Hardy Northern Winter Cycling: An Introduction

This is the first of four blog posts about winter cycling in Thunder Bay. Future posts will discuss What to Wear, Equipment and Maintenance, and Techniques. To download all four posts as a booklet, go here.

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“Are You Crazy?!?”

This thought crosses most people’s minds when thinking about cycling as a year-round mode of transportation. People get all bundled up to go skiing in freezing temperatures; winter cycling is much the same.

Some of the most beautiful days for biking are in late fall and early spring when the air is fresh and the sun is still warm. In fact, experienced cyclists may want to consider cycling through the winter on days when the roads are clear. In Thunder Bay, the roads can remain clear of snow and ice into November and sometimes December.

A longer cycling season will lead to many benefits for your health, your wallet, and the environment. This guide is not intended to be exhaustive but it does provide ‘best practices’ for safe cycling in all weather.

Benefits of Cycling All Year

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• Physical activity – Physically fit people are less likely to develop heart and lung disease, hypertension, certain types of cancer, or type II diabetes.

• Pollution prevention – If each person, living five kilometers from their workplace or school, biked an average of three times per week, each person would prevent 360 kg of GHG emissions annually.

• Transportation savings – It costs the average Canadian $.70 per kilometer to operate a car. Cycling is free! The Bike to Work blog suggests that cycling through the winter will save enough money that you can afford to travel somewhere warmer. Sounds great to us!

• Enjoyment – During the colder months, cycling provides time outdoors in the fresh air and sunlight.

How Hard is Winter Riding?

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Many cold weather cycling commutes are very pleasant and safe. Winter days are often bright and sunny, with clean, clear roads. However, travel time tends to increase by approximately 30%, so plan ahead!

In the winter, choose your routes with extra care. Choose shorter routes with lower traffic volumes, and minimal hills and corners. This helps to prevent accidents. Have alternate routes planned; a snowfall can make your normal route unsafe. When Thunder Bay’s multiuse trails are cleared, they provide a great alternative to riding on the road.

Keep in mind that Thunder Bay’s bike lanes are not maintained from Nov. 15 to May 14. Snow and road debris that accumulates in the bike lanes will not be cleared until May 15.

Use your best judgment when confronted with challenging weather. For example, during a snow storm, choose another mode of transportation. After a heavy snow fall, don’t ride until the roads have been cleared.

Remember, winter cycling is not a day-in, day-out commitment. Pick your cycling days according to the weather and your mood. Don’t push yourself, but when you ride, enjoy the unique beauty of winter weather.

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