Calgary

Cold weather biking tips to keep commuting in the winter

A little bit of preparation can help keep active commuters zipping along the city's bike paths and lanes for the whole season, says Joshua Jean, a bike mechanic at Ridley's Cycle.

'By the time you're through that first five minutes, you're warmed up and you're happy,' Joshua Jean says

Winter cycling can be cold and dangerous but regular commuters have strategies to stay active all season. (John Rieti/CBC)

Snowy, icy roads and cold winds don't stop keen Calgarians from cycling to work in the winter.

A little bit of preparation can help keep active commuters zipping along the city's bike paths and lanes for the whole season, says Joshua Jean, a bike mechanic at Ridley's Cycle.

"The first five minutes is the toughest part," Jean told the Calgary Eyeopener

"By the time you're through that first five minutes, you're warmed up and you're happy that you're on your bike and you're on the way to work."

Basic bike

Don't ride your favourite summer road bike in the colder, snowier weather, Jean says.

"I find less is more with the winter bike," he said. "Just finding a bike that is very simplistic and finding something that's not that expensive because the winter is quite harsh on the bikes."

Bike mechanic Joshua Jean has tips on how to make biking in cold weather part of your regular routine. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

The extra moving parts can freeze up — and you don't want to ruin your expensive bike. He suggests buying a cheaper, used bike that you won't mind breaking.

Studded tires

Depending on your commute, you may benefit from buying studded tires, Jean said.

A studded tire helps grip the ice and snow. Even a rubber tire made for the winter, which would be softer, can prevent the tire from hardening up in the cooler temperatures.

"Some people don't necessarily have the snowiest or iciest commute so they can get away with a non-studded tire," he said.

"Maybe just a knobbier tire that works a little bit better. But I would say for the majority of people that commute full time, I would say studded tires is necessary."

Watch Joshua Jean explain how studded tires help:

Joshua Jean, a bike mechanic at Ridley's Cycle in Calgary, speaks about different kinds of studded tires. 0:53

They start at about $70 each. You'd want more studs for the front tire for control and stability, he said. And head's up: they're very noisy, like tap shoes, and can be tricky on concrete.

Maintenance

Again, Jean recommends a "less is more strategy" for maintaining your bike in the winter.

Try cleaning it when the weather warms during a chinook, and use a good wet-weather lubricant.

"Definitely get some good lights," Jean said.

"I find with winter commuting, most of us come to work in the dark and leave in the dark, so a good set of lights front and rear."

Dress warmly

Staying warm is key during chilly commutes.

Calgary Eyeopener host David Gray recommends using pogies, which, like a glove, wrap around your handlebars and your hand, sealing in your body heat to keep your fingers warm.

Like many Calgarians, Eyeopener host David Gray bikes to work, even on -18 C winter days. (David Gray/Twitter)

Gray bikes to work in the morning — and on Monday, it was –18 C.

He and other cyclists also recommend wearing lots of warm layers.

Try a moisture-wicking layer against your skin, then something warm but breathable, like fleece. Wear a wind-proof outer layer. Shell pants may help keep you warm and clean before arriving at work.

Check your route

The City of Calgary warns cyclists should check out their routes when winter begins.

Your usual bike lanes and paths may be snow-covered but some are a priority to have cleared within 24 hours. You can find those on a map online.

The City of Calgary tracks the number of times cyclists cross the Peace Bridge in a given period. (Jason Ronald)

Cycling — and cold weather cycling — is on the rise, according to automatic tracking done by the city.

In 2014, the city tracked about 14,500 cyclists crossing the Peace Bridge in November. Last year, cyclists crossed the bridge more than 30,000 times. 

It's still much busier in the summer, though. Cyclists crossed the bridge almost 180,000 times this past July.


With files from Kathryn Marlow and the Calgary Eyeopener

now