We hear them before we see them; they squeak up behind us on the snowy trail or sidewalk. A muffled “on your left” as they slowly pedal by.
Their LED headlight, taillight, and headlamp briefly illuminate the dusky winter daylight. The headlights of passing cars reflect off the back of their neon safety vest.
Ski goggles mask their eyes, a balaclava the rest of their face. They look like snowmen that put on a snowsuit, riding a bike with stupidly fat tires.
Winter cyclists; they’re back.
With the cost of fuel, the obesity crisis, and the traffic jam out of Riverdale in the morning, cycling is logical. It seems obvious that a few die-hards won’t let snow, negative temperatures, and biting wind deter them from getting to and fro via bicycle.
But it’s not just a few die-hards. And people bike-commute in the winter for reasons beyond the practical, economical, it-clears-your-mind explanations.
“ I bike cause it’s fun,” says Kristina Mercs.
She’s one of 20 or so people at Baked Café, during an after-hours winter cycling social. Cyclists who arrive on their bike get free pizza, there’s beer and wine and a movie to come, and fat tired bikes on display, as well as many red-cheeked faces.
Heather LeDuc commutes from Takhini East to downtown during the week, and she takes her bike on the Grey Mountain Trails (yes, during the winter) on the weekend. She tries to explain the appeal of year round cycling.
“ It slows things down, you see people you know, yesterday I saw a fox. To be in the air.”
She doesn’t form full sentences. It’s not something she has to justify to herself — she loves it. LeDuc says she started biking when she lived in Vancouver, and she didn’t think she’d be able to continue when she moved to Whitehorse.
But she could.
She has one of those fat-tired bikes, but she says it’s not necessary for winter cycling. She used to have an old mountain bike, you just take a bit of air out of the tires, and if the trail is packed enough, it’s fine for snow riding.
LeDuc avoids the roads, especially in the winter when the ploughed-up snow piles shrink the shoulders. She says she has routes where she’s hardly ever in traffic.
On the other hand, David Pharand says, “my biggest rush is passing a car on my bike.”
Pharand “really enjoys biking, so that’s handy”, but he is also pragmatic about his every-day-of-the-year habit:
“ If people really sat down and thought about how much time they spend idling, and how much they actually drive? So, my commute, in comparison? It doesn’t take that long.”
He’s also sure to note that cycling is healthy.
The cold doesn’t deter Pharand.
He says the difference between -30°C and -40°C is like the difference between falling out of a 15 or 16 story building — it doesn’t matter, at that point.
And, “it doesn’t matter what the temperature is, pedaling up Two Mile Hill is gonna keep ya warm.”
Pharand’s nine to five commute sees him pedal from his downtown home to the college, where he works.
Pharand claims the fat-tired bikes are accessible, price-wise, for those who want to get into the lifestyle.
And LeDuc says people doing just that:
“ Every year there’s more and more people.”