Cycle blogger lauds the merits, pains and joys of winter riding

A well-known cycling blogger and author says that our collective, changing attitudes towards cycling in winter point to a larger shift in how we treat the season overall.

Tom Babin says winter cycling is a great way to reconnect with the chilly season

Loyal Squires started riding a fat bike about 3 years ago in St. John's. According to Gary Moore, Squires is the one to thank for the surge in popularity. (Loyal Squires/Submitted)

A well-known cycling blogger and author says that our collective, changing attitudes towards cycling in winter point to a larger shift in how we treat the season overall.

That's one of the points that Tom Babin gets at in his new book, Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling. Along with the book, Babin writes for a popular cycling blog with the Calgary Herald, drawing on several years of cycling experience through all seasons of the year.

"I was like most people, when the fall came and the snow started to fly, I would put my bike away," he said, noting that he soon found himself yearning to ride, especially when he saw other people in his city, Calgary, riding around in the winter.

He decided to try out it for himself.

"That was really the start to my book. It was just trying to answer the question, is riding your bike in winter a viable way of getting around?" he said.

Babin joined CBC's Saskatchewan Weekend host Shauna Powers to share some of the insights he's learned about winter riding.

He said a common reaction is people "see a person outside and think that person's crazy... but staying warm is easier when you're peddling away."

Babin noted getting around is easier, and that he almost likes winter cycling better than he does cycling in summer. 

The cover of Tom Babin's new book, Frostbike. (Rocky Mountain Books)

"It reminded me almost of the joy of winter. You know those nighttime bike rides home, where it's snowing and I'm cutting a fresh path through the snow, and you can see the lights reflected and it's calm and quiet," he said. "In daily life we kind of miss that part of winter."

That's doubly true, he said, when we consider how our heated cars and garages basically allow us to avoid stepping outside.

Another thing he learned is that people looking to start winter cycling don't need to buy a bunch of new gear.

"Don't go out and buy a big expensive bike. Grab an old mountain bike and give it a try," he said. "Studded tires are really well built and cheaper than they used to be. Just make sure you have some bike fenders and that it's well-lit."

As for clothing, riders don't need anything special; "layer up like you would for any other winter thing," and expect to be fairly warm, he said.

"I've never been as cold on a bike as I was when standing at a bus stop. You really want to dress a little bit less warm than you would for, you know, going for a long walk or that kind of thing," Babin said.

Babin also said one of the bigger takeaways for him was learning how to reconnect and engage with winter. 

"Our perceptions of winter have really changed over the years ... I think we tend to think of the snow storms and the blizzards. But we don't remember the average days," he said. "It's not that cold once we get out there and see it's not that tough to deal with."

Cycling is one of many ways for people to get outside in winter and reconnect with it, especially since "a lot of us have really lost our connection to it," he said. 

"I actually look forward to winter, which I never thought I'd do."

Despite sitting behind cities in Europe with entire infrastructure for cyclists, Babin said changing municipal attitudes in Canada towards drivers and cyclist sharing the road are a starting point. 

"In Calgary we just unveiled the summer-ride downtown network of separated bike lanes," he said.

Some of the projects are quite controversial, but they are starting to pay off in the long-run, he said.

"We're seeing more people ride year-round. It makes a city better when you get more people on bikes," he said.

"But you have to have a commitment from your citizens to give it a try and from your politicians to advocate on behalf of it."


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