Riding a bike to work on a frigid winter’s day brings the kind of reward that only those who have done it can really know. But the City of Whitehorse wants to encourage all residents to give it a try and they’re hosting a workshop on winter commuting by bike tonight at 6 p.m. at Baked Café.
Mario Villeneuve and his partner Heather LeDuc are hooked; they’ve been commuting by bike through the winter for more than a decade. They’ll be sharing their advice and experiences at the event tonight.
“I love to commute on my bike in the winter because you get to see things you wouldn’t see when you’re driving – like beavers swimming in the river and coyotes running across the ice,” says LeDuc, a communications analyst at the Yukon department of tourism and culture. “And,” she laughs, “when you get to work people say, ‘Heather you’re such a hero.'”
Villeneuve, a technician at the same department, interjects: “But anyone can do it.”
Sure anyone can, but not everyone does.
The winter cyclists in Whitehorse are currently out-numbered by those of us who put our bikes away in the fall by about 22,000.
LeDuc figures that for those of us who haven’t (yet) been brave enough to experience the joys of commuting in winter, we’re probably shying away from (a) the discomfort of feeling too cold, and (b) the concern about sliding around on snow/ice covered roads and (c) the danger of cycling alongside drivers.
However, the couple has a method for dealing with those obstacles.
To deal with the cold they dress in layers. Ironically, over-heating is an issue, too, so dressing in layers helps to solve that problem, too .
However, they have a cut-off temperature of -25C. Anything colder than that and they walk. Or drive.
“If it’s colder than -25C when we leave home, we’ll debate if we’re going to do it,” says Villeneuve. “It can reach -30C by the time (the workday is done and) we head back home.
“Once you go past -30C each five degrees is exponentially colder. And it’s dangerous for frostbite. And your feet are cold.”
LeDuc adds that at -25C and colder the mechanisms of the bike don’t function as well.
To grip the snow and ice covered roads they have what’s called “fat bikes.” The tires are extra wide and knobby and the frames are built to accommodate such over-sized tires.
To travel safely with cars, the pair ensure that they’re coats and pants are reflective and they use trails as much as possible.
“Things have changed with the City clearing the snow,” says LeDuc. “Two-Mile Hill is almost always clear and the Millennium Trail is often clear. So, I think if people knew that the City is clearing the paths, more people might commute by bike—because you can stay out of traffic.”
The only real obstacle, according to Villeneuve, is our own psychology.
“Most people are active in the winter – they go skiing, they walk their dogs – so they deal with the same kind of weather that a winter commuter does,” he says.
The key to giving it a try, he says, is to take baby steps and plan on riding to work once in a week, then work your way up to riding more frequently.
The other tip is to prepare ahead of time.
“Get your gear prepared the night before, so that in the morning you’re not going, ‘Where are my gloves?'” he says. “And once you’re out the door, it’s always pleasant.
“Your senses are more engaged because you’re not in a metal box heading to work. You feel the cold; you smell the crisp air; you hear the sound of snow crunching under your tires.”
Dean Eyre, owner of Cadence Cycle, is a believer. Commuting through the winter is no big deal to him, either, although he has a cut-off of -30C.
He says like-minded winter commuters have come up with an estimate that there are approximately 150 brave souls who ride through winter – so far. But he’s got some technical advice for people who are going to give it a try: keep your bike cold all winter.
“I keep my bike outside all winter,” he says. “When you bring it inside the humidity condenses on your bike as it warms up and that can cause corrosion. Corrosion happens inside the tubing as well as outside. Sometimes you can’t avoid bringing your bike in, but if you can keep it frozen all winter it’s way better for it.”
He has spent years riding a regular mountain bike with studded tires (which can cost $50 to $200 per tire) through the winter, but this year he’s got himself a fat bike, which averages at $1,900.
However, for a newbie, he advises not to use your best bike for winter riding.
“Winter wears out your bike quite quickly,” says Eyre. “I estimate it to be about five years of riding per year—in terms of wear and tear.”
Eyre, Villeneuve and LeDuc will all be at the City of Whitehorse’s workshop on winter commuting at Baked Café on Oct. 25 at 6 p.m., offering their support and advice to people interested in giving winter cycling a try.
Tamara Neely is the new editor of What’s Up Yukon.
Headline: City offers workshops on winter commuting
The City of Whitehorse’s initiatives to encourage residents to commute on foot or by bike this winter includes the following:
Workshop on winter Biking Basics: Oct. 25 at 6 p.m. at Baked Café.
Workshop on winter Running: Oct. 26 at noon at Sportslife, located at 305 Main Street
Free transit: From Oct. 22 to 27 you can ride the bus for free when you bring your bike on board.
For more information on these City initiatives go to www.Whitehorse.ca/ColdCommute