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Cycling season is almost over… or is it?

Our Events Co-ordinator, Felicity, explains how she got into winter biking, and offers her advice on how you can join her this season.

It’s that time of year. The weather is getting colder. It’s windier. It’s wetter. It’s grayer, and gets darker sooner. It’s just more miserable. And winter is right around the corner. Cycling season is over, right? Time to put your bike into storage until spring.

But spring seems a long way off. Maybe the prospect of driving or busing every day for the next few months isn’t so appealing after all. Maybe that colleague of yours, who you assumed is crazy for biking all year, isn’t so crazy after all. Why do people ride in winter? Isn’t it cold? Isn’t it dangerous? Why do they seem so happy about it?

Felicity’s story: tried to bicycle in winter, retreated, tried again.

When I first moved back to Ottawa five years ago, I tried to bike through winter. It was a disaster. It had snowed a lot the night before, and my skinny tires skidded all over the place. I lasted approximately 10 seconds and went 5 metres before I got off, turned around, and pushed my bike back home. I retreated to the safety of the bus.

But two years later, I moved again and found myself on part of the winter cleared network. I decided to give this winter cycling thing another try. I bought a pair of studded tires and a second-hand beater bike. I no longer skidded out, and I kept my freedom all year. There are few feelings quite so exhilarating as an outdoor bike ride in -10*C on a clear blue day.

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Heading into my fourth year of winter biking, I wanted to help others for whom winter cycling is a legitimate option, but who need some extra help.

With that in mind, I reached out to the #ottbike community on twitter. To the experienced winter riders, what is your top piece of advice? To the nervous but interested, what’s holding you back? The response was overwhelming, with tips ranging from general advice to specific gear that “is a lifesaver”. Nervous newbies were mostly concerned about slipping and falling, and about staying warm. There was lots of legitimate concern about safe routes, but there are decent route options out there, and there’s likely one that will work for you.

The quick-start guide to riding a bicycle in an Ottawa winter

  1. If you already have clothes that keep you warm in winter – especially but not necessarily during winter sports – then you don’t need anything special for winter cycling.
  2. While there are many days when routes are cleared right to the asphalt, the ground may sometimes be icier, so take appropriate precautions. Bike and brake more slowly. Use caution around corners. Maybe purchase winter (studded) tires. In this regard no different than driving in winter.
  3. Things will rust if they’re not cleaned and lubed more regularly than in the summer (again, similar to rustproofing a car).
  4. There’s no shame in only riding on the truly beautiful days.

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Winter cycling isn’t all arctic winds and battling through blizzards. And nobody says you need to bike on those rare days anyway. There are many beautiful blue-sky days, bare pavement, and a bit of sun to lift your mood, so get out and enjoy.

A slightly longer version, including a few “level up” suggestions for anyone willing to invest in riding all winter, is available HERE as a PDF. Feel free to share it with anyone who is thinking about biking this winter, but is nervous about starting. Finally, if this is your first winter biking, we’d love to hear from you, and share your stories! Email for more information. Happy biking (all year long).

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