Don’t put away that bike just yet
By Megan Watcher
If you live in Toronto, you’ve probably noticed a few seemingly crazy cyclists who refuse to put away their bikes for winter. While you’re huddled up waiting for the streetcar or speed-walking down the sidewalk with soaking wet feet, you might observe those particularly committed Canucks navigating through the snow and ice on their cherished two-wheeled chariots. Perhaps you’ve seen them braving the windy viaduct, that floating no-man’s-land between the Danforth and Bloor. You probably think to yourself, “Wow, I would never attempt to ride a bike in the middle of a Canadian January.”
But perhaps you should think again.
I spoke with Brent Robinson, avid cycler and sales manager of Sweet Pete’s Bike Shop (located at 1204 Bloor St. West), to find out how one should gear up for winter cycling.
Layer up smart
In terms of clothing, Robinson recommends using a multi-layer system composed of a base-layer, insulation, and a shell, and endorses products “specifically designed” for winter cycling. For the base-layer, Robinson suggests Icebreaker’s merino wool leggings and tops. The natural material is designed to work with the heat you generate and to keep you dry by moving vapour away from the body before it becomes sweat. The insulating middle layer can range from a lightweight shirt to a heavy sweater depending on weather and route conditions. The shell should be a thin waterproof windbreaker. Gore Tex provides jackets that are longer in the back and sleeves to protect vulnerable areas during cycling.
Robinson notes that, although heavy winter coats, like those made by Canada Goose, are warm, “they are way too puffy for cycling.” You need to be able to move. Besides, once you get riding, you’ll end up overheating if you’re wrapped in a down jacket. Get dressed five minutes before heading out, and do some stretches along with a quick warm-up—remember, cycling is a physical activity.
Prepare and care for your bike
If you plan on cycling all year long, studded tires are essential for snowy winter months. A common misconception about winter riding is that wider tires are better in snow, but Robinson suggests that, in fact, relatively thinner tires are preferable as they will cut through the snow to remain in contact with the road. He also declares “a set of fenders goes a long way.” Finally, maintain your bike by washing it with a mild detergent, lubing the chain, and keeping an eye on brake pads.
For many city-dwellers, the bicycle is not merely an object of summertime leisure activity, but also serves as a convenient, environmentally friendly mode of transportation throughout the year—despite the efforts of Toronto’s conservative SUV-driving politicians. While more and more people are cramming onto our subways, streetcars, and buses, cyclists continue to enjoy the autonomy of motorists and the mobility of pedestrians. Indeed, a Statistics Canada survey revealed that cyclists and pedestrians are the most satisfied commuters.
As winter rolls around, remember that getting the most out of your beloved bike is simply a matter of gearing up and having the right mindset. And saving $128.50—the cost of a monthly TTC metropass—sure doesn’t hurt.
Other items to invest in:
A quality pair of gloves
A scarf, chute, or neck gaiter
A thin toque that can fit under a helmet (if you wear a helmet)
Boots that aren’t constrictive
If you want to get started on winter cycling, visit The Cyclepath at 1520 Danforth Ave. and check out these articles for more information about winter cycling: