Thursday, December 9, 2010

Winter Cycling in the News

But first, a transcript of this morning’s good-bye.

K:  It’s cold out this morning, do you want a ride to work?
Me:  It was just as cold yesterday, and it was even colder Monday when winds were at 45km.
K:  But I can give you a ride in if you want, or you can drop me off and take the car.
Me:  Naw, I’ll ride in.
K:  You’re just being stubborn aren’t you?
Me:  Yup. 

A short conversation that, by itself, is fairly typical of our morning ritual.  But given yesterday’s article in the Globe and Mail, it resonates a little deeper today.

Seems every year we get one or two fulsome articles on winter riding.  (In fact, I wrote my own for this imaginary blog last year - check it) These articles typically polarize the activity.  On the more conservative side of the argument, authors will allude to the activity as dangerous, its participants often crazy.  The other side of the argument sees winter bikers as tough and stubborn riders, pushing as far as they can. 

Ultimately, regardless of the article’s leanings, the authors tend to move from the poles and settle somewhere in the middle with a line like:

“The reality is that winter cycling is about as dangerous as its summer equivalent; in fact, it may be safer. Motorists are actually more careful of winter cyclists because they realize how easily a biker who has not winterized his or her ride can become a casualty.”

Today’s article, referenced above, was found in the Globe and Mail.  Andrew Clark’s piece found it’s way into the Globe Drive section.  An interesting place for a winter biking article, but Clark gives the topic the balanced evaluation it deserves.

Sure, he tosses out the standard clichéd references to winter biking elitism, “They form clubs and give themselves dangerous swaggering nicknames like “ice riders” just to let everyone know how bad ass they are.” – but the article moderates these views by painting winterbikers in two very distinct tones. 

He sees a clear delineation between the practiced riders and those that foolishly attempt to navigate the slippery streets with too little experience and no consideration for safety or proper equipment.

Here, I have to intervene and indicate that his short reference to equipment is fairly typical of those who don’t ride in winter.  It’s a classic case of overcomplicating and overcompensating.

Clark writes: “The maniac you see out there with his Avenir Frost gloves, Sports Science Wicking Training shirt and Icebreaker Pocket 200 Beanie is not the one to worry about.  Odds are that this true believer spent money winterizing his ride, bought studded tires, wears reflective clothing and may have even equipped his ride with disk brakes, which are not as affected by adverse weather conditions.”

And while I agree that this type of rider is less of a worry, I disagree with the underlying assumption that good winter riders are those that have frost gloves, studded tires, wicking shirts and state of the art equipment.  I don’t think this level of equipment vanity is the norm, or even necessary for the winter commuter.

It’s about being comfortable.  This morning it’s -13, with a wind kicking the temp down to -22.  I rode in layering a hoody under a fleece.  A thin scarf that K bough me and some cheap, slightly insulated, work gloves that cost 8 dollars at Home Depot.  It was warm enough without overheating.  And Lieberman is just a regular department store bike with knobbies.  And he does just fine (we ran a fresh single track through the farm last night in the dark!).

Apart from the article veering from ‘serious’ to ‘seriously trying too hard to be funny and failing completely’ Clark’s done a good job making the case for the winterbiker.

And his article actually forced me into some self-reflection regarding how I want others to perceive me as a winterbiker. 

K asked me this morning if I was just being stubborn.  And honestly, the answer is yes.  I am being stubborn. I relish being the only bike I see riding in the morning.  I love being the only bike parked on the rack.  And I am proud, probably a vanity thing, of biking in when it’s awful out. 

But I don’t do it to impress anyone but myself.  I do it to prove that I can.  To beat the system by not buying an overpriced pass for an OC Transpo bus that is unfailingly late and always too cramped.  I do it to keep our drive time down and to avoid buying the dreaded second car.  And most importantly, I do it for the fun and adventure.  And let’s face it, being stuck behind this keyboard all day certainly makes a guy crave for a little adventure.

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