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The city's new biking infrastructure makes winter biking easier.
Aly Gulamhusein/the Gauntlet

Cycling through Calgary's harsh winters

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After the first snowfall of the year, most cyclists pack away their bikes and find alternative transportation for the winter months. There are a gallant few riders who brave the icy streets and don their winter cycling gear for Calgary's winters. The city's cycling infrastructure has made great strides in the past six weeks with new bike lanes popping up. The city administration acted on pressure from cyclists to address the need for a bike-friendly transportation system that will encourage cycling throughout the winter months. What motivates these rogue riders to bundle themselves up every morning and hop on their bicycles?

Sean Carter, owner of Calgary's Bike Bike and an all-season cyclist, said that, like the vast majority of Calgary's commuters, he "just has to get to work in the morning." Though the cold weather is often the most daunting aspect of winter cycling, Carter explains it's not the cold keeping him off the road.

"Dressing up for winter cycling doesn't have to be complicated," he said. The key for Carter is dressing in layers -- having decent base layers to go under his everyday wear and a ski jacket is all that consists of Carter's winter cycling attire.

Two more steps that Carter takes to prepare his bicycle for winter are pre-winter tune-ups and fenders. "Any issues that you are having with your bicycle before winter are going to be exacerbated times 10 by cold and wet road conditions," he said.

Fenders will help keep cyclists dry and protect bicycles from road spray.

Susie Carmichael, a Bikeroot volunteer and winter cyclist, takes a very ad-hoc approach to cycling through the winter months. Throughout the winter months, she wears fleecy Mountain Equipment Co-op pants over her jeans and "any pair of gloves I can find on the way out the door." The only mainstays in Carmichael's cycling winter cycling gear are "a pair of good shoes and fenders."

"I hate taking the bus," said Carmichael. "It's stinky, smelly, crowded and perpetually late."

After seeing people cycle past her bus in the mornings, she decided to do the same.

Carmichael has had numerous falls during her career as a winter cyclist, though she has "never been horribly injured or disfigured." She said which specific winter tire to use depends on the kind of cycling, but a "knobby courier tire" has worked for her.

Calgary's cycling infrastructure has seen a host of changes this fall after City Council approved a cycling strategy in June in an attempt to provide travel alternatives for Calgarians to and from downtown. The strategy planning started in 2009 and has an estimated cost of $12.2 million. The 10th street N.W., 10th avenue S.W. and fourth street S.E. cycling paths are a part of the larger 'Pathway and Bikeway Plan' strategy approved in 2000 by City Council, but has been scrutinized for its direction and implementation -- questions have arisen as to why cyclists aren't being directed away from heavy-use roadways, and the implementation of the latest winter cycling initiatives so late in the year.

The City of Calgary has finished three major cycling strategies within the past six weeks and, though initially slow to be implemented, created a surge in alternative transportation infrastructure for cyclists. Some of these initiatives, particularly the Bow River Flow and the new 10th street N.W. bicycle lanes have encountered resistance because of lack of communication between community members, the city and cyclists.

The city has dealt with issues concerning a lack of attention bike lanes are given after heavy snowfalls, often becoming "snow zones" according to Carter. When faced with this challenge, Carmichael concludes that "you just gotta keep pedaling," a sentiment that City Council has taken in lieu of the opposition to its cycling infrastructure.

Regardless of the debate, the City of Calgary has taken fundamental steps toward promoting cycling in Calgary.

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Comments

There\'s no such thing as bad weather - just the wrong gear! :D Winter cycling is way too much fun not to try at least once.

This will be my third winter cycling in Calgary. I\'ve learned a lot; as far as keeping warm, it\'s actually easier to do on a bike (because you\'re moving) than standing waiting for transit. I have studded ice tires, and I\'ve learned to slow down and loosen up my grip on the handlebars when I\'m approaching anything that looks iffy. I also change my routes to stay on quieter streets and paths.

I have an assortment of outdoor clothing (basically if you can wear it for cross-country skiing, it will also work on the bike). I find a base layer, fleece/sweater(s), and then something *windproof* is the key. You don\'t need to bundle up as much as you may think, because you do produce a fair bit of heat when riding and you want to avoid getting overheated and sweaty. Hands and feet can be tricky but again, windproof and insulated mittens for skiing are good.

One thing the article did not mention was the importance of making yourself *visible* to drivers. It\'s dark out there a lot of the time - make sure to put good, bright lights on your bike (red rear, white front - one blinking and one steady works well), and add as many reflective bits as you can possibly manage on your bike frame, backpack, clothing, helmet, etc. You can get packs of reflective stickers, lengths of stick-on Scotchlite tape, or refelective safety harnesses at any bike shop. Personally, I look like a Christmas tree out there!

Anyway. Try it! And drivers, thank you for giving winter cyclists a little extra space and time; we are not as crazy as we look, and we do appreciate it when you help keep us safe. You can have our parking spots, in exchange; how does that sound? :)