Get out your ice-cycle

Annual race appeals to those unafraid to get a little snow on their spokes

Zana Kavanagh

Ice Bike, a frigid, dead-of-winter (yet lively and fun) bicycle race, was pioneered in Winnipeg.

Well, maybe not officially, but Woodcock Cycle Works, a Winnipeg cycling store and the founder of Ice Bike, receives phone calls from as far as Ireland asking for advice on race organization.

It makes sense - Winnipeggers are some of the thriftiest cold-climate adventurers in the world.

It seems ‘Peg City cyclists are embracing the cold - an increasing number of cycling commuters are braving -35 C.

Tim Woodcock, owner of Woodcock Cycle, has evidence of this.

He says the turnout for Ice Bike Thirteen, which takes place Sunday, Feb. 10 at The Forks, is slated to reach 200 this year.

In 1998, Ice Bike’s first year, the event had around 30 participants. 

Ice Bike was envisioned by the unlikeliest of sorts - David Turnball of Australia, a fellow Woodcock describes as “the ultimate winter cyclist.”

Although Turnball has since left snowy Winnipeg and returned down under, Ice Bike lives on.

Woodcock says the goal of Ice Bike is “to get people out of their basements and out of their element,” adding “it’s kind of like a polar dip (for cyclists).”

After a two-year hiatus, Woodcock and Jackson Locken, the head organizer of the event, are enthusiastic with the amount of interest in Ice Bike.

Although it’s officially a race, the event has a very non-competitive vibe and is perfect for beginners and families alike, eliminating almost any excuse for not giving it a shot.

You can compete on your little cousin’s tricycle or on your grandma’s beach cruiser with the big basket on the front. (Hot chocolate anyone?)

In fact, you don’t even need two wheels, making this the perfect breakout event for any avid unicyclists. And yes, unicyclists have participated in past Ice Bikes.

It’s kind of like a polar dip (for cyclists).

Tim Woodcock, Ice Bike

“For a lot of people it’s like reenacting your childhood. There are big smiles,” Woodcock says.

Jiri Skopalek, a seasoned Ice Bike participant, agrees.

“The best part is being out there with like-minded people who are willing to get on a bike and have fun, no matter the temperature,” Skopalek says.

So what does an ice-cycling vet like Skopalek recommend for Ice Bike beginners?

“Speed is overrated, just enjoy the ride,” Skopalek says, advice he says he hasn’t historically followed, and is perhaps why he’s had trouble placing.

And don’t worry - Locken says the Ice Bike name is misleading as one doesn’t actually have to navigate any pure ice.

That said, the course will be covered in snow and you will get to go through some fun tree sections.

Locken’s trick of the trade: let some air out of your back tire to help you gain more traction.

Also, helmets are required, but that’s about it for rules. 

With The Forks Market and Parks Canada’s support, Ice Bike kicks off with a kids race at noon. Three adult races - four km, eight km and 11 km - follow at 12:30 p.m.

Registration starts at 9 a.m. in The Forks Market or you can pre-register by contacting Woodcock Cycle Works at 204-253-5896.

And, if you’re still not convinced that this is your year to race, there is a call for volunteers. For more information contact Locken at jackson.woodcockcycle@shaw.ca.

Published in Volume 67, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 7, 2013)

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