Winter cycling tips for northern climates
How to ride safely once the snow begins to fall
Once the temperature drops and the snow starts flying, there are fewer bicycles on Edmonton roads. Conrad Nobert says you should ride on through. He does all year.
“It’s so wonderful to start your day outdoors. I don’t know anyone who rides to work [in the winter] and regrets it,” says the NAIT Digital Media and IT instructor and co-founder of Paths for People, an advocacy group for a bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly city.
Nobert has been told he’s crazy for using his bike in the colder months. But, for him, the benefits outweigh any questioning of his sanity. It’s inexpensive, leaves virtually no carbon footprint, and keeps him fit.
“I winter cycle because I’ve never been the type of person who can get myself to the gym.”
Here’s Nobert’s advice on how to keep winter from putting a freeze on your own biking routine.
Tires and lights
Start by making a trip to your favourite bike store. “Get studded tires,” Nobert says. They’ll help you stay sturdy on slippery spots.
Your next purchase should be lights. With limited daylight in the winter, chances are good that some of your travels will be in the dark.
“Riding in the dark without lights is just madness,” he says. Nobert also recommends finding lights that you can remove from your bike and charge through a USB port. Just plug them in at your desk during the day.
Dress for the weather
“People who start out will usually dress too warm, so they’ll feel nice and cozy as they walk out,” Nobert says. “Fifteen minutes later they’re soaked with sweat.”
Everyone’s comfort level will be different. For Nobert, “My rule is I cover my ears at -8 C and at -15 C I wear a mask.” Be prepared for weather changes during the day by packing an extra layer or a toque or headband.
Nobert says riders are more likely to fall while winter cycling because they don’t adapt their speed – even with studded tires. “I do my corners at a crawl,” he says. “In the summer, my ride [to work] is 25 minutes. In winter, it is easily 35. I’m not in a hurry.”
Find a safe route
Most people don’t ride their bikes in the winter because they’re scared of drivers unable to handle the winter conditions. That’s understandable, says Nobert.
“Choose a route where you’re not sharing the road with cars,” he says. “I’m never on any arterials or busy roads.”
Try the downtown bike grid, the trail system or quiet residential roads, and preferably cleared paths.
Avoid fresh snow, which can be slippery.
Make biking the only option
Nobert has never had a parking spot at NAIT, and he’s worked here for more than 17 years. “Don’t give yourself a choice. If somebody has a parking spot, they won’t ride.”
Know your limit
At a certain point, there just aren’t enough layers. “If it’s colder than -20 C, I’ll take the bus,” says Nobert. The same goes if there’s new snow on the ground. As you ride more, you’ll know your comfort level.
“Choose a route and go for it,” he says. “The only way [to learn] is with experience.”