Toronto is once again having a snowy winter, and the City’s Coldest Day of the Year Ride for cyclists is coming up this Friday (January 30). With these things in mind, here are some thoughts on how to tackle the streets on two wheels this season.
Cold. Dark. Ice. Snow. I used to have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of riding a bike in the dead of winter. Why bother cycling during a deep freeze in the first place? Turns out, there are ways to make it work, and the Cold Weather Cycling guide on the City of Toronto’s website provides plenty of options for cyclists looking to winterize their rides.
Personal taste is a factor, but the website suggests that — though a mountain bike provides good handling — a beater is best for the winter. For Yvonne Bambrick, spokesperson and assistant coordinator for Toronto Cyclists Union, a beater is her best friend all year round. There are also those who prefer different bikes depending on the season. Jonny James, one of the winter cyclists profiled here last winter, uses an old ’80s Fiori Roma road bike with slicks in the snow.
The right tires are essential, according to the City’s guide. It is suggested to lessen tire pressure to increase traction. Thick tires can combat hard packed snow while thin tires are great to cut through slush. And as for your bike locks: keep the key hole well oiled to prevent freezing. Bambrick also says it’s important to keep your chain well oiled. In addition, she recommends mud guards, which can be particularly helpful during the winter because of slush and salt on the roads.
Besides bike equipment, there are other ways to make riding during the winter more pleasant. Bambrick, Jonny James and the City website stress the importance of what you wear. Reflective vests, goggles, and dry and warm attire are crucial components. Jonny James suggests Manzella gloves ($9 @ LeBaron) with gripped pads on the palms and fingers while Bambrick suggests handle bar cosies that act as a wind protector.
Also, safety is always paramount so there’s no shame in going slow. Remember: ride to conditions. If streets are slick, brake sooner and more gently and go easy on the front brake while riding downhill.
Finally. for those of you who are daring and never shake your head at trying new things — no matter how absurd they seem — consider Ktrak.
Born by Kyle Reeves from his Vancouver home, Ktrak was designed to make commuting in a winter wonderland much easier. It’s a kit that transforms your mountain bike into a pedal-powered snowmobile. The universal attachment replaces the wheels of a mountain bike with a track drive and an optional front ski. Start digging through your couch for change, because a full kit will cost about $550; the track alone is roughly $420. It looks insane, but the Ktrak system lets cyclists ride over anything. According to Bambrick, Ktrack is â€œa great twist on winter fun or sport,â€ but believes it’s not necessarily an improvement on urban cycling.
Now with the existence of Ktrak, Toronto’s bike lanes don’t have to be ploughed and cyclists can stop complaining, right? Though the kit came out in 2006, there are few GTA residents who own it. Maybe, that’s a good thing, though, since bike lanes really should be cleared regularly. Happy winter cycling.
Photo by Krisztina.