Winter cyclist profile – Yvonne the community animator

Name / Occupation / Age
Yvonne Bambrick / Community Animator at the Center for Social Innovation /31

What do you use your bike for?
Getting everywhere and anywhere.

How often do you ride?
All the time — several times a day.

How long have you been commuting by bicycle in winter and what made you decide to start?
I started riding regularly when I was 16. I’d commute from the east end to my high school downtown and to my summer job at Harbourfront, and also just to get around the city with friends. I didn’t used to ride in the winter as much. I would just ride until it got cold and then take the TTC.

I lived in Australia for just over 3 years and got quite accustomed to year-round cycling. I taught skiing for ages, but don’t ski at all anymore, so in a way, cycling has become my new winter sport! This is my fourth winter and I don’t see myself giving it up anytime soon.

What are the biggest challenges for winter bikers in Toronto?
Cold snaps after a melt are tough — the ice is fairly tricky to maneuver on and requires extra care.

More generally, snow takes over the whole bike lane so you’re pushed more to the center of the regular traffic lanes instead of having a bike lane. You have to bike more to the middle of the road. Combine that with the perception by drivers that you don’t belong there in the winter. I mean, they barely think you should be there in the summer. And, everyone gets nervous [driving] in winter, so it adds to drivers’ tension. It’s a bit more frightening with no place to escape. I try to take up space and be as obvious as possible so I’m not a surprise to anyone.

What reaction do you get from co-workers?
There are several other winter cyclists here at CSI, and our whole Streets are for People crew rides in the winter, but most folks who are still surprised have never considered it.

My dad and relatives still don’t seem to understand it, though. I rode to Christmas dinner with all my presents and every one was as surprised as last year, and the year before, after years of doing it I still get funny looks.

What presents did you haul on your bike?
Several glass pictures frames in my basket and on my handlebars in cloth bags. I was glad the roads were clear that day.

What’s the best thing about commuting by bicycle in winter?
Getting nice and warm — you’ve got an automatic heater! The thought of standing at a streetcar stop — being stationary and waiting for transport — doesn’t work for me. I love getting where I’m going on my own steam. My meals are my fuel. Bikes offer a certain freedom. I’m glad I have the courage and stamina. I grew up outdoors; camping, on tall-ships, skis, skates and bikes so it’s not so scary for me. I realize that this is not the case for everyone and so am thankful to be a well-weathered person. And, I know how to layer!

Do you use a different bike for winter riding?
Nope. It’s the same one with the big knobby tires and basket. It stays outside all the time on the porch. We have indoor parking for bikes at CSI, so I bring her in when it’s really cold and my trusty steed needs to thaw.

Can you give a brief description of your route?
Sure! I ride down Shannon Street (my street) which is challenging because side streets are last to be cleared, as you know, then I usually head out along College from Ossington, to Bellevue, then Nassau, stopping at My Market bakery on Baldwin for breakfast, and then down through the Market to 215 Spadina.

What would you say to convince someone who is considering commuting by bicycle to go for it?
One of the things I love most about riding a bike is the sense of safety that I feel. People go on and on about the roads not being safe, but I honestly feel way more at ease as a woman moving through the city — particularly at night — on a bicycle. I feel far less vulnerable on a bike than on foot. Not to say that I don’t feel safe walking on the streets of Toronto, but just knowing that I have the power and speed to escape any kind of situation that could arise makes me feel that much safer.

The other “why ride a bike” advice I’d offer is that bikes are more or less free transportation. Followed by the very basic principle that riding a bike is fun and invigorating, and good for your health…. Oh, and no emissions! I can’t think of a better way to start your day than by getting your blood pumping on a ride to work/school/wherever.

What do you like about biking in Toronto in winter?
I kind of like being one of the few that does it — makes me feel like a rugged Canadian. I would much rather see more people out, but I recognize its not doable for everyone. It’s nice to not have to search for bike parking. I love making fresh tracks in newly fallen snow, riding quietly on a mild flurried night when the side streets are empty, it’s just so peaceful and calm – nothing quite like it. Also, I like staying warm. I am never cold in winter when I’m on my bike.

I dislike all the extra clothes. But that’s what I dislike about winter in general. I also dislike the perception of drivers that we cyclists have no place on the road!

What could the City do to make winter biking better?
Snow clearing of side streets and bikelanes.

It’s difficult, I understand, if you have cars parked in the lane. So, yes, please remove some on street parking!

The City could invest in those little sidewalk clearers like they have in Montreal. We need something more versatile, better suited to myriad spaces that need to be cleared. I think all cyclists would agree that it’s a hassle not getting clearance to edge of the road. The City should get better equipment.

To make biking better in all season though, the City needs to take cyclists and their needs more seriously. We need bike lanes and other cycling infrastructure on the streets not just on another damn piece of paper.

Where are your favourite places or streets to bike in Toronto?
Hard to say… I LOVE riding on the island. It’s magic. No worry about cars. It’s peaceful. Okay, it’s not magic, it’s just simply the fact that there are no cars, that’s it. But I’ll ride anywhere, I just love being on my bike. That said, side streets with less cars are not only safer, but have less of the ground level pollution that they spew.
Least favourite? Why?
University Ave. can get pretty hairy. People drive on it like a highway. Any street with heavy traffic I try to avoid because of the poor air quality.
Have you ever combined transit and biking (or used a bus bike rack?)
Not the racks, but, yes I have combined transit and biking. Sad but true, I rarely leave my little pockets of travel in the downtown core, so I will combine if and when I need to leave the core, and in particular if the trip is uphill — I’ll take transit North and ride back down. I may have taken my bike on the streetcar once or twice if I had a flat or something, but really I can ride anywhere that a streetcar goes.

What’s your favourite piece of winter cycling clothing?
My long black coat. Yes, I wear black. My earmuffs make ALL the difference, actually. Coat keeps the splash off. Tall warm Sorel boots. The earmuffs though, without them….oooh, I wouldn’t be a winter cyclists without them! I’d say GO for the ear coverage.

Any bike gadget/gear winter cyclists should not go out without?
Lights! You gotta be visible! Visibility at night is key — always. It’s just that much more important in foul winter weather. I got a safety/reflector vest as a gift too, so now I’m the safety nerd!

The coat isn’t your average sporty gear and I look like your average woman going to work. It’s jaunty and quite the opposite of some Gortex or fleece number. You don’t have to to wear sports gear ride in the winter.

Are you a member of any cycling organizations/clubs? If so, which ones?
Though Streets are for People I’m one of the organizers for PS Kensington, and I’m a member of TCAT and the Toronto Cyclists Union.

Final words of advice?
Early in the winter, after the first couple of snowfalls, when drivers haven’t had a chance to get their snow driving skills back — keep off the main roads until drivers get used to it. Practice on your bike yourself, in a parking lot or some safe space, so you can get the feeling of how quickly you can turn and break.

Snow clearing is not done with cyclists in mind, but, well, I guess they do a decent job…. I get around okay. I love my bike and would encourage other folks to give it a try — there’s nothing better than making your own way through life.

One comment

  1. A useful dimension of one woman feeling more safe being on a bike at night than perhaps otherwise, + autonomy and the other co-benefits.

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