Riding in a winter wonderland

Braving blizzards by bicycle

Winnipeg's harsh winters present unique challenges for cyclists.

Supplied photo

Winter biking might not be the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they think of an effective mode of transportation or an enjoyable outdoor activity. However, despite the cold, for many people, cycling in winter can be both a necessary form of transportation and a fun recreational pastime.

For some cyclists like Ian Walker, winter biking is a choice, not a necessity. Walker, who has been cycling since 2011, does so for a number of reasons.

“It reduces greenhouse gas emissions,” he says. He and his wife share a single car, and they have a child.

Walker enjoys the exercise. He often cycles with his child using a chariot or a cargo bike, explaining that it gets his kids outside and helps instill healthy habits at a young age.     

Gord Friesen, a winter cycling veteran, has found it very encouraging to see that there are more cyclists on the road in winter now than there were 30 years ago.

“Now I see dozens,” he says. Friesen enjoys “embracing the winter,” explaining that while he does perspire a little bit quicker in the colder months, “that is what moisture-wicking base layers like wool are for.” Friesen is “almost never cold on (his) bike” and says that some of his nicest rides are in the winter, because “it’s beautiful” outside.

While he hears many stories about near misses involving drivers, he has experienced only a handful himself.

“The majority of drivers just want to go somewhere and get along ... People on bikes, people in cars, we are all just people,” Friesen says.

Other cyclists remain cautious when biking in the winter. Kaye Grant started cycling about eight years ago.  She explains that the first time she tried it, she decided it wasn’t for her.  However, the next year Grant put studded tires on her bike with the guidance of her son and began with small rides.  After joining the board of Bike Winnipeg, Grant felt more obligated to cycle in the winter. Four years ago, she became car-free, which made cycling her primary form of transportation.  She describes herself as a cautious winter commuter.

Grant uses a single-speed commuter bike with studded tires and fenders. She suggests that anyone who wants to begin winter cycling should start slow.

“Ride when you are comfortable,” she says. “Not all bike routes are snow-cleared well.  Get off and walk a section if it starts to feel too uncomfortable.”

Greg Allen, lead instructor at The WRENCH (Winnipeg Repair Education and Cycling Hub), started cycling because of the cost of other forms of transportation.  Allan believes people should model the change they wish to see.

“The more people cycling in the winter, the more people see that and begin to believe it’s a viable way of living, the more people will eventually find themselves on the road,” Allen says.    

In general, Allen does not believe in specialized winter gear and thinks that it is a barrier to the accessibility of winter cycling because of specialty gear’s high cost.

Allen recommends visiting local community bike shops, “like the Orioles Bike Cage and the South Osborne Bike Hub. These are excellent places for everyone to go to winterize their bike.”

“It’s cheap and environmentally friendly,” Allan says. “It also keeps me active, healthy and more connected to my community.”

J Fiedler, lead mechanic for the South Osborne Bike Hub, is running a winter cycling workshop, Preparing for Winter Cycling, on Nov. 16  from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Fort Rouge Leisure Centre MPR in the Osborne Library (625 Osborne St.).

Published in Volume 74, Number 9 of The Uniter (November 7, 2019)

Related Reads