to make sure you’re not going to cut anyone off, and
b) signal before you do it so the motorists understand and sympathize.
5. If you encounter dangerous leaves, let your local maintenance crew know. In Portland, the phone number of maintenance needs (like sweeping glass or leaves, fixing potholes, or repainting lanes) is (503) 823-1700. (The Portland maintenance crew is really wonderful; be nice.) For other jurisdictions, see our list of maintenance contacts.