Winter cyclist profile – Keegan the PhD candidate

Name / Occupation / Age
Keegan Barker / PhD Student / 31

What do you use your bike for?
Transportation, fun, exercise, freedom.

How often do you ride?
Now that I am working at home most days, a little less than every day, but I ride whenever I go out and about.

How long have you been commuting by bicycle and what made you decide to start?
I started cycling around the city in summer of 2001. I’d just moved to Toronto the year before and my lovely roommate Kathy professed that riding her bike was the best way to get around the city. I was working downtown at the time, and construction was going on in front of the place where I worked. For a few weeks, they’d notified folks that all bikes needed to be removed from the bike posts. No one came to claim a little purple bike with stickers on it. My boss asked me if I’d have it, and with some fear I said yes. I wanted to get to know the city a little better. I started pedaling and a love affair began!

What would you say to convince someone who is considering commuting by bicycle to go for it?
Freedom. No waiting around for late transit. Exhilaration. Feeling great about doing your part for the environment. It’s cheap. And of course, the feeling of the first warm day of spring on your bike is like no other — sunshine, soft air, birds singing…it reminds me of all that is good in the world.

When did you start commuting in winter and why?
I started commuting in winter 2004. I was living at Dupont and Ossington and working at Bathurst and Dundas. The transit travel time took about 1 hour in the winter. Biking took 20 minutes. The bus was smelly, while the air was crisp. The bus was soggy, while (with the right gear) I was dry and warm.

I just kept riding after the snow fell and figured out it wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was fun and I felt good about it.

What are the biggest challenges for winter bikers in Toronto?
Decreased space on the roads due to snowbanks/piles of snow from people’s homes on the streets.

What reaction do you get from co-workers?
“Wow, you’re hardcore.” (I’m so not!)
Laughter when my frozen eyelashes begin to melt and mascara runs down my face. Oblivious, I say with a goofy grin, “what?!”.
Strange looks when I come into the building with snow pants, huge-clomping-winter-boots, a parka, and just a little space for my eyes.

What’s the best thing about commuting by bicycle in winter?
There are less people on the road jockeying for a little space. Early morning rides are amazing with either a complete and utter quiet due to the sound proofing of fresh snow, or crunchy squeaky tires on snow — a sounds that makes my teeth hurt.

Can you give a brief description of your route?
It is about 3.5 km — west along Wellesley into UofT campus, north to Hoskin Ave, west to Devonshire Place, north to Bloor. Wellesley can be a little hairy, but once I get into the campus it’s like a sigh of relief.

Where are your favourite places or streets to bike in Toronto? Least?
Least: Bloor street between Avenue & Bathurst is a total drag: lots of door prize potential, and the cars seem really unaware of cyclists. The construction there right now means I avoid it completely. We need a bike lane here!

Most: Harbord is a great east/west route: roomy, road condition is pretty good. I love biking on Palmerston at night, with the big round street lights lit up.

What do you like about biking in Toronto in winter?And dislike?
I like that I continue to do what’s important to me, despite the challenging weather. That is; staying active and making environmentally conscious choices.

What could the City do to make winter biking better?
Encourage the lovely folks who work so hard to clear their sidewalks & driveways to deposit the snow on their front lawns/gardens rather than onto the street.

What’s your favourite piece of winter cycling clothing?
I have two: MEC lobster gloves/mitts and my cushioned seat cover (for when the seat freezes and my tooshie warms it up. It prevents the inevitable melt and subsequent deep freeze while I’m riding).

Any bike gadget/gear winter cyclists should not go out without?
Lock de-icer: helps when condensation gets into your lock and you can’t get the thing to come undone.

Did you do any holiday shopping by bike?
Yes. I have a bag I can load up and sling over my body messenger style. And I load my basket up with goodies too.


  1. Many of the people featured here started biking because the TTC service is bad. Unfortunately, I suspect that many more people started driving because TTC service is bad. Time to put more buses on the road and make sure that they don’t bunch.

    (Although how could this route possibly take an hour on the TTC? I suspect that she was taking the Dupont bus, then the Bathurst bus, then the Bathurst streetcar… not fast because the Dupont bus runs infrequently. Ossington bus + Dundas streetcar is much more frequent and faster. I could walk this route in less than an hour.)

  2. Her comments about Bloor being nasty resonate – maybe she could press her local councillor to support an idea to put bike lanes on Bloor, though the default may be to have them on Wellesley as per tepid Bike Plan, even though that road also needs reconstruction – and that’s not due to the heavy bike traffic.
    Another useful inspiring post, thanks.

  3. you can avoid the need for lock de-icer by keeping your lock well lubricated. 3in1 is more environmentally friendly than de-icer and there is no reason wax chain lube won’t work.

  4. I agree with hamish, where are the promised bike lanes on bloor street?????

    But lets not slag the TTC Adam is trying his best to improve the system even though he has enough money to do it.But his inexperience running a large corporation will take time for him to figure things out.Give him about ten years and I am sure the schedules and routes will improve.

  5. These featured cyclists in the winter aren’t shown wearing their full on winter cycling gear. I want to see what they look like all bundled up!

  6. Hey you hot hard core biker girl, you look great. Your mom sent me the link and it is totally you.
    Lots of love from your auntie

  7. great website!
    inspiring words from keegan….hopefully more people will follow her lead in the near future.

  8. Keegan,

    I am impressed with your efforts. I think it is great that you enjoy your year round riding and it helps the environment as well. Take care.


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