Tips for safe and warm winter cycling
When winter arrives, many Calgarians store their bicycles away until springtime.
But not everyone.
A growing number of people cycle year round, including during their daily commute. And in the winter, that requires some additional preparation.
“The key to having a positive experience riding in winter is being prepared and having the right gear,” said Doug Fox, a Bow Cycle salesperson who has commuted by bike to the store daily for many years.
Fox says while some people use their summer bike in winter, “usually people kind of end up with a winter-dedicated kind of bike.”
He says some must-have bike accessories for winter riding include lights and fenders.
“Besides keeping you clean, the fenders help to keep your bike cleaner and the drivetrain cleaner,” he said.
Short daylight hours during winter means lights are a necessity, he says, and the combination of LED bulbs and lithium batteries make them a good buy.
“The City has put a high priority on clearing the downtown cycle tracks and also on some of the pathways along the rivers leading to the cycle tracks, which makes cycling in the winter not only safer from a crash perspective, but also keeps cyclists off the roads.” – Krista Phillips, Bike Calgary vice-president
“Lights are so powerful and so inexpensive these days, there’s no excuse not to have really good lights,” he said.
Studded winter tires for your bicycle are also an option, depending on where you plan to ride.
Fox says if you mostly cycle on city pathways that are cleared in winter, you might not need studs, but if you travel a mixed route, then studded tires on both wheels, or at least the front wheel, can help.
“It’s another layer of security and confidence on your bike,” he said.
Dressing for the weather is also crucial, with an outer layer that is weatherproof, but still breathable, and layers of clothing underneath appropriate for the temperatures.
Fox says there are insulated covers available if you wear cycling shoes, but cyclists can also use platform pedals and wear winter boots.
Fat bikes have become popular in recent years, with massively wide tires that provide flotation over snow and a larger contact area of tread.
Mostly intended for riding on snow rather than plowed pathways or roads, Fox says there are some people who do use a fat bike to commute in winter.
“I think the thing for people who commute on a fat bike is just the security,” he said. “They are not fast by any means for commuting, but they are going to be the most capable and confident style of bike you can ride.”
Krista Phillips, vice-president of Bike Calgary, says there is definitely a growing trend of Calgarians cycling during winter, which the City of Calgary is addressing.
“The City has put a high priority on clearing the downtown cycle tracks and also on some of the pathways along the rivers leading to the cycle tracks, which makes cycling in the winter not only safer from a crash perspective, but also keeps cyclists off the roads,” she said.
“There’s always room for improvement, but I do believe they are responding to the growing demand very appropriately.”
She says there are so many reasons why cycling is good, “from a policy perspective, but also from a personal health perspective, physically and mentally.”
Fox says he much prefers cycling to dealing with winter road conditions and being stuck in traffic.
“I just love to ride bikes, in any weather, any conditions,” he said. “I’m happiest on a bicycle.”