Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cycling in Winter

Depending on how you measure it, Ottawa is either the second or third coldest capital in the world. It places third by how cold it gets in winter, following Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; Astana, Kazakhstan and Moscow, Russia. It places seventh by average temperature because the summers are so hot. I actually find that weather more challenging, but the winters here are brutal. It is not only cold but there is also consistently heavy snowfall. 
The first thing people wonder about when I say that I cycle in winter is how I can do so over snow. Well, given that Ottawa experiences about 235cm of snow per year, the city has very sophisticated snow removal.Snow is typically removed within a day and there is extensive salting. People will say things like "how can you ride in 15cm of snow, like what fell today!?" The answer is that I can't. And most people also couldn't drive in that, at least with the type of vehicles you find in the city. No one would be going anywhere if there was that much unploughed snow and they would be digging their cars out anyway. This feels like common sense, but I think that hearing about a winter cyclists shocks people so much that they don't think about it. 

I do have href="">snow tires, each of which cost less than a student or discounted group buss pass for one month. They help, but I have seen people riding road and racing bikes in the snow. They probably have better skills than I do (I should mention here that I didn't learn how to ride a bike until I was in my early 20s and am from the part of Canada with the mildest climate. Shock! Will elaborate later) and are certainly braver.

I don't have a lot of bike specific gear or clothing other than that. One thing I want to make more people aware of, is that you don't need a lot of spandex or expensive equipment to commute by bike. I wear a helmet, bike gloves and a thin head cover. Otherwise everything I wear is part of my street clothes. Mostly things I can wear to work. Right now it is about -15°C and I have been wearing tights under my suit pants, a sweater, my winter coat, a scarf, head cover thing, gloves, helmet and winter boots. When it was colder I would add a base layer that my mother bought me. My parents ski avidly and I poach their gear when I can. Before that I wore leggings and a hoody that I scrounged around. I did recently get some waterproof over pants to wear over my work pants. I won't need the layer beneath them soon and as the snow thaws it gets very wet, even though I have fenders. I've never gotten coated in mud, but the odd splatter happens and does not like that professional.

In the summer it is even easier. I just wear whatever I am wearing to work with a light, white top over to prevent sunburn. Also some leggings or shorts if I am wearing a skirt or dress. I bike in heels, which is not challenging at all since only the balls of my feet are on the peddles. If anything it is easier than walking in them.

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