Riding your bike in the winter?

Not just for the pompous and the weird

I strode into the office barely a minute early, panting with exertion. Frost matted every follicle in my beard, forming a tangled, icy layer over my face.

“What is wrong with you?!” my co-worker Michelle asked me. “It would take you four seconds to wash the snow out of your beard in the bathroom before you came in. Now you’re dripping from your face. You look ridiculous.

“I’m pretty sure you just ride your bike in the winter for the attention,” she continued. “‘Oooh, look at me! Look at what a hardcore cyclist I am!’ And why are you gasping for breath? I just drove by you. You weren’t even riding that fast.”

“She’s... she’s right,” I thought to myself, conceding her excellent points. “I wasn’t even riding that fast!”

For years, winter biking has been designated the domain of the intrepid, of the reckless, of the avid. Those with a real propensity for cycling and the gear to match. The University of Winnipeg Students Association (UWSA) Ice Riders have been working to dispel that notion in the four years that we’ve been around. Getting anywhere in the dead of winter is a slippery, arduous trudge, no matter what your means of transportation. Winter riding is for everyone who owns a bike and lives in Winnipeg.

Riding your bike in the winter is relatively warm, fast, and it’s easy. When you’re moving constantly, your body heats itself. A pair of wool socks or two, some good gloves, and covering your face properly will keep you snug in rides up to 40 minutes long. You don’t need Turbo-Arctic-Insulated gloves or a fleece made from narwhal fur. Just take what you have in your closet and layer appropriately. Personally, I just wear thousands of cardigans.

It’s speedy – it cuts out the painful, immobile waiting that’s part of transit-use in the remote, under-serviced corners of the city, and it’s quicker than walking. Cars are a warmer and faster option if you live far (anywhere downtown: bikes win), but they’re brutal during rush hour. Nor can I recall the last time my bike “wouldn’t start” in inclement weather.

Most importantly, riding your bike in the winter is easy. My co-coordinator said it best, describing her introduction to winter riding. “I was riding all summer... and then it snowed, and I kind of just kept riding.” It’s just bikes.

The biggest barrier I hear from folks who are interested in trying it is safety. This is a perfectly legitimate concern. I’ve been lucky in my own personal experiences, but I’ve had some close calls. Altogether, I find motorists are more respectful and cautious around me in the winter than they are during summer months. I also ride much more defensively in the winter, taking a paved part of the road and holding it.  Still, safety would be much improved if the City worked actively to connect bike lanes outside of the core, and made an effort to clear them come wintertime.

The best way to improve conditions for winter riding is to normalize it – it’s growing, not going away. Less cycle-bros nodding smugly to their coworkers as they shake free their luscious hair from underneath their toques, and more people commuting casually because it just makes sense. The Ice Riders love cycle-bros, but we also love grandparents, students, youth and first-time winter riders. Happy riding, everybody.

Fabian is a co-coordinator for the UWSA Ice Riders. He may have taken some liberties in remembering his conversation with Michelle. The Ice Riders are hosting a Party Ride on November 29 and a workshop on December 4. Contact iceriders@theuwsa.ca for more information.

Published in Volume 68, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 27, 2013)

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