Recently, an article in Maclean’s Magazine caught my eye. It was titled “Canada: A Nation of Winter Wusses“, and it got me thinking.
2016 marks the fourth year in a row I’ve ridden my bike all through the winter. What stands out for me about this year is the number of times people have expressed “You’re still riding your bike?!?” as if it’s some magical yet scandalous action. Truthfully, this winter has been fairly mild in my part of Ontario, with some significant snowfalls being interspersed with mild periods, most of which have resulted in significant melting. I’ve been able to see bare ground in my back yard for more days in February alone than I did all last winter, and the snow mountain I create with the snow cleared from my deck and bike storage pad (which I deem Mount Moron, in honour of my dogs, who love to climb it), has never risen to a peak higher than my eye level. Last year it was over 8 feet high.
All that to say that this winter hasn’t been that bad. The roads have been clear, the temperatures mild, and the amount of ice on the roads has been virtually non-existent. Couple that with the fact the Belleville actually does a pretty good job of keeping their trails clear of snow, and you’ve got the ideal conditions to ride year round.
So with all that in place, what is it about riding in winter that makes people look at you like you’re either moderately insane, some sort of super-human or both?
At a family event over the holidays, an older relative, when he discovered what I do for a living, asked “well what about the winter?” – to which I responded “well what did you do in the winter when you were younger?”
Of course, he comes from a generation of children that walked to school, they walked to their neighbour’s house, they played outside – and those activities didn’t grind to a halt when the snow started flying. But somewhere along the line, the idea of moderate discomfort – of bundling up to go outside for a short walk, of arriving to your destination a bit out of breath, of traveling in any fashion that’s not heated, enclosed and motorized – got lost.
So I ride through the winter as a protest against the “Winter Wussy” trend Maclean’s identifies. I ride because I want to stay active, and that doesn’t stop just because it’s below zero. But mostly, I ride because it’s actually not that hard. It’s quicker than walking, usually just as quick as driving once you factor in parking and such, and the feeling that comes with Viking Biking just can’t be beat.
So I encourage all of you to take back winter – it’s incredible how much less I dislike winters now that I make a concerted effort to walk or bike more often. Get some decent winter gear, (more guides here and here) and buck the trend against winter wussiness. We’re Canadian, after all. We’re a people that were once described as “…a northern people, as the true out-crop of human nature, more manly, more real than the weak marrow-bones superstition of the effeminate south,” by lawyer and essayist William Alexander Foster in his 1871 address “Canada first or, our new nationality.” Of course, watching my pregnant wife ride through all of last winter also proved that one doesn’t have to be manly to be a bad-ass winter cyclist.
So be the real, (wo)manly out-crop of human nature we’re meant to be. Become a winter cyclist.
And don’t forget to laugh at yourself while you do it.