Wintry weather doesn't slow Winnipeg cycling enthusiasts from picking up fat bikes, tools for good causes

Two separate events held in the city over the weekend have reminded Manitobans that the onset of wintry conditions doesn't necessarily mean storing bikes for the season.

Cyclists spun around St. Boniface on fat bikes while volunteers built bikes for kids in city's northwest

More than 100 cyclists rode through St. Boniface on bikes equipped with fat tires. (Thomas Asselin/CBC)

A little frozen rain and snow didn't stop Winnipeg cycling enthusiasts from roving around St. Boniface on fat tires, or building bikes for kids in the city's northwest, on Saturday.

About 150 cyclists took fat bikes out for a spin around St. Boniface as part of the 8th Annual Global Fat Bike Day and Fun Fest in the Fort Gibraltar area at Whittier Park.

Tom Kolesnik of Manitoba Fat Bike Adventures was the lead organizer behind the fat bike event. He is an avid mountain biker who decided to finally overcome the challenges of packed snow and ice when a fat-tired cyclist coasted past him one wintry day.

"He just floated on top of the packed snow, and I went, 'I need one of those'," Kolesnik said.

Participants cycling along the river on fat bikes. (Thomas Asselin/CBC)

Although sometimes he slides around groomed trails on cross country skis, Kolesnik says he really enjoys ripping around the city along untamed forest paths.

"My skis are growing dust," he said, adding that the fat tires can beat the potholes and curbs normally seen as obstacles on the road.

"The fat bike handles it. It gives people confidence that they can ride."

Fat biking for a good cause

In addition to exercise and amusement, Kolesnik said his group wanted to draw attention to the funding needs of St. Boniface Street Links, a charitable organization helping homeless people in Winnipeg.

"They have a bike patrol. We like that, so we're connecting with them," Kolesnik said.

Tom Kolesnik, lead organizer from Manitoba Fat Bike Adventures, says money raised from the 8th annual fat bike ride in Winnipeg goes to St. Boniface Street Links. (Thomas Asselin/CBC)

"In this case, we're riding around St. Boniface, so how much better could it be than to [raise funds for] the St. Boniface Street Links, who patrol the whole perimeter and inside of St. Boniface, and help people. And they do. They get right down under the bridges, down by the rivers, where homeless people are trying to keep going in life. And they're reaching out to help them," he said.

Last month, Morberg House, a group home run by St. Boniface Street Links that has been working for years to give a new life to homeless men battling addiction, faced a crisis of its own due to dire financial straits. It didn't have enough money to make the next month's payroll, according to founder Marion Willis.

Willis said a couple of weeks ago, the organization feared it would have to shutter its doors as it entered its fourth year without government funding. Since she rang the alarm, donations have poured in from across the country — including $400,000 from an anonymous donor.

Marion Willis, who founded St. Boniface Street Links, says her organization is staying afloat due to donations from strangers. (Thomas Asselin/CBC)

"It is just nothing short of amazing," Willis said about the generosity of the cycling community and beyond.

"It says to me that sometimes when you feel like you're on an island by yourself, or not funded by anybody, trying to do what we can to solve the drug epidemic in this city and this province, you feel so alone, and then you realize people have been paying attention," Willis said.

"But this has taken the pressure off of everybody, and more importantly, it's guaranteed that those who really need our services will continue to have our services," she said.

Prime time for riding

Nic Robitaille, an event co-organizer from Woodcock Cycle Works, a Winnipeg bike and nordic ski shop, says he couldn't have asked for better weather for a bike ride.

"It was brilliant," he said. "Maybe a bit of sun, but hey, I'll take what we got."

Robitaille said fat bikes aren't just for experienced cyclists. He said the Norwood-based shop has eight fat bikes available for rent for anyone who wants to try it out at any time of year.

Nic Robitaille of Woodcock Cycle Works says he cycles year-round. (Thomas Asselin/CBC)

Robitaille said he rides all winter.

"For better or worse, yeah I do. It's fun. Some days I question my sanity, but frankly, I enjoy the challenge," he said.

"If you're smart about it, it's easy."

Compared to skinny tires typically used in warmer months, the fat bikes can roll over anything. Robitaille explained that the riding is completely different in that there's more slide and more play on the bigger treads.

"It's just goofier," he said. "They're pretty much like monster trucks."

Building bikes for kids

Meanwhile, the WRENCH hosted its annual 24-hour bike-building marathon on Logan Avenue.

Beginning at noon on Saturday, volunteer mechanics pieced together bikes for kids in need.

The WRENCH is running its annual kids bike building marathon from Saturday until Sunday at noon. (Marouane Refak/CBC)

According to the shop's donation website, the goal is to build more than 350 bikes and raise $30,000 to support free bike programming for children and families in 2020.

The marathon ends at noon on Sunday.

With files from Marianne Klowak, Marouane Refak and Gavin Boutroy


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