Winter Biking

February 4th, 2021

Photo by Vicky Paradisis

Tegan Moss, Executive Director of B!KE: The Peterborough Community Bike Shop

What do skating, cross-country skiing, and cycling have in common? They are all ways people can enjoy being outside in winter. If you think that the third item doesn’t fit in with the other activities on the list, please read on. Bicycling is a delightful form of travel and recreation in winter too!

Many people unfamiliar with riding a bike during winter in Peterborough express concern that snow, temperature, and road conditions make it a challenging endeavor. Those same people may be surprised to learn that Peterborough’s driest days are in the winter. According to weather data for our region, our dry days run from December 2nd to March 31st with February 4th being our driest day.

Understanding how to help people overcome the barriers they face with cycling in winter is important to encouraging more participation.

Building a community conversation about winter riding is a significant part of the Winter Wheels program at B!KE: The Peterborough Community Bike Shop. Through this engagement, cyclists share their ideas on managing and overcoming the unique characteristics of winter.

Photo by Vicky Paradisis

For many, technical skills and confidence are key to winter riding. B!KE’s new video, “Slippery Handling Skills”, provides advice on navigating winter streets and trails. This video features tips on how to turn, break, and work with your gears when faced with snowy and icy conditions. It can be found at https://bit.ly/3agrMCE.

Across the globe, the movement towards year-round bike-riding is growing, including in wintery locales like Oulu, Finland, home to the most enthusiastic winter cyclists. With our balmy winter conditions and a little know-how, Peterborough area cyclists can also become fulltime practitioners.

Beyond overcoming personal barriers to winter cycling, there are things our community can do to support more people to ride bikes in winter.

Right now, as a community, Peterborough citizens are reflecting on how we get from point A to point B through the public consultation necessary to update our municipal transportation and cycling master plans.

Master plans direct the design and development of our built environment. Municipal leaders need to hear from all perspectives, including from those who ride bikes or want to ride bikes in winter. Visit www.connectptbo.ca to provide your input.

For meaningful advice on how cities can make winter bike riding a possibility for more citizens, Tom Babin, author of Frostbike, is worth a listen. Tom’s recent YouTube video highlights three things our cities can do to encourage more people to cycle in winter. Here are Tom’s suggestions and some reflections:

The first item on Tom’s list is to install separated bike lanes. This type of bike facility is almost always contentious. Road space is limited. However, studies show that separated bike lanes are a benefit to all road users: drivers have more clarity and confidence about where to expect bike traffic; pedestrians feel safer with more distance between them and vehicle traffic; and cyclists benefit due to protected laneways.

The City of Peterborough has begun the installation of separated bike lane infrastructure. Currently, only small sections are complete. Though they seem piecemeal at this time, these sections are part of a bigger system to come.

Separated bike lanes will vastly improve the bicycle riding experience in our city; research tells us this is especially so for new riders, women, children, the elderly. According to Tom it is also a great way to improve the joy and ease of riding bikes year-round.

The second thing Tom suggests to improve the winter riding experience is snow clearing. While it is possible to ride through snow, your average rider wants a clear road just like your average driver. We all agree that a clear road, trail, or bike lane is easier and safer to travel on.

Peterborough is doing a great job with this so far, with routes like the Rotary Trail taking very high priority on our snow clearing schedule. While snow can pile up in our on-road bike lanes (and other awkward spots) Peterborough generally does a great job of snow clearing and prioritizing our active transportation network, making it easier to ride.

Finally, Tom informs us that the third action we can take to encourage winter riding is to build a culture that embraces winter. This is achieved through placemaking, a concept that encourages people to collaboratively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as central to a community. Educational programming also helps people choose to embrace winter rather than hide from it.

B!KE has been working alongside the City of Peterborough to support placemaking and education in our Winter Wheels program. Since launching the program in 2017, B!KE has helped over 100 cyclists embrace the season by helping them to secure the equipment, skills and confidence to support winter riding. One new winter rider put it succinctly when they said, “I thought I hated winter; it turns out I just hate winter driving”.

Getting outdoors and learning how to participate in winter might be the most important thing we can learn from each other.

People choose to ride bikes for a variety of reasons; cycling has benefits for our health, environment, and economy. But most people who choose to ride a bike do so for the sense of fun and freedom it brings them.

If you live in the Peterborough area, you are bound to encounter winter; learning how to take joy in all the seasons will help you navigate our snowy community. We are lucky to live in a city where people can choose to ride bikes no matter the season! Let’s keep encouraging each other along the way.

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