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How To Ride Your Bike in the Winter

 By Larraine Roulston:

When the weather becomes cold and snowy, we see a special breed of energetic souls continuing to ride their bikes. Whether it’s for exercise or the daily commute, these hardy riders “gear up” for warmth and safety. Though they secretly feel proud of their outdoor biking skills, they do not, however, view themselves as super heroes facing the elements. Rather, they look at cycling as merely an easy and affordable form of transportation that does not create carbon emissions. Instead of walking, carpooling, waiting at bus stops or sitting in traffic, cyclists don the proper attire and enjoy the freedom of traveling effectively around the city.

For warmth, bikers suggest keeping it simple by choosing to wear layers for ventilation and an outerwinter biking shell to keep out the wind. The exercise keeps their body core warm, but extremities such as fingers, toes and ears require extra protection. Bikers invest in warm gloves that allow flexibility while changing gears, suitable boots, and toques (small caps or hats) to fit under their helmets. Lloyd Alter’s update on Ride your bike in the city all winter notes that, by wearing his snowboarding mitts and using his goggles to protect his eyes, he has no trouble handling his gears or brakes. He explains that the difference between walking and cycling is that one’s body cools differently. People who dress the same for both activities tend to become overheated when cycling. Walkers need a warmer coat, whereas a sweater or two and a lighter jacket are better suited for cycling. Read more on winter wear at the City of Toronto’s Bike in the Winter.

For safety, do not swerve when approaching ice. Avoid zigzagging and ride safely. If your city has not cleared the snow from the designated bike lane, choose an alternate and safer street that has been plowed and salted. In the case of extreme weather, it is important to know your limits and be prepared to take alternative transportation.

Use brighter LED lights, leaving your headlight on (instead of flashing), to make it much easier for others to judge your speed and distance.

winter biking cartoonDuring heavy snow days, main arteries may have snow cleared to the curb, forcing cars to fill the bike lanes. On these busy streets, cyclists have to be extremely cautious when riding in traffic. Your bike should be equipped with bright lights at both front and rear, and you should wear a yellow or orange vest as well as a helmet with a mounted light. You also have to be alert to the possibility of people opening car doors. Best to plan your routes on streets less traveled.

Richard Fraser, owner of Spokes and Sports in Toronto, advises cyclists in Toronto to clean their bikes and re-lube at least once every two weeks since riding during winter will accumulate grit and salt, both of which can corrode chains and other parts of your bicycle. He also notes, “A second full wheel set equipped with heavily treaded or studded tires would be a good idea.”

Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto, has helped to push his city for more bike infrastructure. As well, he has increased public education by hosting cycling workshops. Unlike cities in Denmark, where 70% of the cyclists ride their bikes in all weather conditions, only 10% of Toronto cyclists carry on riding through the winter. Kolb has noted, however, that there has been an increase in the number of cold weather riders in recent years. For more cycling safety, visit www.cycleto.ca.and Winter Riding.

Related Links

Larraine authors a children’s adventure series on composting at www.castlecompost.com

About Larraine Roulston

A mother of 4 with 6 wonderful grandchildren, Larraine has been active in the environmental movement since the early l970s. When the first blue boxes for recycling were launched in her region, she began writing a local weekly newspaper column to promote the 3Rs. Since that time, she has been a freelance writer for several publications, including BioCycle magazine. As a composting advocate, Larraine authors children's adventure stories that combine composting facts with literature. Currently she is working on the 6th book of her Pee Wee at Castle Compost series, which can be viewed at www.castlecompost.com. As well, Larraine and her husband Pete have built a straw bale home and live in Ontario.

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