Winter cyclist profile — Tanya the IT Coordinator

This is part of a regular series of cyclist profiles, here on Spacing.

Name / Occupation / Age
Tanya Quinn/ IT Coordinator / 34

What do you use your bike for?
Everything! Commuting, shopping, visiting friends, crazy long day rides sightseeing small town Ontario, camping etc.

How often do you ride?
Pretty much every day. It’s my main mode of transport. Some days when I’m more local, I walk.

How long have you been commuting by bicycle and what made you decide to start?
It was six years ago that I became seriously committed. I had been taking the streetcar to work and I found it slow and unreliable. At first I was in bad shape, since I rarely got any exercise, and the streetcar I would have passed me while I was red-faced and lying on the boulevard trying to catch my breath. I kept doing it every day because I bought a bike computer and was fascinated watching my mileage go up and up. After 2 or 3 weeks it wasn’t so hard anymore.

What would you say to convince someone who is considering commuting by bicycle to go for it?
Just pick a nice day and try it out! Or try your commute on a Sunday. The perception of what it’s like to bike in traffic always seems worse than the reality.

When did you start commuting in winter and why?
Other people were doing it, I figured how bad can it be? The first winter I was commuting I had a long commute so I did half bike and half transit to avoid the unpleasant parts of the TTC trip.

What are the biggest challenges for winter bikers in Toronto?
The snow and ice accumulate on the sides of the road so you have to move over and take up more space. Some drivers don’t respect that. Few bike lanes are usable during winter, instead they seem to be snow repositories for the plows.

Do you use a different bike for winter riding?
I have a beater bike that I ride around the city year round. I like not having to worry when I lock it up whether it will be there or not when I come back. It usually needs some repairs after the winter. I have a touring bike which I use for longer excursions, but I don’t like to take it out when there is road salt about.

What reaction do you get from co-workers?
I think they are used to me being an all-weather cyclist. I sometimes have interesting conversations with drivers in the elevator to the underground parking (where the bike racks are.)

Example conversation(on a day when I think the roads are relatively clear):

Driver: Isn’t it dangerous to be biking with the ice?
Me: I can see the ice, so I don’t ride over it.
Driver: But if you did hit the ice, you’d go flying right?
Me: (thinking it far too complicated to explain variables such as tire type, bumpiness etc) It is usually fine to coast over the ice, of course braking on it is not at good idea.
Driver: (appears happy now convinced that flying is possible…)

What’s the best thing about commuting by bicycle in winter?
I like the warmth of exercise mixed with the biting cold wind on your face. It makes you feel alive. Staying fit, having fun, efficient travel…there are just so many bonuses! And it’s easy to get a spot on the bike racks because there are less people doing it, though I’d welcome more company on the roads! I also totally love that I don’t have to dig a car out after a snowfall, or scrape ice, or wait for the engine to warm up. Just start pedalling and the heat turns on pretty quick!

Can you give a brief description of your route?
My commute is 6 km one way from Leslieville to Richmond/Bathurst. I usually take Queen Street there, and Adelaide coming home (Queen to cross the Don.) Its very flat. I don’t sweat, so the only time I need to change clothes is if there’s a bad heatwave. I like to leave after 9 a.m. so there are a few parked cars on Queen Street to slow things down. Adelaide can be hectic, but just pick a lane – ride in the middle – and flow along with the traffic (which can often be mind-numbingly sloooow.)

Where are your favourite places or streets to bike in Toronto? Least?
Queen Street. Bloor/Danforth. Lots of bikes, street life, and sights. In the summer Leslie Spit is a nice oasis. Least favourite? Pick any suburban carterial. The speed differential is a lot between bikes and other traffic. Generally anywhere downtown is great because of congestion, traffic is fairly slow moving.

What do you like about biking in Toronto in winter?And dislike?
Since we don’t get a lot of snow, usually the challenge is keeping warm. Biking keeps your internal temperature warmer and winter doesn’t seem so long and chilling.

I dislike parked cars that keep proper snow clearing from happening. Oh, and, people that shovel snow into the roadway.

What could the City do to make winter biking better?
Plow bike lanes and the Martin Goodman. Enforce no overnight parking on snow routes, and then actually clear all the snow to the edges of the road. The curb lane on Queen can often get quite messy after a storm because of the parking.

What’s your favourite piece of winter cycling clothing?
That’s a toss up. I love my MEC rain pants that I wear to keep the cold wind out and any slushy road spray from passing vehicles off my pants. The thin balaclava under my helmet is great for keeping warm.

Any bike gadget/gear winter cyclists should not go out without?
Windproof outer layers are great since its the wind chill that will really make you cold. With a combination of over pants and fenders, you won’t need to worry at all about slush. Helmet covers are useful for keeping your head warmer – lots of vents are great in summer, not so great in winter. I love my rear-view mirror. Changing lanes needs to happen often in winter to go around big blobs of ice/snow and parked cars that are too far out because of the snowdrifts.

Have you done any Holiday shopping by bike?
Haven’t started yet! I always shop by bike and find it interesting when shopkeepers ask “Are you going to carry that by bike?” even when the thing clearly fits into my backpack! This year I’m totally set with a homemade cargo trailer. You can see plans to make your own here: http://www.drumbent.com/trailer.html

Are you a member of any cycling organizations/clubs? If so, which ones?
I ride with Randonneurs Ontario for fun. We do brevets of 200 km and more. I’m a member of Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists, which provides information to cyclists that have been involved in accidents or been unfairly targeted by police, and holds memorials for (lets hope for none next year!) cyclists killed in traffic. I’m on the board of Community Bicycle Network which is involved in recycling bicycles, has a Toolworks program for people to work on their own bikes, and is working with other organizations to get some of our former BikeShare bikes out on the road again. I write for my own blog at http://crazybikerchick.blogspot.com and for http://www.ibiketo.ca.

Favourite winter bike stories?
Any day I successfully conquer the elements is a good one!

Cautionary winter bike stories?
Thinking every day is a good biking day, and then bundling up and going out in -40C (with the wind chill) weather on really messy roads. I went down in the first kilometer or so. With snow on the road it doesn’t hurt [as much – Ed’s note], but I was sure to get up off the road awfully quickly to avoid being hit by other traffic. Now I try to be less stubborn and use transit if the roads are really bad. This is only 3 or 4 days a year, meaning the rest of the time is great for winter biking!

13 comments

  1. Great feature. Great interview. If more people approached cycling with the kind of enthusiasm Tanya does, I bet we’d have a much happier and fitter town.

    I love winter biking, too.

    Thanks folks!

  2. I ride winter too. This city sucks for winter riding! Actually, it sucks for summer riding too!

  3. Interesting to hear that the decision to become a cycling commuter came about because of poor TTC service. It was the experience of waiting too long for buses and subways that were too crowded that made me cycle to & from work almost every day (Although winter snow and cold or heavy rain have been reasons for me to chicken out). I’ve spoken to a few other people who, if they weren’t cycling, would be taking transit. Sometimes it seems as if the increase in the number of bicycles on the street has taken more people away from TTC than it has from their cars.

  4. This is my first year of serious cycling for transportation and also my first winter on the roads as well. I am pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it is but would love it if there were some sort of workshop along the lines of canbike for winter cycling. There are lots more variables and things to be aware of and pretty bad consequences are possible if you don’t come up to speed pretty quickly.

  5. Tanya, you rock. Great advice about windproof and waterproof layers.

  6. Tanya, you’re crazy! (I’m only kidding of course) You’re leading by example; and that’s what this world needs a lot more of.

    Kudos to all you winter cyclists as well. Having left the snow, for rain, I don’t miss cycling under those conditions at all. Especially inhaling the salt that flies off of the buses and dodging street car tracks. Yikes!

    Rubber side down!

  7. Nice story Tanya. I stopped cycling to work about six weeks ago when it just got too hairy for my normal commute along King Street. Car drivers generally are good but when rush hour(s) come along many seem to lose it. Add a bit of snow and ice to downtown traffic and I’m just not comfortable any more and would rather TTC it. Of course, the TTC gets increasingly less reliable as well for the same reasons…

  8. I saw Tanya out on her bike the other day and didn’t recognize her under all the winter gear. Belated hello, Tanya.

  9. Great profile Tanya. The dialogue with the driver was all too familliar: riding on ice is incomprehensible, yet driving on ice (faster than a bike goes) is safe and socially necessary….hmmm

  10. …definitely an inspirational bike chick…speaking of which, your last post had you looking at a new ride back in mid nov…curious what direction you went in, tanya…give us a reboot…

    signed::: a commenting canuck cavorting in california’s cool clear coastal clime…

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