Orphaned bikes brave Montreal winter elements alone

It's winter o'clock in Montreal: do you know where your bike is? If your answer is "stuck in a snowbank," then your sad, abandoned two-wheeler may be a casualty of our harshest season — an "orphan bike."

Rust, ice and salt wreak havoc with abandoned bikes. Who leaves them out?

Do you ever leave your bike outdoors in the winter? (Charles Contant/CBC)

It's winter o'clock in Montreal: do you know where your bike is?

If your answer is "stuck in a snowbank," then your sad, abandoned two-wheeler may be a casualty of our harsh winters — an "orphan bike."

There are probably a few on your street. They're locked to poles for months on end, their crooked handlebars peeking forlornly out of a hardened snowbank, their wheels warped from too many run-ins with the snowplow.

But who do these bikes belong to, and how can you protect your bike in the winter? Some Montrealers share their stories — and regrets.

Snow + bikes = rust

Alain Chevarier is a dedicated, all-season cyclist, with more than one bicycle to his name. But with little space in his home to store all his wheels, he stored one bike outside in the past and met the disastrous, rusty consequences.

"My good bike, the one I use for training, stayed outside, and I paid the price," Chevarier said. 

"I could still use it, but considering it's a bike I bought 35 years ago, and I love it dearly, I felt like I betrayed it."

These days, Chevarier has a special bike just for winter and stores it in his yard, away from the worst of the ice and snow.

Shame and singing the snowplow blues

Janine Parkinson's bike is spending the winter in snow.

She's from Toronto and wasn't ready for Montreal-sized snowstorms. The CBC administrator is trying to find it a better home for her bike after her Montrealer boyfriend said the street just won't do.

"He's like, 'Well, I put it in the basement, of course. I store it.' So I told him that I keep my bike out, and he's like, 'Shame!'"

Janine Parkinson is facing rust on her bike after leaving it outside this winter. (Rebecca Ugolini/CBC)

Despite a little handlebar rust on her ride, Parkinson is learning the Montreal ropes quickly, and she springs into action at the sounds of the bike's natural predator — the snowplow.

"I saw the plows for the first time last night, come out, and I panicked and did dig [my bike] out and move it, as they did all their work. I guess, from what I saw, if I left it there, it would be crushed."

Tips to keep your bike safe

Your bike is going to need some serious TLC after spending the winter outside, and that can get expensive, says bike shop owner Gene Pelletier from Vélos s'a Coche.

He suggests storing unused bikes inside for the winter.

"For several years, I actually stored by bikes in my bedroom, one at the foot of my bed and the other at the head."

Cyclists who leave their ride out in the winter can expect rust and possibly a distorted wheel after a snowplow or two passes by. ( Kim McNairn/CBC)

Prefer it out of sight? Pelletier's shop charges $100 to store a bike all winter and tune it up in the spring. Otherwise, he suggests removing your bike's wheels to make it easier to store in small spaces. You can hang it from the wall via easy-to-install hooks.

As for snowplows, it is possible to get reimbursed for damage resulting from the work of Montreal blue-collar workers, including snow-clearing crews. But it's better to keep your bike out of the way.

"Cyclists who bike during the winter may continue using bike racks but are invited to not obstruct public space with their bikes during a snow-clearing operation," the city said in a statement to CBC.

About the Author

Rebecca Ugolini

CBC Montreal radio producer

Rebecca Ugolini is a born-and-raised Montrealer who loves covering the city. Follow her on Twitter at @RebeccaUgolini.