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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered



  1. I try to do it year round. I may opt for a streetcar when the temp. plunges down past -20 or there’s a lot of snow, but generally, Toronto winters are milder and drier, so I’m on my bike a lot.

    My main thing is being a little more careful – ice is slippery (for bikes AND cars), so I am more cautious and take more quiet sideroads than in the summer.

    When the temperature is around 0 (like it is now, in the mornings), a couple sweaters and windproof pants seem to do the trick in keeping warm.

    It’s all about the layers, just like dressing for winter in general – but having a good “windbreaker” layer is very good – as riding a bike creates it’s own wind.

  2. I can understand why people would feel uncomfortable riding in snowy/icy conditions. It takes some practice and confidence. It’s a skill worth learning though!

    Seriously…during most of the winter here in Toronto the roads are just fine for riding. You can avoid the worst by just not riding after a fresh snowfall or freezing rain or whatever. Once the snowplows, ridiculous amounts of salt, and sunshine work their magic, the roads are pretty much back to “normal”.

    “But it’s cold!” you say. Well, a little bit…but this is Toronto, not Yellowknife. Add some extra layers and you’re good to go, especially for the shorter rides. No fancy bike clothes are really necessary. It’s a heck of a lot warmer riding a bike than standing around waiting for a bus or streetcar.

    Give it a try….extend your riding season a bit at a time. Don’t need to go all hardcore right away.


  3. I’ve noticed bike traffic is down on my semi-regular cross-town morning ride on College-Carlton.

    The cold isn’t a problem since cycling warms me up which means I get places warmer and sooner than walking. The occasional day when it’s too sloppy underneath, I can take TTC or walk.

  4. It’s never really cold enough in Toronto anymore to stop me from biking.

    The one thing that will force me on the TTC is a heavy dump of snow and/or icy conditions. Other than that, my bike stays on the road.


  5. Agreed, it’s all about dressing appropriately and having just enough courage to face the initial chill before you warm up from riding (2 mins max). But as per Vic’s comment – it’s definitely warmer and way more invigorating than standing around waiting!

    I highly recommend avoiding the roads on the first couple of snow days though. Drivers need time to get their snow skills back at the start of the season. It’s a good idea to do some practicing on quiet side streets with your bike too – starting, stopping & turning in snow to get a feel for it.

    Also, the more visible you make yourself – at night and during the day – the better. True in all seasons of course, but since rain and snow reduce visibility that much more…

  6. Has anyone tried studded tires? I have to take a back trail to get to work and it isn’t plowed during the winter. If I bike with studded tires will I be able to ride the trail with snow?

  7. All year! And I have just proved to myself that my doing so has not only been a direct result of my living and working/going to school downtown. I’ve been doing a high school practicum out very far from my home and downtown Toronto… and yet everyday, rain, sun, or half snow/rain, I ride.

    I love my bike.

  8. I have heard from many people that studded tires are only practical and safe if you are riding consistenly on hard ice and snow. If you are riding through the city you could be on a snowy, icy street one moment (a side street), and then a clear, busy street the next (like Queen). Several people have told me that once you get on the clear streets, studded tires can actually be dangerous on damp ashphalt because you actually have less friction on the surface of the road than you would with regular tires and thus turns and stops can be dicey. I would consult bike shops and those that have used them before making the switch.

    One interesting thing to consider is that I can’t recall any couriers – who ride everywhere all year – using studded tires. They may be a tough group to compare to because of their general fearlessness, but I assume Aidan has had good experiences with them, courier or not.

  9. I’d like to ride more in the winter — it’s more of a drag if you want to dress….nice though, and less….sporty. Though sometimes you can unpeel a nylon outer layer to a jaunty sub-layer for our warm interiors. But it doesn’t always work, aesthetically. MEC does not make evening attire (even if some people unfortunately use their products in that way).

  10. Been riding Toronto year round since i moved here 17 years/30000+km ago. Weather is a slight distraction. I will not be cowed (into riding the ttc freakin 55-60 minutes to get a mere 6 km.)

    Inclement weather is a state of mind. Standing on an overheated subway platform in a winter jacket for 20 min in a crowd 10 deep from the subway doors is far more trying than biking in some slight snow. Hell, snow is far better than rain, snow is dry. And once you start moving you’re warm, so winter biking is all about heat management, not cold.

    Experience with winter riding tells me that some tread is useful, especially knobs in snow – only snow effectively sticks to snow, so you want your tires to pickup and hold snow between the treads. Or go to studs, but they’re only useful on hardpack or solid ice, which we get about 5-8 days a winter before its salted into a slush that destroys our lakes and streams. Your studs will wear down on pavement pretty fast, too.

    In slush you want thin tires to cut thru to the road surface. So some 700mm 38-43c narrow studded tread tires are great, imho. (I just moved to these from a regular (workhorse) MTB with thinnish tires with some knob, then the bike was stolen, gdamnit! Fare ye well, mine steed of 11 winters!)

    The rest of the winter is bone-dry from the insane amount of salt we put down (slicks are great for these conditions, but impractical to switch away from in case of any precipitation), or its raining instead of snowing because of global warming. Toronto isnt any kind of winter riding challenge of any measure really, unless you have > 25-30min or ride, then the heating/cooling cycle management becomes the challenge, not the tires. (Pick a very level route and pace yourself, even when you feel like blasting past slow cars at 95% effort, then you get wet and cool off on downhills, get ya sick, and kinda gross for work 😉

    X ski gear (light shell with minimal fleece backing, pit zips) seems to work great. Snow is dry, goretex is for wicking in wet weather, and doesnt breathe nearly enough for full activity riding in dry/snow environments. Remember where the body gets rid of heat – forearms, quads and top of head! – dont insulate them too much, or you’ll sweat bucked. An ear-gaiter (ring for your ears) of fleece fits well under the helmet and leaves a nearly-frostbite-proof top of your head to cool in the helmet holes airflow. When you start your ride you should feel ever so slightly uncomfortably cool, but you’ll ride hard for a minute or two and be glad yer not soaked later from sweat.

    Srsly, Much respec’ to Edmonton/Regina/Winnipeg winter riders, ho!

  11. Studded tires have their drawbacks, but so do slicks on ice! Ideally you’d have two sets of wheels, or two winter bikes, you could switch back and forth (yeah… right).

    It’s true you don’t need different tires much of the year on the roads, because of our insane use of salt. That’s why I have to hibernate my nice bike for five months. Grrr.

    What studs will do is get you through shallow snow and slush and over any kind of ice as well as standard tires on dry pavement, which is rather a lot. They are slower and noisy. As for being sippery in normal conditions, that is not my experience. The studs are set in knobs, and the knobby tread also engages with the road as you ride. I can’t say how quickly they wear yet, but you’re simply not putting the same miles on as your summer tires, and even studded tires are far from the most expensive part to replace.

  12. Mostly year round, I will probably metro pass it in February and march. The only reason is the snow and ice and the way I feel after riding to work and having to take all my gear off and switch into work clothes.

    My ride is 30 mins, I wear a ninja(face) mask and my light jacket with a polartec fleece from mec that is incredibly hot and leaves me sweaty at the end plus mec tights and shorts over them and some good izumi gloves.

    I wish there were some glasses that fit really tight and changed tint due to the natural light because part of the reason as well for not riding is the darkness that begins early.

  13. Tony, have I experimented with a lot of eyewear in winter! Keeping out the wind without fogging is a real challenge, esp when wearing a mask. Ski goggles are the only thing I’ve found to work consistently. Given the darkness, you need to find a clear pair more than the usual tinted pair. I found mine at Canadian Tire among snowmobile gear.

  14. i dont bother with eyewear, really, ever. I spose there’s a risk of gravel in the face/eyes, but nothing compares to the automatic windshield wiping power of your eyelid 🙂 human eyes are non fog too!

    As for being hot – dress up less. I wear my regular work clothes year round for riding, but I do have fenders (required or you need to spend forever dressing and undressing for work). Only in extremely cold temps do regular long workpants get uncomfy, but luckily my rides are short enough not to matter much (thats why I say winter riding isnt serious til you get to the 25 minute mark – for 2 winters my commute was 28-33 minutes by bike, a much different challenge from my 7-10 I have now :). Like I sez – be cool for the first few minutes, you’ll warm up soon enough (unless it’s downhill all the way to work – which it almost is for me – ride home uphill is very warm – shirtless til november! 😉

    As for riding in the dark, just add lots of lights, lots of anisoreflective 3M tape on your bike (mine’s covered in it heh :), reflective sidewalls (many urban tires offer this, check urbane), and choose a route that’s OFF major streets. Sidestreets are a blessing (cept my route gets none because of major obstacles that only major streets cross – train tracks and Davenport escarpment…)

    Following these patterns – 17 years, so far 0 accidents with other vehicles (one accidental spill on icy streetcar tracks, no vehicles around me) so far, but KNOCK ON WOOD. 🙂

  15. More workplaces should provide a shower and change room so us year-round cyclists don’t have to sacrifice our earth- and health-friendly mode of transportation for socially appropriate attire, or vice versa. How could the city provide an incentive for employers to do this?

  16. I was planning on commuting for a while longer, but one ride home at rush hour in the dark after the time change and that was enough for me. 7:00pm dark hasn’t been a problem, but 5:00pm dark is a scary place to be. So now I’m walking – 50 minutes one way, but it’s actually quite nice.

  17. Annie, I am of the opinion that with lights and reflective tape we are MORE visible at night. However, my whole bike is taped reflective, I wear a reflective sash, and I use three lights front, and three rear! Drivers are that stupid. The yellow reflective sash is the most effective for getting space. I imagine they think I am a visually impaired cyclist or something.

  18. I just wish they would plow the small amount of bike lanes that there are in the City.

    Quite often they end up being snow repositories and the mean streets just get a little bit smaller.

    On the upside,due to warmer weather we did not get any snow till mid-January last year (sorry Polar bears) and once you get moving it is not that cold. Take a close look at those people waiting for a streetcar and see how warm they look! On really snowy days I can walk faster than the streetcars during rush hour.

  19. Yeah Andy – well I’ve got *four* lights! Your paranoia pales in the light of mine. 🙂

    I’ve got Reelights on my wheels as backup in case my two battery powered lights fail. I’ve got stickers and reflective tape, and reflective stripes on my jacket. That didn’t deter the suicidal UofT students who ran a red light to leap in front of me in the bikelane on St. Georges, followed later down the street by a car cutting me off to use the bikelane to make a U-turn. And then there was the confused cabbie who pulled over to the right, apparently parking, only to change his mind as I was passing him on the left. And on, and on. I aged on that ride, I tell you!

    Sure, if I had been mozying along at a leisurely pace, then it wouldn’t have been so alarming, but if I have to mozy on my bike, I’d just as soon walk.

    I’ve found, when I’m a passenger in a car, that the little lights on bikes get lost in all the neon on city streets, and the reflective tape doesn’t do squat from the perspective of someone inside a car. I’ve still got my bike out for riding in the day, or if I have to go somewhere in the evening that doesn’t take me out at rush hour or on busy arteries, but I’ll forego the commute home for now – at least until bike lanes are physically separated from other vehicles. Um, yeah, that’s probably never. *sigh*

  20. Oops, sorry – that should have read *Aidan*.

  21. I did not mention that one of the three lights front is a headlamp on my helmet; and one of the three lights rear is a flashing red on my helmet. The main idea is that I get seen over the top of parked cars by cars approaching from a perpendicular road/driveway to my right, I can shine my headlamp right at drivers, and the rear light is at their eye-level. The headlamp also has the benefit of shining where I am looking, and the rear light counter-balances the weight on my head.

    I should say something about batteries in winter. Standard batteries die in the cold. Lithium are expensive, but work quite well, and NiMH rechargeables work nearly as well. If you have a headlamp with a battery pack on a cord, so that you keep the batteries warm in your clothing, that works best of all with any batteries, but the cord can be annoying.

  22. Good idea on the helmet light. I think ill do that. You have a great perspective as a cyclist, taller than most cars. I see cars do such stupid things (in terms of their own speed/congestion) cuz they cant see nearly as well as I can.

    Never wear a red light in FRONT on your bike. Asking to get hit – red means rear!

    Getting hit from behind is the least common form of bike accident. Bike accidents happen when cars dont expect a non-car vehicle to be off to the side and they make a turn or a lane change into the cyclist. Bike lanes already solve that as no driver makes a lane change into it (well, shouldnt, sides its not a full lane change, just a drift). Seperated bike lanes like in Montreal actually cause more accidents as cars will be less careful coming up to the bike lane than to the road where a car might hit them and really do damage (drivers dont risk death when a bike hits them).

    check this out:

    As far as bike lanes go… the city gives us lip service. Bike lanes are for storing snow, cabs and cars pickup/dropoff of passengers, parking for construction vehicles and where the streetcleaners seem to never clean.

    The city will never seriously work on cycling because no one cares enough. *WE* do, but we’re a tiny minority. It certainly will never be an election issue. (So obviously the key is to get concessions for cyclists in some non democratic way! 🙂

    I think most people figure that if we promote cycling they’ll be FORCED to ride in -2C and they certainly would never want to do that.

    All I really want is a line painted 1.5 feet from the curb on both sides of yonge from the lake to Yonge Blvd (just before Hog’s Hollow and before yonge widens). THe narrow sections just suck for biking – mostly a traffic jam at 5pm, and cars are all over the lane trying to look around the 50 cars in front of them, cuz you know, looking will solve the whole traffic jam instantly. Instead they’re blocking me getting by.


  23. with global warming on the rise, why not bike all year round? its not like it’ll ever be 2 cold! option number one all the way baby!

  24. Year round; good riddance to slower/less able riders during the winter months. You give the rest of us an easier time and less clutter in the few bike lanes that we have.

  25. Standing on an overheated subway platform in a winter jacket for 20 min in a crowd 10 deep from the subway doors is far more trying than biking in some slight snow.

  26. Following these patterns – 19 years, so far 0 accidents with other vehicles (one accidental spill on icy streetcar tracks, no vehicles around me) so far,

  27. I used to bike all year, but the salt here in Montreal is killer to my bike. In many ways all the new bike paths here have made it harder for winter biking: lumpy ice chunks throughout.
    My favorite thing about going all winter was the moment your “snow legs” kick in. It usually took a couple of days, but then your body just ‘gets’ it and away you go. What a pleasure! I kind of miss it.