Winter cyclist profile – Alex, Bikechain coordinator

Name / Occupation / Age
Alex Gatien / Bikechain coordinator / 22

What do you use your bike for?
Everything. I commute year-round and do a fair bit of road riding in the nicer seasons.

How often do you ride?
Almost every day. I’m wary of rain and lots of snow.

How long have you been commuting by bicycle and what made you decide to start?
About three and a half years. Cycling runs in the family, and riding a bike is just so much better than transit — and much, much faster than walking.

When did you start commuting in winter and why?
Just this winter. I’ve ridden in the winter in the past two years as long as there was no snow, but this is the first time I’ve had a dedicated winter bike.

What are the biggest challenges for winter bikers in Toronto?
I find drivers are less forgiving in the winter. That safety-in-numbers feeling that’s present during the summer just isn’t there. Narrower roads and the downright pitiful state of bike infrastructure in this city don’t help either.

What could the City do to make winter biking better?
More bike lanes and clear the existing ones. However, I do think that the City really needs to rethink the way it builds bike lanes, especially on major streets like College. It’s bad enough that you’ll see six vehicles parked [in bike lanes] in one block of the street, but it’s even worse that they go unplowed. The City also really needs to understand that accommodating cyclists and pedestrians will come at the expense of cars. I also think that the link between driving and the host of extremely negative consequences (oil wars, climate change, the exploitation of indigenous lands, horrendous urban landscapes, etc.) needs to become much more clear in people’s minds before we see major changes. It’s either that or we run out of oil and everyone rides bikes because they have to.

What’s your favourite piece of winter cycling clothing?
Toque! My lobster gloves and ski goggles rarely get used, but when they are I’m glad I’ve got them.

Any bike gadget/gear winter cyclists should not go out without?
Fenders! A good set means you can dress pretty much normally and not get crusted up with slush. Reflective tape and lights are another must, but a bell won’t do you much good.
What reaction do you get from co-workers?
Half of them are winter commuters as well, so it’s pretty standard.

Do you use a different bike for winter riding?
Yes. I ride my dad’s hand-me-down Cannondale road bike during fair weather and ride an old touring frame that I turned into a single-speed right now. I think a simple bike with good tires and brakes is the best choice for winter.

What do you like about biking in Toronto in winter? And dislike?
It’s fast, convenient, and generally pretty painless. Biking in other seasons is just so much more pleasant, though. There’s more space, no slush, more courteous drivers, and you’ll never have tears streaking down your face and freezing.

Scary winter bike stories?
Hmm… I T-boned a car that cut me off in November. I had to get stitches and the motorist got charged with careless driving. Does that count?

Can you give a brief description of your route?
I live at Dufferin and College, so I usually take side streets over to Ossington and then cut north to Harbord. I then ride down Huron or St. George to get to work. Harbord is probably the most bike-friendly street I’ve found in Toronto, although the gap in bike lanes between Major and Spadina is a major flaw.

Where are your favourite places or streets to bike in Toronto? Least favourite? Why?
Favourite: I love biking on the Leslie Street Spit and through the ravines in the east end. The Beaches are great on a brisk day, too. Least favourite: Dundas is pretty treacherous and I rarely venture into suburban Toronto.

Are you a member of any cycling organizations/clubs? If so, which ones?
I’m the coordinator at Bikechain, the University of Toronto’s free, educational bicycle repair facility. I help students fix their bikes five days a week. I’m also pretty keen on the upcoming cyclists union.


What would you say to convince someone who is considering commuting by bicycle to go for it?
It’s fun, it’s cheap, it’s convenient, and it’s relatively safe.

4 comments

  1. The Harbord lane breaks up from Borden to Spadina, not Major, and “thank” Neil Wright for it.
    I’m not sure that Alex supports the Bloor bike lane initiative as I vaguely recollect a Varsity op ed in the fall urging Wellesley. So at minimum, what about pressing for the missing link?
    As for the winter bike conditions, while there are some good motorists, the civic response has been spotty, and that’s being charitable. However, over a week after pushing the snow from one Bloor Viaduct into the bike lane I saw a proper operation last night doing a number on the bank of the snow. Trouble is with 90% of the snow/ice taken away, the lane can still be 100% useless for bikes….
    But spring’s coming!

  2. Good to see this. I rode year around for my entire professional career. I always lived less than 10 miles from work (South Dakota) and found the convenience of no car warm up, parking,cost and dependence on a pollution technology to make the bicycle the easy choice in terms of time and mental health. The physical health benefits a just a bonus that lasts and lasts.

  3. Actually I find the opposite of Alex’s experience. I find that drivers are being much more courteous in winter. They are leaving a lot more space and there is no honking going on (a frequent summer happening). I think with the narrowed lanes due to snow banks they realize they are not wide enough to share. But in summer when I believe the same lanes are not wide enough to share – they disagree, and assume I am being aggressive and rude.

  4. Alex, have you ever danced with the devil by the pale moon light?

Comments are closed.