For many Calgary cyclists, the first snow of the season means it’s time for their bikes to get tucked away in garages and storage rooms to hibernate for the winter. There are also those hardy riders who keep cycling year round. If you’ve ever wanted to move from the former to the latter, but were scared to or didn’t know how, here is some advice from Sean Carter, the owner of BikeBike Inc., about what to expect and how to prepare.
What do you love about winter cycling?
“Riding in the winter is so beautiful. It’s peaceful, it’s quiet, there are less people out. The views in the city, whether you’re near the river or maybe you’re up in the northwest, the sunsets and the sunrises – in the wintertime they’re just so spectacular, almost more beautiful than in the summertime. It’s this season that so many people in Calgary are terrified of, but I really don’t know why because it’s really not so bad out.”
What kind of bike should you use?
“Your existing summer bike should work just fine, but there are a couple of things to consider before you get into winter biking. It’s really tough on bikes, so I recommend that you get what we call a winter service or at least get your bike tuned to make sure that all the cables are running freely and that the brakes are safe. That’s the first step. The second thing would be to strongly consider putting on a full set of fenders or mudguards. They’ll keep you really clean but they also keep your bike a lot cleaner so your bike functions better through the winter.”
What types of routes are best?
“A lot of people will attempt to ride their same summer route and if you’re lucky you can do that. For a lot of people, their summer route isn’t as good in the winter because maybe the road isn’t plowed very well or it’s got too much traffic on it. We usually recommend that you try to find perhaps a little bit of a longer way but a safer way that avoids really busy roads so that you’re not in conflict with cars as often.”
How should you dress?
“Layers, layers, layers. Most people think that when you ride in the winter you’re going to be freezing the whole time, but really it’s the opposite problem. Because you’re going slower and, depending on the conditions, you’ve got a bit of soft snow to work through, you’re working pretty hard. So it’s not uncommon to overheat in the wintertime. That’s where layers come into play. If you’ve got lots of thin layers you can take off a sweater layer and put your jacket back on, or add a layer if you’re getting a bit cooler.”
Is ice an issue?
“It is for sure. Here in Calgary, because we have the chinooks coming in, we do get a lot of freeze-thaw. We recommend studded tires for folks if they’re considering riding through the winter. I personally have been using them for four years now. They’re slower and a little bit heavier than a normal tire, but you can ride across a sheet of ice and have quite a bit of confidence that you’re not going to wipe out.”
What are fat bikes and what are they useful for?
“Fat bikes are essentially mountain bikes. You can certainly ride places that regular bikes can’t go or won’t make it. A fat bike will go right through those places. It’s a great way to go out and enjoy the city. You don’t really have to go to the mountains to ride them. You can go to Fish Creek or Edworthy Park or the reservoir. There are so many beautiful places to ride. Some people use them for commuting. There’s a handful of folks we’ve sold bikes to who have particularly difficult commuting conditions. They have long ways to go without a plowed pathway and they’ll run into everything from ice to drifting snow to pack snow, but they want to keep riding all year round. We also sell them to people that want to go out to the mountains.”