Correction – The cold doesn’t stop people going from A to B

Usually I’m all teary-eyed over a local, grassroots cycling article in our local paper, especially one that highlights local cycling hero, Tim Kenyon who presided over Kitchener’s Cycling Committee for a number of years.

But this latest one from the record really started to bother me .. enough to do a post about it. Here’s why ….

  • First we’ve had exactly two days of winter so it has yet to get cold.
  • Why scare people from biking when it’s cold? We don’t scare them from driving when it’s cold!
  • You don’t have to be a cycling freak to ride a bike year round. They have  a picture of Tim wearing a jacket that can be seen from space and then the other cyclist they  list talks about doing a 75km ride.  This isn’t going to get the average person considering that a bike ride is normal.
  • Why interview a person from our region’s Public Health injury prevention program if you’re not trying to say ‘don’t bike, it’s too dangerous’.
  • The reference to Ziggy’s bothers me, but I have personal issues on this one :)   A few months ago I was talking with a sales guy asking why they don’t carry more gear / clothing for commuter cyclists. The sales guy told me that the majority of year-round cyclists he sees in the store are there because their driver’s license was suspended and are up on DUI charges.  I wish I was kidding! Not to mention Ziggy’s had my Trek Soho DLX from late October until December 31st because my Shimano Nexus was wrecked and they were waiting for Trek to ship a new one on warranty. I’ll be providing an updated review post soon, as the saga of disappointment continues.
  • The whole black ice ‘tip’ just tops off the message of don’t bike in the winter cause roads are for cars.

I was going to end this by looking for something positive about the article, but honestly we’d be better off if this thing wasn’t posted, even if there are a few good statements about it being healthy and kind for the environment.

We need articles that talk about how normal it is to bike. How you just dress like you were walking to the corner store, if in fact you want to bike to the corner store.  And stop with the scare tactics, biking isn’t dangerous or freakish.

10 thoughts on “Correction – The cold doesn’t stop people going from A to B

  1. Call me crazy. That article might be slightly discouraging for someone who has never biked in the winter, but it seems to me that it does a pretty good job of introducing a newbie to winter riding. Biking in the winter isn’t the same as biking in the summer, at least when the roads/trails are bad. Some of it is overkill, I’ve never used studded tires or reflective clothing. However, it IS important to be visible in the winter. As little as motorists look for cyclists during nice weather, they’re even less attentive in inclement weather. Cyclists should be aware of that, and be more careful.

    Most of this seems to be aimed at people who’ve never tried biking in the winter, and most of it seems to be pretty good advice. Which is going to disuade a potential winter cyclist more… reading that you should take corners slower and lean less, or taking a corner fast and crashing? Reading not to hit the brakes on ice, or hitting the brakes on ice and falling? There’s two ways for potential winter riders to learn, by having someone else teach them or through trial and error (which can be painful.) I’d rather have someone tell me like it is, than have someone sugar-coat it.

    Also, I’ve seen plenty of “fear-mongering” about driving in winter conditions. I don’t necessarily mind if they remind motorists how to drive in the winter either.

    1. @howandsometimeswhy — I was on the fence of whether write the post at all but then I put my ‘thisguythinkscyclingisweird’ glasses on. I completely agree that this article really isn’t that bad. I just wish folks would treat year round cycling as normal and not extreme.

      To your comparison to motorcar driving: I haven’t read an article that makes driving out as strange or you’ve got to be extreme in order to do it.

    1. Agreed but unfortunately, we don’t have mainstream bicycle culture here. It’s probably a good idea to dress largely for your environment, not just for what you’d like your environment to be.

      Perhaps the tweet should have read, “You have mainstream bicycle culture when cyclists can safely dress like everyone else on their way to work and you can’t tell the difference when they arrive.”

  2. Graham, thanks for the shout-out. But I have to say, I can’t quite see what’s bugging you about this. The thing you call a correction is actually stated explicitly in the article, isn’t it?

    I think it’s pretty obvious that cycle commuting in winter is a bit more dangerous, for at least the reason that cycling in the dark is a bit more dangerous, and there’s a lot more dark in the winter at the start and finish of the work day. Slippery and more narrow roads are another concern. The point of the article is that these are negotiable problems, not deal-breakers. I agree absolutely that cycling in winter is perfectly normal, in the sense that driving in winter is perfectly normal. But, you know, use that cold-weather windshield washer fluid, and get winter tires on that car too. Changing your behaviour to match the seasonal conditions is normal, not freakish, for any mode of transportation.

    Presumably they interviewed Colleen Cooper because she’s been a consistent public advocate for cycling for many years, both as a Can-Bike instructor and in her role in the Region’s Health Lifestyles Program.

    Finally, I wear more visible clothes when I ride even to the corner store, because I ride to the corner store on the road. If I walked on the road at night, I would wear bright reflective clothing to walk as well.

    Thanks, as always, for keeping a thought-provoking discussion going.

  3. Hi Tim – As I started out, I was on the fence on my reaction to the article and decided to go the cynic route :)

    But my opinion started forming on this issue a while back when reading the urban country’s take on winter cycling (about north america’s tendency to over complicate things and how we’re pulled to extreme sports) – http://www.theurbancountry.com/2010/11/bicycling-in-winter.html

    The record’s seems to do one or two winter cycling articles every year and it would be nice if they used ‘normal’ folk rather than the ‘extreme’ folk. Again I refer to the pictures used in the link above.

    1. I dunno, man. In the link you provide, I see pictures of people in Amsterdam, riding without reflective clothing or, say, winter facemasks. And I see a “culprit” illustration of the over-complicated winter cyclist, pictured with reflective clothing and a facemask.

      I wonder why we shouldn’t also include some photos of a winter cyclist in Florida, who might simply opt for long sleeves during the Florida winter. Is that ‘normal’? Well, it’s normal for Florida, but it would be pretty lousy advice to give a prospective winter commuter in Ontario. You don’t need warm clothing to ride in Florida during winter, but that’s a thing about Florida.

      The thing about Amsterdam is that cyclists do not share space with cars, nor even with pedestrians for the most part. They get their own boulevards, their own traffic lights, and their own curb cuts. The upshot is clear, as far as how pressing the need is for reflective clothing. If commuters in Amsterdam rode on the roadways, what would be normal for them would be quite different. Why should it be surprising that very different circumstances of infrastructure and weather should be correlated with different ‘normal’ practices?

      No matter where you live, there is nothing ‘normal’ about choosing to freeze your face to the point of pain by riding into a very cold wind, if there is a simple fix. Should we counsel new winter cyclists to avoid wearing a facemask, for fear that this will make them ‘extreme’, and not ‘normal’? Because that Toronto Star drawing showed a facemask, but people almost never wear facemasks when they walk, no matter how cold it is. When they walk, people can tuck their faces down into their parkas, not look up for long stretches as they walk along the sidewalk (which is a predictable straight line containing no high-speed objects), and even walk backwards for a while to give their faces a break.

      So, again, the general principle “Wear what you would wear if you were walking in winter” strikes me not just as false, but as obviously false. We could make it plausible, I suppose, if we added some of the right provisos, like, “Wear what you would wear if your were walking in winter, if you walked on the roadway in the middle of commuter car traffic in the dark or in dim light, and moved faster than you could even run, but with your hands held out in front of you into the wind, in a fixed position wrapped around a metal bar.” But those are two very different principles, calling for differences in visibility, gloves, head and facial protection from the cold… So I just don’t understand the complaint. Yes, there are cheaper and more expensive ways of doing anything; yes, some cyclists are prone to over-spending on (IMO) pointlessly fancy gear. But that’s the difference between a $400 reflective jacket and a $60 reflective jacket. It’s not the difference between having any reflective clothing and having no reflective clothing — however ‘normal’ the latter might be in Amsterdam.

  4. I’d like to know what you have against people who lost their license due to DUI’s. I have had 6 DUI’s and lost my license unfairly. I was forced to ride a bicycle to get my son to work. I’d like to know why you hate people who drink. I have a disease, sir. Do you also hate cancer victims? Do you hate people with ALS? You are a pretentious yuppie. Go to hell.

    1. Cancer victims don’t kill other people, Mohammad. I certainly don’t hate people with ALS or epilepsy or alcoholics, but I would hope they have all the good sense not to drive. I have a number of friends who’ve struggled with alcoholism, but none of them drive drunk.

      I wish you the best of luck with your disease, and don’t doubt that it’s a hard thing to live with, but there’s no excuse for putting other people’s lives at risk.

      1. Good point, Peter. I agree. The decease is alcoholism, not driving drunk. We had a family member killed by a drunk driver several years ago. There have been many other challenges in our family because of the drunk driver’s decision to drive that day. I can have great compassion for people who struggle with addictions and their loved ones, who are also affected by the disease. However, I don’t have the same compassion for people who drive drunk.

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