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Our results are in from 70 respondents for our Jan. 2011 informal poll. Thank you!  We asked the question: “Do you cycle in the winter?”  Below is the split-out for those who are tenacious out there on sometimes snowy, icy roads and those who would rather be warmly tucked indoors.  Or maybe you are engaged in a snow sport on the slopes.

Winter cyclist by Rocky Mountains. Banff, Alberta 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Winter cyclist by Rocky Mountains. Banff, Alberta 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Poll results are abit deceiving, since there are actually more winter cyclists than shown in the pie-chart.  The “Other” category was intended to allow respondents to give an answer not offered in the other multiple choices.

 “Other” was originally a discrete, standalone category by itself.   In the end, “Other” became a hodge-podge of people who wanted to explain abit about their cycling or non-cycling situation and who didn’t want to choose one of the other multiple choice answers.  So, we’ve included some comments from 18 people who chose the “Other” category:

  • I am disabled –can’t ride bike.
  • Don’t really have winter.
  • Yes, but not on roads, I take to the woods on an MTB.
  • Only when roads aren’t icy or covered with salt.
  • Usually not –salt is hell on bikes.
  • Yes, winter weather is not an issue where I live.
  • Yes, but only when the temperature is above freezing.
  • Every day when I was younger (20-50 year old ages).
  • When I feel like it.
  • Every day.
  • Stationary trainer.
  • I’ll ride in the winter if the stars align, ie. Sunny and low winds
  • Above 40F for a few days and with little car traffic.  
    Survey Results for Winter Cycling. Poll taken for 3 wks. Jan. 2011. Note: There are actually more cyclists since several responses in "Other" category include some winter cyclists.
    Survey Results for Winter Cycling. Poll taken for 3 wks. Jan. 2011. Note: There are actually more cyclists since several responses in “Other” category include some winter cyclists.

    The survey was provided to both females and males in both co-ed and female-only Internet forums and simply open access to the blog. The blog is viewed by a mix of cycling and non-cycling readers.  As a general observation, there are over 55% respondents who do cycle during the winter –including some positive responses gleaned from “Other” comments.  It is an informal, anecdotal poll. But there are more people attempting winter cycling than one is led is to believe.    

             Thanks for dropping by!

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During the winter my cycling habits do get abit stuck in a snowbank whenever there is snow or ice.  In Toronto, my bike never saw sunlight from within the 

Bike parked in snow bank. Leavenworth, Washington 2009. Photo by J. Chong

Bike parked in snow bank. Leavenworth, Washington 2009. Photo by J. Chong

bike storage cave for the whole winter.  But then, I lived 16 kms. in the suburbs, away from downtown and separated by ravine parks and a cold lake waterfront where snow and ice stuck around for awhile.  

In Calgary, I’ve only kicked out my winter cycling abstinence by a notch:  I will cycle for grocery shopping,  if the pavement looks reasonably ice-free without me wandering out into the middle of the road to avoid an ice patch. The City does try to clear snow off its downtown riverside bike and pedestrian paths close to home.   Drier prairie air means drier snow for easier removal.

Winter Use of Bike Lanes:  Cycling Count Statistics vs. Flash Observations

Dunsmuir St. separated bike lane. Vancouver, BC Mar. 2010. Opened a few weeks after Winter Olympics ended. Photo by HJEH Becker

Dunsmuir St. separated bike lane. Vancouver, BC Mar. 2010. Opened a few weeks after Winter Olympics ended. Photo by HJEH Becker

In Vancouver, I  cycle-commuted to work  when I worked downtown on certain winter days. Otherwise, on weekends,  I ventured out for a brisk bike ride usually under 15 kms. at near freezing temperatures..  I confined my bike routes where possible, to quieter roads and bike paths (where there were just less pedestrians and joggers anyway). I preferred bike lanes. 

Snowclearing machine or perhaps, a big snowbrush for dry, prairie snow on bike-pedestrian path. Calgary, AB 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Snowclearing brush machine for removing dry, prairie snow on bike-pedestrian path. Calgary, AB 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

 So is it really true that bike lanes are severely underutilized  in bad weather when there is heavy rain, some snow or ice?  It’s a favourite rant among drivers and other observers, especially when a separated bike lane was implemented by reassigning part of the road pavement real estate. 

Yes, right:  If this  short 1-3 min. observation was from a  driver waiting at a traffic light or whipping along the road.  Some cynics proclaimed their observations during the first year in Vancouver for  separated bike lanes on:  Burrard Bridge, Dunsmuir St. and perhaps, Hornby St. 

Vancouver cycling count statistics for 2010 proved otherwise for sample separated bike lanes:

  • Burrard Bridge: Bad weather days – 300 to 400 cyclists daily. Otherwise, normal winter days range – 800 to 1,000 cyclists peaking to 3,000 daily (Winter 2009-Mar. 2010 including during the Winter Olympics with road closures starting, Nov. 2009-Mar. 2010.)
  • Dunsmuir St.: 1,000 to 1,600 cyclists daily (Oct. 2010)
  • Note: Vancouver installs bike counter equipment which generates data to support implementation of new cycling facilities. This cycling metrics program has been in place for last 2 years.

    Winter cycling on bike-pedestrian access ramp. Calgary, AB 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

    Winter cycling on bike-pedestrian access ramp by Bow River. Calgary, AB 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

     Is this cynicism really a motorist-blinkered perception?  Do they realize that residential streets and some downtown streets, are often at true traffic peak volume for approximately 1 hr. each during morning and late afternoon.  Meanwhile for the rest of the day, car traffic peeters out to occasional cars ambling calmly down the road every few minutes.

    That’s a short amount of daily optimal road use by cars for alot of wide, long pavement real estate.

    In fact, in engineering circles, there is a common design principle for roads designed to accommodate peak car traffic volumes for approximately 1 hr. each day. (Several decades ago, peak car volume was 15 min. or so. It must have been shortly just after the car speedsters were still celebrating after the horse and buggy disappeared.  Or perhaps when cities and towns were smaller.) 

    Downtown Calgary 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

    Downtown Calgary 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

     Bike Commuting Away from Peak Rush Hours
    Based on my daily cycling patterns during off-peak hours on business days over several months, most definitely there were streets simply safer and quieter to cycle.  My cycling schedule was oriented around  cycling during lighter car traffic periods after 9:00 am or before 7:00 am.  I avoided impatient car commuters and the congestion of parents dropping off their children at school.  In Vancouver, I had been living downtown for several years.

    One job required a long,  multi-modal commute of cycling, transit rail, bus and then a walk to work site.  I wrote about this commute in an earlier blog article.   But my bike ride was stress-free, since I started early morning at 5:30 am and later, homeward from the transit bike locker after 6:30 pm.  At both ends of the day, I dealt with little car traffic even though the bike commute did include some major road intersections.  The route did include a blend of bike lanes, multi-purpose bike-pedestrian paths and quiet residential streets. Major commercial streets only covered less than 5 kms. of a 13 km. one-way bike route.

    Hornby St. separated bike lane. Vancouver, BC Dec. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker. Bike lane opened after considerable debate and public consultation with business owners and general public.

    Hornby St. separated bike lane. Vancouver, BC Dec. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker. Bike lane opened after considerable debate and public consultation with business owners and general public.

     Just like car drivers testing out new roads and bridges, it takes several years for cyclists to change their riding routes to integrate sections of recently built bike lanes. So don’t be surprised that winter and rainy season cycling traffic is lower but growing. After all, with Vancouver’s winters far more balmier than most other Canadian cities, there is good reason that bike lane use will increase.

    After all, go to the website, Copenhagenize, where during the winter months there are many photos of Copenhageners cycling through snow and rain. The city makes it a priority to clear their separated bike lanes over cars, because their daily cycling volumes are high. 

    Within the last few weeks, snow-removal of bike paths and lanes was a hot Internet topic on a North American listserve for the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals. Perhaps this reflects an increased appetite for winter cycling.

    Further Reading:
    City of Vancouver.  Bike Vancouver for updated cycling statistics on key bike lanes and routes. Including Burrard Bridge, Dunsmuir and Hornby separated bike lanes.

    Chong, Jean.  Biking to Work in More Challenging or Isolated Work Areas.  May 22, 2010.

    Copenhagenize web site.

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There are some more challenging work sites to reach by bike:  construction sites, industrial sites and farms.  These areas are often in more isolated areas, not well served by public transit and may lack safe, bike friendly routes.   Such

Golden Ears Bridge construction. Langley, BC 2008. Photo by J. Chong

Golden Ears Bridge construction. Langley, BC 2008. On the way to work site. Photo by J. Chong

work sites are located out in the suburbs, in industrial parks or  in a busy city district where there is little provision for construction site workers to store a bike nearby all day safely.

Then on top of these challenges, one is even lucky that a construction site or a farm offers a continuously clean room to change clothing. After all, it is a construction site where users may track dirt directly into the washroom. More often at the site, it’s just a port-a-loo. Hardly an ideal spot for clothes changing.

Patchwork of Cycling, Rapid Transit, Bus and Walking
For several years I worked at a large, busy construction site for the creation of  the Golden Ears Bridge and its highway approaches.  I had a lengthy, convoluted round trip which was an 1. 5 hr. commute  one-way, between Vancouver and Langley. My commute  was a crazy patchwork of part-cycling, Skytrain, bus and then walking for 15 minutes through construction traffic and activity to and from the site office. Cycling all the way would have been even more time-consuming  in order to avoid highway stretches where cycling was illegal. By bike, it would have meant a 102 kms. round trip ride.

I stored my bike at Metrotown in a bike locker and saved the relaxing ride  homeward –after getting off the Skytrain. The day was long enough but the bike ride was my glorious fitness saviour and destressor.  It was the only way to build in regular fitness within my daily work and travel schedule.  I was seriously committed, maybe abit insane.

Glimmers of Cycling Interest at Construction Site
Bike to Work Week  at the construction site for a cyclist, was  a bizarre dream —  amongst temporary trailer buildings, dust, caterpillar earth-moving machines, trucks, concrete pourers, dangerous piles of materials and potholes.

At minimum, there were 120 employees at our head office site where I worked, who drove.   During the first year, there were no bikes parked at the office. Nevertheless, I emailed to the entire organization, including 5 other work sites, to announce Bike to Work Week was on and I had copies of bike maps. 

Migrant farm workers' bikes. Dresden, ON 2009. Photo by J.Chong

Migrant farm workers' bikes near tomato processing plant. Dresden, ON 2009. Bikes were loaned to workers from the Carribbean and Mexico. They were seen often cycling around town after work. Photo by J.Chong

Up to 10 employees picked up a map and most were ex-patriate staff, hired directly from Germany, Great Britain and U.S.  They were interested in maps for weekend cycling. Several German employees did tell me of growing up using bikes often or simply there was more cycling back home since Germany has an  established network of bike paths.

During the second year, the number of parked bikes  and employees riding to work, increased from zero to 10 frequent cyclists.  However there was nothing to lock up the bikes, so the bikes were kept by the office trailers under the office windows.

Near the end of the construction project, several employees even banded together as a corporate team for an annual MS 75 km. fundraising bike ride among the local wineries.

Postscript:  The Golden Ears Bridge was completed in mid-June 2009. Now there are separated bike lanes on the bridge and also  bike lanes on several highway approaches.  Since then, we have biked the 102  km. round trip  several times on weekends where there are always a few cyclists using the new cycling facilities.  Local muncipalities are now expanding cycling routes into their core  areas.

J.Chong was Document Control Manager during the design-build stage for the $800 million Golden Ears Bridge and its highway approaches. During peak construction, there were over 600 employees and contract labourers.

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I was inspired to write this article after attending a corporate gala luncheon sponsored by Canon Canada where Maelle Ricker, Olympic 2010 gold medalist for women’s snowboarding, was a guest speaker.

I mused over  the frequency or shall we say, infrequency of world-class competitive cyclists to promote cycling consistently and often, for transportation or as a lifestyle. From Canada it is rare, for any world competitive Canadian cyclist to speak nationally and often, to support cycling infrastructure, particularily with strong, broad market reach. We are not even sure if Lance Armstrong has acted often as public spokesperson in this area. Except for perhaps Ryan Leech.

Over the past few years, Ryan Leech has been one of the rare Canadian cyclists competing internationally who can be an engaging, articulate spokesperson and role model for young and older folks on cycling for fun, recreation, competition or for transportation.  It helps that he does have corporate sponsorship of the bike manufacturer, Norco. It also helps he has a  clean-cut image with a kick for adventure, BMX-cross bike handling tricks,  and now an added dimension as a  yoga practitioner and teacher.  His yoga interest grew out of his need for injury prevention and cross-training.   His appeal is now even more multi-faceted and broader for generating cycling enthusiasm.  In this article at the nsbm.com website, he explains the benefits of yoga for mountain bikers.

For the last few years, he delivers  talks to children across Canada on goal-setting, work perseverance and dazzles them with his bike handling skills. The instructional themes are part of his programs for children, including “Trials of Life”.

Last year, as surprise finish to one of Metro Vancouver’s sustainability public breakfast sessions, he performed some bike tricks. Manoeuvres included leaping onto the conference table plus vaulting himself on bike over 2 probably, petrified  workshop people from the audience who laid down on the carpet face-up.

In the latest video released earlier this year by Norco, he guides the viewer on how much easier cycling can become, if it is dovetailed into a person’s  daily schedule and lifestyle, as a form of transportation and fitness in one sweep.  He speaks on how much easier cycling would be if there was appropriate cycling infrastructure to travel more safely and seamlessly on bike.

There are some facts sprinkled throughout the video on-screen. For instance, within the first year of cycle commuting, a person can lose up to 13 lbs.

Check out this video.  Use it to help others understand personal benefits of cycling and good cycling infrastructure. It’s a great tool for a general audience.

 

Interesting Reading:
Official Web Site for Ryan Leech.

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