It’s that time of year. The first snows are falling. The north wind howls. Sleet and frozen rain pour down upon us mere mortals. It’s the time of year most folks put their bicycles away.
Such fair-weather activities must wait until spring. People up north don’t generally play beach volleyball in their bikinis in January, they don’t suntan in December and they don’t golf outdoors in February. You know, kind of like we don’t ski in July.
But a growing number of cyclists are opting to make their two-wheeled commutes a year-round activity.
You see them on our roads in snow storms, legs churning, manic grin spread across their faces, plowing ahead.
This determined 10 to 15 per cent of bi-wheeled enthusiasts cycle no matter how inclement the weather; in fact, the worse it gets the happier they appear to be.
Cars are spinning and sliding but who cares? Why let a little thing like snow deter you? They live on the edge, see. They form clubs and give themselves dangerous swaggering nicknames like “ice riders” just to let everyone know how bad ass they are. “Expect to be somewhat of a loner,” one website informs hopefuls, “a member of a small elite set of cyclists that ride in winter.”
Winter cyclists: the few, the proud, the smug.
When they get to work their peers greet them with disbelief. Are you crazy? Do you have a death wish? How can you cycle during the winter? Have you seen Jim from accounting? That guy bikes in the winter! He is one crazy dude! The ice rider revels in his daredevil aura.
Winter cycling may be strange – subjecting yourself to the equivalent of a 40-minute prostate exam while avoiding distracted drivers is definitely weird – but those winter cyclists who would have us believe that they are defying death are blowing smoke.
The reality is that winter cycling is about as dangerous as its summer equivalent; in fact, it may be safer. Motorists are actually more careful of winter cyclists because they realize how easily a biker who has not winterized his or her ride can become a casualty.
That’s the thing with winter cycling. He that seems mad is but mad in clothes.
The maniac you see out there with his Avenir Frost gloves, Sports Science Wicking Training shirt and Icebreaker Pocket 200 Beanie is not the one to worry about.
Odds are that this true believer spent money winterizing his ride, bought studded tires, wears reflective clothing and may have even equipped his ride with disk brakes, which are not as affected by adverse weather conditions.
This fellow has taken the appropriate precautions. He loves cycling and won’t quit when the going gets cold. The worst thing you can do to him is ignore him when he huffs into the office in his gear waiting for his chorus of gasps. If he wants to bike, cool, but he’s no hero. The guy who keeps jogging through the winter is the true maniac. He battles icy sidewalks and arctic temperatures and he has to run by all those coffee shops, delis and bakeries without once stopping.
The cyclist you really should be concerned about is the one with his winter hood on (who needs peripheral vision?) and his hands stuffed in his pockets, and who is biking on bald summer tires. These guys aren’t cycling to make a statement and, if they are, that statement is “I have no money.” These are the folks who give drivers the jitters. The only thing they are prepared for is getting into an accident.
Commuting is a big problem and bikes are one solution but we should consider other forms of winter transport as ways of solving gridlock.
Why not build and groom trails so folks can cross country ski to work? Up north where they have snow all season long this may already be a phenomenon. Cities should build official commuting trails so that folks can strap on their boards and get to work. Maybe we should build a mountain (the size of the kind they have in Whistler) in the middle of Toronto so that people can downhill ski to work?
Skating is an obvious fix. In Ottawa, they have the canal, the world’s longest rink. Each morning, thousands of affluent civil servants put on their skates and glide to work past picturesque scenery. This keeps them in touch with the average Canadian. In Vancouver, it hardly ever snows but when it does they deserve it and they keep biking.
And so, to conclude, the snow is our commuting pal. Winter cycling is a tad eccentric but not crazy.
Bikers, who, as a group, are impossible to please, will cry foul. Who are you calling not crazy!
Of course, the typical cyclist reaction to any form of criticism is to chastise you for being insensitive and then to call you fat. Will they keep winter biking once the Mad Max facade has been stripped away? Most will. Some won’t.
But those who have experienced the true high of sailing through our grey, salt-encrusted, Soviet-style streets while snow and wind whip their red blistered faces and buses splash icy filth upon them will always be found cycling in our winter wonderlands.