Winter Bike to Work Day: 4 tips for cyclist safety in icy conditions

With today being International Winter Bike to Work Day, the CBC's Jenny Howe turns to Frostbike author and bike blogger Tom Babin for a bit of a winter cycling education.

'If you act like a vehicle on the road, motorists tend to treat you like one,' says Tom Babin

Feb. 12 is Bike to Work Day in Calgary. Frostbike author and bike blogger Tom Babin shares four tips for winter cycling safety. (Getty Images)

To non-winter cyclists, riding a bike during the chilliest season of the year can seem daunting.

With today being International Winter Bike to Work Day, the CBC's Jenny Howe turned to Frostbike author and bike blogger Tom Babin for a bit of a winter cycling education.

Here are some of Babin's tips to help get you suited, geared up and on the road. 

1. Get over it

One of the most common mistakes would-be cyclists make is to exaggerate the coldness of winter, said Babin. 

"We have way more warm, nice days in winter than we think," he said.

"Really, you have to get over your own attitudes about winter; that's the biggest obstacle."

2. Prepare for icy roads

Warm chinook winds in Calgary can cause cycles of melting and freezing, which can exacerbate icy road conditions, said Babin.

His advice is to invest in studded winter tires, which are much more affordable today than in the past.

"A lot of people I know just use one on the front wheel, and that seems to make a huge difference."

"That can really give you a lot of confidence. You can overcome those icy patches that you gotta cross."

For those who are willing to spend a bit more money, Babin suggested purchasing a "fat bike" with studded tires. 

"They're the monster trucks of the bike world," he said. "If you're on one of those, you're not falling."

Though unnecessary, fat bikes are an option for winter cyclists who are unafraid to spend a little more money and would appreciate the added traction, said Babin. (Getty Images)

3. Ride with confidence

Beginner cyclists may feel uncomfortable sharing the road with other vehicles where there are no separated bike lanes.

"If you act like a vehicle on the road, motorists tend to treat you like one," said Babin.

He said cyclists shouldn't be afraid to ride in the center of the road for safety reasons, at least for short stretches of time. 

"If we just have respect for everybody else on the road, it's really doable."

4. Dress appropriately

Babin recommends dressing the same way you would for a winter walk, adding that it's unnecessary to invest in expensive clothing or Merino wool underlayers for most moderate commutes.

Pay special attention to keep your hands, feet, and neck warm because of the added wind chill, he said.

His final piece of advice is to just get out there and give it a try.

"Once you get through the first days ... things get easier from there,"  he said. "That's when you really start to enjoy it."

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