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The wonders of non-hardcore winter cycling (Guest post)

Bike frozen in ice. This would be a non-cycling day.

by Andrea Zanin

As a cyclist and non-driver, I have developed a winter strategy. I keep an ongoing list of errands and grocery needs. I check weather and road conditions regularly. As soon as a day comes up that’s clear with dry roads, I cycle around doing all the things I can squeeze in. That includes stocking up on groceries and household stuff even if I don’t expect to run out imminently, because I don’t want to be stuck without toilet paper when a week-long snowstorm hits. In summer, errands can be run daily. In winter, it’s more like binge/bust. I also vary my transportation more generally between cycling, public transit and cabs depending on the weather.

I’m not hardcore. I’m very aware of how fragile the human body is and I have nothing to prove. No heroic ice-biking for me. I don’t want to break my neck. I stick to safe road conditions and I plan my routes to avoid heavy traffic, high speeds, major hazards and so on.

I’ve figured out over time that I can breathe comfortably down to about -5°C, though I hope to test out a face mask and see if that opens up colder days. I have mild asthma and carry an inhaler, but rarely use it. I wear layers, but nothing high-tech. I wear multiple bright lights at night, carry a bungee cord for loads (I have a rear basket), use my bell lots and have absolutely no problem yelling at drivers who put my life in danger, which they often do—but I don’t play chicken. I’m the only loser if it’s me against a car. I think a lot of accidents can be avoided by selectively breaking rules when they go against safety, going slowly when the roads are snarled, and expecting that nobody can see you and acting accordingly. Right of way is less important than survival.

These basics have served me well.

I’m saying all this because I think a lot of people put their bikes away at this time of year—and legit, I did too until a year ago. But at least here in Toronto, you don’t have to. You can still get all the benefits of cycling if you switch up your strategy for the season. The freedom of movement, the exercise, the connection to the urban landscape, the convenience, the low environmental footprint—so much good stuff. Cycling may be weather-dependent to a point, but it’s not season-dependent. You just have to adapt a bit.

I’m thinking more and more these days about sustainability, about our impact on the world around us—and cycling is a key part of that for me. So I figure a little mythbusting, a little reassurance, a little encouragement might help get more of you to two-wheel it year-round.

And I also have to say: there’s joy in it. It’s not just a “you should.” It feels amazing to get your blood moving on the chilly days. Makes the body less sluggish and stiff. Warms you up from the inside and makes you glow. At least that’s my experience!

Anyway, there’s my little winter cycling manifesto. Maybe you’re already there (high five!). Maybe, like me until a year ago, you’re not—but you could be, you’ve just got to decide to give it a shot. Hope this helps a bit!

Andrea Zanin has written for the Globe and Mail, The Tyee, Bitch, Ms., Xtra, IN Magazine, Outlooks Magazine and the Montreal Mirror. Her scholarly work, fiction and essays appear in a variety of collections. She blogs at and tweets at @sexgeekAZ.

2 thoughts on “The wonders of non-hardcore winter cycling (Guest post)

  1. I love this. It amazes me how many people just put their bikes away come fall and really lots of days are perfect for errand running and bike commuting. Today the roads are clear and it’s a high of 4. That’s pretty nice, not just tolerable. I throw wind pants on over my tights and off I go. I’m good (with gear) to about -10. After that, I just say no. And I have the tires and bikes for snow and ice but on days like today they’re not needed at all.

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