Winter: An addendum

Yesterday, I wrote about riding through the winter, and I actually feel like I need to clarify a couple of things.

First, know when NOT to ride.  When the snow is piled higher than your front wheel, or there’s ice patches lurking under the snow, or the freezing rain has turned the streets into a curling rink, it’s maybe not the best idea to hop on your bike, especially if you don’t have specialized equipment like studded tires or a Fat Bike. Riding in the winter is a lot like everything else that’s good for you – it’s only good for you as long as you don’t overdo it.  Be flexible, be pragmatic, and try to continue enjoying it.

Second, riding in the winter means that you have to put more time and effort into choosing your route.  It’s a fine balance between roads that are busy enough to be clear, but not too busy to feel dangerous.  If you live somewhere where trails, bike lanes and protected bike lanes are cleared as a priority, then this is less important.  But for most of us, route planning becomes extremely important when the right-of-way gets narrowed by snow and the spaces closest to the curbs can be a gamble.

Third, and related to the above points, some places just are not hospitable to riding in ANY weather conditions, much less when there is snow and ice to contend with.  I’ve been very fortunate to have winter commutes that were relatively well maintained (in Hamilton) or featured decently quiet residential streets with enough width to accommodate me comfortably, even when vehicles are passing me in either direction (in Belleville). For many people and in many places, there’s literally no safe route to get from point A to point B, even when weather is ideal. If you live somewhere where this is a reality, you’re not likely to ride in the winter.  So either move somewhere you can, or start asking, in as polite yet firm a tone as you can muster, for your community to move into the 21st century and start accommodating a wider range of transportation choices.

Biking in Oulu, Finland

A rider in Oulu, Finland on a well-maintained path doing something I could never attempt with my 2 squirrel-focused dogs. Photo by Pekka Tahkola, found here.

When confronted with the inevitable “Nobody rides their bikes in the winter” argument, my favourite retort is to ask them how many people they think would continue to drive compact cars through the winter if the roads were never plowed.  Would people put up with a transportation network that only accommodated those who owned Jeeps, Humvees or snowmobiles? Of course they wouldn’t.  People purchase and use compact cars through the winter because they know that their routes will, with the exception of massive winter storms, be passable.  If people riding their bikes had that same reassurance, you can bet that they will ride more.  Don’t believe me? Go visit Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Or Madison, Wisconsin.  Or Oulu, Finland.  They treat their cycling infrastructure like it should be treated – as a vital component of their transportation network, and, lo and behold, their residents treat it the same way. Wouldn’t it be nice if that were the case where you lived too?

Until next time, safe riding. And stay warm.

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