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University of Birmingham developing icy road warning system for cyclists

System would involve collecting and processing data from sensors attached to individual bikes

The University of Birmingham (UoB) is looking to use the Internet of Things to produce an ice warning system for cyclists and also to deliver new insights into winter cycling habits. The university is currently advertising for a PhD student to work on the project.

There were 1,826 ice-related cyclist admissions to hospitals in 2016/2017. The UoB believes this could be reduced by adapting its Wintersense sensors so that they can be used on a bike.

Wintersense sensors are wireless and use infrared technology to detect road surface temperatures. The data they collect is uploaded to the Wintersense cloud where it can be processed and accessed via a web app.

Cycling survival:'s tips for riding on ice and snow

Because the sensors connect wirelessly, the university feels there is scope for them to be attached to bikes. A system could then be developed so that cyclists could receive information, as well as passively collecting and transmitting it.

“The sensor will connect, via an app, to the cyclists phone and issue audible warnings when an ice risk is present,” says the UoB. “By networking a number of units in the cloud, real-time thermal maps of current road conditions could be produced and relayed to other cyclists on the network, giving warnings of changing conditions ahead (in much the same way as heavy traffic is communicated to motorists via satellite navigation systems).”

It is pointed out that not all cyclists would need sensors – just the app. “This leads to other key components of the project which would investigate how to ensure engagement with the approach as well as policy implications such as liabilities, ownership, data sharing and privacy.”

The timeline for the project is for a modified version of the Wintersense sensor for use on a bike to be completed in year one, with an app and cloud solution developed in year two and data analysis with insights into winter cycling habits completed in year three.

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vonhelmet | 4 years ago

One of the bikes I commute on has clearances that will accept studded tyres. I have studded tyres on there and regular tyres on my single speed. If there's any risk of ice then I ride on the studded tyres. My usual benchmark is 4 degrees and any level of moisture, because 4 degrees at home can mean sub zero temperatures and ice in shady places or away from built up areas. I know some people would laugh at me being that cautious, but having once skidded and come down hard on a frozen rural road I'm not in a hurry to take chances.

Xenophon2 | 4 years ago
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Road temperature is not always indicative of ice risk.  Depends on whether or not the road has been salted etc.  I've ridden in -10 centigrade and not had a care in the world as everything was bone dry.  Ice can be very local, e.g. on a bridge or an isolated spot where it's just that little bit colder/more humid than 100 meter down the road.  As soon as temperatures approach zero celsius and it's humid, care should be taken.  The only precaution I take is riding with broader tires, shifting up one gear and going -a lot-  slower.  And riding on the road when it's wet as the cyclepaths over here aren't salted.  I've tried studded tires one winter, years ago when there was not only ice but also snow everywhere.  They worked fine (I could cruise up a hill where cars simply couldn't make it up) but under any other riding conditions they're horrible, I'd only consider them if I had an extra wheelset lying around, which I currently don't.  If it comes to that again then I guess I'll take the bus.

ktache | 4 years ago

It's the black ice that terrifies me.

When motorists have to scrape windows, the only thing that worries me is when some don't and drive around with even less vision than normal.

What I would describe as hoare frost is not too concerning, the crispy stuff, the light sparkly stuff that makes the crunchy sound, take it a bit easy, especially on corners.

Even iced up puddles, most of the time they crunch a bit, it often takes a bit to fully freeze them.  And they are noticeable.

As I said it's the black ice that has gotten me, the sheet stuff that covers large ammounts of flat normal roads.  Where if you do anything your front wheel just goes and you go down hard.  Unexpected, putting a foot down is no good you are still going down this time in the splits.

That's why I got spike tyres, big chunky ones, for my good Ti xtr'ed bike.  Ceramic brakes too, ali rim brakes can ice up and be proper scarey.  I have yet to experience disks in wet sub zeros.  It's why I'm prepping her at the moment.  Cleaning the drive train in preperation, the Spike Claws are over a decade old, still good.  In snow too.  Keep them boxed, steel bead and very heavy, no good when no snow and ice.

Both the cost and hastle of changing tubeless will probably prevent me from getting a set for my new bike.  Swapping tubed tyres is a relatively easy process.

Black ice is rare though, luckily.  It takes specific circumstances for it to form.  Hope this app can do that.  Just very cold is often not enough.

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