Meet the Londoners who plan to cycle all winter long
Some of them are new to winter cycling, others have braved the snow and ice for a decade
Winter has arrived in London, which means some cyclists are gearing up for snowy, slushy, or icy roads and colder temperatures.
CBC London wanted to find out why and how they get around during the winter months and here's what some of them told us.
Why: I am biking all winter because I don't drive, and distancing concerns on transit (though I do have my G1 for emergency purposes). I have biked parts of the last 10 winters, including the entirety of the 2013-14 winter when I was in school.
How: I plan to bike for a super-majority of my commute, with transit to help me out to access the outer suburbs of the city. For the first winter ever, I have been able to afford a commuter bike with studded winter tires and fenders. To do it safely, I'm first breaking in the tires by going slowly and no hard braking for now.
Challenges: Speedy drivers splashing me. What's the hurry?
Why: I used to hate the dark winter months inside, but biking year-round has changed my entire perspective about winter. It's fun, empowering, and hugely beneficial for my mental health. An evening bike ride with snow dazzling on the ground, a bright moon, snowflakes softly falling, (and a deer sighting if you're extra lucky!) is about the best thing I could imagine doing in the winter. During my first winter ride on the Thames Valley Parkway, I even came within a few metres of a buck! This will be my fourth year Frost Biking. I'll never look back.
How: Layered clothing, studded tires and by travelling on quieter side streets and the Thames Valley Parkway. Riding through the winter is an absolute blast and with studded tires it's safer than walking on London's 'slidewalks.' I'm very risk-averse, but a few years ago I hesitantly decided to try winter bike commuting. I'll never look back and I actually enjoy winter now.
Challenges: As someone with a disability, the additional effort required to commute on poorly cleared routes is a significant barrier; this means finding creative solutions to manage my energy. I've used multi-modal transit with a regular bicycle (yay bus bike racks!), an e-assist bicycle and on the heaviest snow days (less than 10 per season) I take a taxi.
Why: Why not? I chose biking this spring as a way to get exercise and make better economic and environmental choices, and that doesn't need to stop just because the warm weather goes away. I work outdoors year-round, so there's no reason I can't also bike year-round. This is my first winter! (Well, since I was a kid and used snowbanks as ramps.)
How: So far on the bike with studded tires. Otherwise, racks and fenders are a mainstay on my bike anyway, due to cargo capacity and being prepared for rainy days. I installed studded pedals for better grip, as well. Also, lights. Bright lights. Make sure you're seen! As for myself — layers. For my head, I have toques, snowboard goggles, and face masks (soon a balaclava, as well). I got a good rain jacket and layer my warm clothes under that in case it warms up for any return trip home, I can just remove a layer. I also purchased 'lobster' gloves to help keep warmth in my hands. I may consider Bar Mitts later if the cold warrants it. I got rain pants and layer underneath as well. I have leg gaiters from work that also help seal that up along with waterproof footwear (usually winter boots).
Challenges: Staying upright! Studded tires are meant to help with that, though. Heavy snowfall might be a bit more of a challenge, and adjusting timing for the slower pace and feeling like you're biking on sand. Snow clearance in the city will be a large challenge (from plows and residents), as will build-up from vehicles driving as the slush and snow gets pushed to the side, and freezes overnight.
Why: For the same reasons we bike in the spring/summer: It saves money, good for the environment, healthier. We do all sorts of outdoor activities in the winter, cycling is just another one. This is my fourth year.
How: Honestly, the same way I plan to go for a walk. I just do it. The only difference is a studded tire on my front wheel, a balaclava for me and good lights for the darker days.
Challenges: Poor cycling infrastructure and maintenance. Cleaning all the salt from the bike!
Why: Quick, low-cost, low-emissions way to get to where I need to go. And when sidewalks aren't well shoveled, biking is easier than walking. This is my second winter.
How: Simple preparation: checking the weather ahead to know how long I might need to get ready and which route to take. Winter tires — last year front only but this year both — good lights, goggles and layers.
Challenges: Quality and timing of snow removal for when I need to ride. And always there are the drivers whose visibility is poor due to snow or ice not cleaned off their vehicles. Winter is when separated bike lanes are really needed to feel safe.
Why: A multitude of factors: health, exercise, environment, cost savings and it is really quite fun! I bought an e-bike at the start of COVID, so this is a natural continuation for me.
How: With the support of the local biking community and some warm gloves. Route planning, proper layered clothing and equipment. ie: lights and studded tires.
Challenges: Finding safe routes that are clear of snow and less heavily trafficked by cars. Lack of protected lanes makes me get creative in the path I take which can make the trip longer.
Why: It's faster and I'd rather not have to spend 30 minutes walking home. This is my fourth winter.
How: I try to leave a bit earlier than I would usually. I make sure my bike has air in the tires every morning. I also dress warmly and if it's snowing or raining I put a cover over my bag.
Challenges: The biggest challenge will be the ice on the road or sidewalk. And the people who don't like me biking on the sidewalk or bike path and say that I should be biking on the road.
Why: I bike through the winter for the same reasons I bike during the summer — it's good for the environment, it's good for my health, and it's often the fastest way to get around town. This will be the third year I've biked through the winter.
How: I've got studded tires on my commuter bike, and this year I recently got a cover for the cargo bike so my toddler can stay warm while we're out and about. I also use a lot more lights as it gets dark earlier. Warm gloves are also a must-have.
Challenges: The biggest challenge with winter biking is typically cars. With studded tires I can manoeuvre on snow and ice quite well, but cars often have difficulty stopping and turning which can be scary.
Why: I have to take my daughter to school every day, and I don't want to stop riding. We're facing a climate emergency, and so every kilometre that I can go without burning fossil fuels is good. I get free exercise, I get to enjoy time with my daughter outside. And it's just fun! This is my first winter back after many years, I used to commute by bike to work a decade ago.
How: Get on my bike. Pedal. Joking aside, I do plan my route differently based on conditions. I also recognize that there will be days where I'll choose to drive, and that's ok. I have winter studded tires and will wear extra layers as needed. I do have ski goggles for really cold days.
Challenges: Road and path conditions are extremely variable, and often poor. The City of London does a bad job of supporting active transportation with winter maintenance so route flexibility is key. Most of the TVP is not maintained, and painted bikes lanes (which are almost useless anyway) often turn into snow storage lanes. There are a lot of rushing, unfriendly drivers as well, so I need to be extra vigilant.
Why: I started biking all winter because I was tired of dealing with the cost and hassle of driving in the winter, but also didn't like waiting for the bus in the cold. I started walking home when I didn't want to wait for the bus, and then realized that biking was a lot faster. I've been biking in the winter for around 5 years, and my wife has been joining me for the past two of them.
How: The most important thing is having a safe route. I spend a lot of time looking at a map to find routes that are low on traffic before setting out somewhere new. Studded tires help a lot, since less busy streets are also less plowed. The clothes you'd wear to ice skate or cross county ski are great for biking too. I wear lots of wool!
Challenges: The biggest challenge is that most good paths for bikes in London aren't maintained in the winter, forcing me to choose between high traffic roads or battling through snow and slush.
Why: Cycling builds my exercise into my daily routine and gets me outside. In the winter I need even more reason to get some fresh air and winter cycling delivers! I've commuted by bike in the winter for 10 years.
How: I have a dedicated bike I've used for 7 years for winter so I'll get that ready. I'll take the bus, walk, or drive on days when the roads are covered in deep snow or if it's below -15. I usually use a regular winter coat or a wool coat that breathes better for longer trips. I make sure my lights are charged and go for it. I do add studded tires to help with turns and stopping on ice. It gives me peace of mind I'll have grip when I need it.
Challenges: Snow in the face, overheating, and slushy days are the biggest challenges.
Why: I'm an avid cyclist in the warmer weather and with COVID we had 2 cars sitting in the driveway hardly being used, so my wife and I decided to ditch one of the cars and commit to winter cycling commuting. I commuted to and from work (even when going back into the office in August) either on foot or by bike all summer and it's a great way to start and end the day versus crammed into a car, fighting traffic etc. We are also very conscious about the environmental impact we have and have a 15 year old daughter who feels strongly about climate change. Cycling year round is one way we do our part.
How: Daily regardless of weather. Ben Cowie at the London Bicycle Café has helped me with a commuter bike (purchased early summer), gear, winter tires, advice, routes etc. He's the guru. I ride as much as I can on the TVP path and/or roads with bike lanes (Colborne). Studded tires. Helmet. Warm Weather gear. Ski goggles.
Challenges: Really bad weather, like heavy snow or cold and wet weather like freezing rain. My company is moving to a new office in December and I'll be able to get there mostly on the TVP. I hope the city keeps the TVP plowed and cleared. As a runner I know they do a poor job on the TVP vs. what they do with roads. The city needs to commit to keeping the TVP and bike lanes clear, even a higher priority than cars as without it the cycling routes are not an option. That means cyclists lose their transportation or run the risk of riding alongside cars in slushy, snowing, slippery conditions — a recipe for disaster.