Friday, February the 14th was Winter Bike to Work Day
Cycling for transportation has progressed from sunny days, to rainy days, to fall days and now is penetrating into winter days, no matter the temperature or snow or ice on the road and bike paths.
Back in the 1990’s when snow started to settle onto Toronto and the temperatures plunged below freezing, it was time to park the bike for the winter and switch to using the subway and transit system. One year in March, I was taking a trip on a Saturday from home on the downtown waterfront to Exhibition Park to attend the Toronto International Bicycle Show, a trip of about 5 kilometres or so. It was minus 8 degrees and there was about 15 centimetres of snow on the Waterfront Path. At that time, the tram passing my door only went part of the way there. For me to take transit, it meant using three different streetcar lines and about an hour of travel time, a trip that took 15 minutes at the most by bicycle. Frustrated with the time I would spend on transit, I decided to brave the snow and cold and do the trip by bicycle. It had been years since my teenager years when I would occasionally venture out in winter snow on my newspaper route with the bicycle. Now on this day, it was not a bad ride but my hands and feet were just too cold. So, the bicycle stayed inside for the rest of the winters in Toronto.
Now many years later and for the last three years during the winter months that I have spent in Calgary, I have been trying to build myself up for winter cycling. The bicycle is outfitted with stud tires and I venture forth until the temperature drops to minus 20 degrees. So, that is the background to this post.
During the last two months, our travels took us to two small towns with population of 4,000 to 8,000 in the Kootenay Rockies for some snowshoeing. In both towns we were greeted with extensive multi-use paths that were extremely well maintained and ideal for winter cycling. And so we did spot people out with their bicycles, some of high school age with a bag hanging from the handlebar. Tire imprints in the indicated that wide and fat tires were being used.
In Kimberley, a local bicycle store was renting out fat tired bicycles by the hour and day. There was a multi-use path from downtown to the base of the ski lifts and the adjacent condos.
What more, this 3 kilometres trail was lit for night cycling. There were cycling tracks on the cleared snow. At a local bicycle shop, a sales rep talked about cycling each day from his mountain condo home with one of his bicycles with a variety of tire width to a very wide fat tire. His preference was to cycle on the trail, not the adjacent road. Too many young motorists driving too fast around the many curves with possibly influence from alcohol made this expert cyclist more confortable on the trail.
For more adventuresome cycling there is a winter-maintained 26 kilometres trail from downtown to Cranbrook. Statistics obtained from the local tourism bureau indicates that this trail is well used in winter by cyclists and walkers for the full length.
In Golden, multi-use paths, also well maintained, run along both sides of the Kicking Horse River through downtown and on to the school and community centre by the start of the bike trails up Mount 7. Cyclists were there on the way to downtown and to school. Some people were walking on the trail carrying bags with shopping from a local grocery store. At the local museum, the curator talked about heavy traffic the trails get and growth of cycling in the town. With a small town and without a transit system, people are realizing that there are alternate ways for their transportation needs, including winter cycling.
This year on Friday the 14th, 31 communities participated in a Winter Bike to Work Day. The Canadian event was inspired by the International Winter Cycling Congress being held in Winnipeg on Wednesday to the Friday. In Calgary, over a week there were events held to promote the day, including fun and more practical winter cycling events such as morning breakfast, bike photo booth, build your own studded tire workshops, fat bike race and festival, winter bike skills course, women’s winter riding clinic, and winterpalooza.
Years ago, it was coincidental to see a winter cyclist on a city or town road. Now, more people no longer see winter weather as a barrier.
Municipals are responding with bike path cleaning programs and starting to expand the programs to separated bike lanes and other bike lanes on roads. Sometimes, one can hear the snow removal equipment during a night or early in the morning before road lanes are cleaned.
Maybe someday we will see winter cycling traffic that twill compete with those in Copenhagen.