5 myths about winter biking
Bicycling in winter in Montreal
Cutting snow banks on the handlebars of a two-wheeler to get to and from work? Unrealistic in Quebec, we still often hear. Not so fast, check the Rumor Detector.
1. It's too cold
In Oulu, Finland, around 12% of all trips during the cold season are made on two wheels. And about one in two cyclists ride 365 days a year, even at -20 degrees Celsius and below. No wonder it is considered the winter cycling capital of the world.
The British newspaper The Guardian made a comparison with Winnipeg in 2016: its winters are similar to those of Oulu – sunshine duration, thermometer temperatures, days with snow on the ground – but the capital of Manitoba is more representative of what is found elsewhere in North America. The modal share of the bicycle is marginal compared to that of the car. Only a few so-called “extremists” ride their bicycles in winter. They are not helped by the fact that winter maintenance of cycling infrastructure is practically non-existent.
Montreal does not reach the level of Oulu, but the growing number of winter cyclists demonstrates that the cold is not an impediment. A report by Vélo Québec estimated 13.6 % the number of cyclists who had continued their outings during the winter of 2020-2021. This means that one out of seven Montreal cyclists continues to ride during the winter season.
Other European cities – especially Scandinavian – can boast of seeing many cyclists on the road during the white season. Among them, there is the Danish capital Copenhagen, where we do not mess with the snow removal of cycle paths. Lund and Ulmea, Sweden, and Helsinki, Finland, are also often cited examples.
2. You risk frostbite
As all winter sports enthusiasts know, the secret is in… the multilayer. A coat over two vests or sweaters: depending on the ambient temperature, novices are always amazed to find that it is enough to climb a hill to start to feel warm, even at minus 20. Without forgetting warm gloves and a tuque to protect exposed body parts.
3. You have to sacrifice a bike
The slush, the cold, the thaws, the rain and the calcium make life hard for a bike. However, this does not mean that you have to sacrifice a mount during these 4 to 6 months, as some people suggest. Many sites offer basic winter maintenance tips and tricks.
There could also be, in theory, the bike-sharing solution. In Toronto, the Bike Share system is thus available all year round. The bikes, like the stations and their anchor points, are designed to withstand the ravages of winter. And it works: the equivalent of the Montreal BIXI over there — the technology is the same — is used from November to March, especially by annual subscribers.
We are not there yet in Montreal, where the self-service bicycle system ceases operations on November 15 of each year, until mid-April. The mounts then hibernate in a dedicated warehouse; the stations, in the parking lots of the Olympic Park. The idea of deploying BIXI in winter “is gaining ground”, the city is told every year.
Photo: Robert Ruggiero/Unsplash
4. It's too much effort
Roading outside in winter is more laborious than in summer. Rolling resistance, i.e. the energy lost when the tires deform in contact with the ground, is higher in the presence of loose snow on the ground than on dry asphalt. The same applies if the running surface is uneven, for example when it is crusty rather than smooth.
But it all depends on what you are comparing. An electrically assisted bicycle can partially cancel out the highest rolling resistance. And in any case, having well-maintained cycling infrastructure at your disposal is crucial.
5. You have to be daredevil
In Oulu, winter cycling is practiced by Mr. and Mrs. Everybody. In fact, resorting to this mode of transport in conditions is so normal that even children do it every day.
But again, the key to success is to make available to winter cyclists clear cycle paths. In Oulu, for example, the main axes of the network of more than 800 km are cleared of snow before the streets. In Montreal, 27 km of bike paths are plowed. Research carried out in Toronto in 2018, in the neighborhoods surrounding the Metropolitan University of Toronto, tended to conclude that accessible and unobstructed infrastructures were the key argument in convincing a greater number of hesitant people to use their bicycles in winter.< /p>