3 ways to conquer your fear of winter cycling in Ottawa

Jen Stelzer, an advocate for sustainable transportation with Ottawa's EnviroCentre, has been cycling through the winter months since she learned to ride a bike. 

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Jen Stelzer, an environmental advocate with Ottawa's EnviroCentre, has never let winter stop her from riding her bike.

"Mostly because no one ever told me not to," she said.

As a manager for community sustainability programs, Stelzer is used to trying to convince others to bike through slush and snow.

She's distilled her years of experience into these three tips for newbie winter cyclists.

1. Start when it's nice out.

Sure winter cycling is good for the planet, and possibly your pocketbook, but Stelzer says if you're going to stick with it, timing is key.

"Don't start when there's a big blizzard," she said. "Make sure the roads are clear and the sun is shining."

Holding off until the streets are clear and the weather improves will make the first few trips a little less daunting. That helps build up confidence and comfort, she says. 

When you're ready, introduce yourself to more challenging conditions in an area you're familiar with. At first, biking in snow can feel like biking through sand, but you do get a feel for it eventually, Stelzer said.

"Slowly practise around your neighbourhood, biking on a bit of snow to get used to it."

EnviroCentre's Jen Stelzer shares three simple ways Ottawans can feel comfortable and confident with winter cycling. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

2. Don't wing it.

Stelzer is a big fan of route-planning in the winter. 

Even if you're familiar with your neighbourhood bike lanes, it's a good idea to double-check which ones are plowed before you head out the door, she suggests.

"I can't stress this one enough: Make sure that you have a safe and comfortable route, because you'll enjoy it much more," Stelzer said.

While about 40 kilometres of Ottawa's bike trails and paths are plowed in the winter, it's possible the route near your home isn't. 

3. Remember, the sun sets early.

A big part of winter cycling is remembering to stay visible to drivers and pedestrians at night.

"The days are much shorter and we want to make sure we're seen," Stelzer says.

Stelzer wears a yellow high-visibility vest on top of her parka all winter — something she doesn't bother with in the summer when there's more daylight.

Working bike lights, reflective vests and lighter-coloured clothing are all great ways to stay safer in the dark.

Jen Stelzer wears a high-visibility vest on top of her winter coat to stay bright and visible. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

Bonus tip: Wear your skating clothes.

There's no need to go out and invest in a whole whack of new outdoor gear to bike in the winter. Instead, Stelzer suggests wearing the same clothes you would wear for a long skate on the canal.

with files from Idil Mussa and Andrew Lee


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