The 'joys' of winter cycling can be hard to find - InfoNews

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The 'joys' of winter cycling can be hard to find

iNFOnews.ca reporter Rob Munro heading out for a chilly bike ride.
January 30, 2019 - 5:30 PM

KELOWNA - There are dozens – maybe even hundreds – of year-round cyclists in a mild, relatively snow-free city like Kelowna.

There’s lots of flat land in the city and plenty of bike lanes that allow for a cycle commute that doesn’t require the skills and endurance of an elite athlete.

But the reality is, once the temperature drops below a certain point, it’s just not that much fun.

What temperature is tolerable is, of course, a relative term.

There are those – myself once included – who think shorts are suitable attire at anything above, and sometimes a bit below, freezing. There are others who wear their parkas zipped to their chins while shopping at Orchard Park Mall.

The reality is, wind chill on a bicycle is a major factor.

At 0 C and travelling a modest 20 km/h, the wind chill makes it feel like -5 C – not frostbite territory but just that much colder than walking.

So, given the chill factor, why bother taking the bike out once it gets below, say 20 C?

For some, it’s a philosophical commitment to low emission commuting.

For some, it’s strictly economics.

For some it’s a matter of physical fitness.

For me, it’s a bit of all three. It burns calories instead of fossil fuels and it saves money.

But, primarily, it’s how I get my exercise most of the year.

My normal workout is a quick (that, too, being a relative term) cycle up Knox Mountain.

Last year it was March before the snow had melted enough to make my first trip up and I finished off the year with my 191st climb on Christmas Eve.

While it can be daunting to make that climb in 35 C heat or through heavy smoke, the spring and fall rides offer the additional challenge for determining what to wear to avoid roasting on the way up and freezing on the way down.

The answer, of course, is layering.

That means hauling extra gear up the mountain and either changing or adding layers for the speedy trip down (where the wind chill can drop another five to 10 degrees – particularly hard on the hands and feet).

While heavier mitts are a possibility, I never managed to change to dry socks to protect my feet on the trip down.

Then, of course, there is the snow factor.

While some die-hards buy studded tires and power through the snow and ice, I subscribe to the old adage of discretion being the better part of valour and simply quit until the snow is gone.

My current favourite alternative ride is the Rail Trail. It’s about 20 km from downtown to the airport with only a handful of streets to cross. The paved trial is plowed so it's free of snow most days.

It’s very flat but, by pushing hard, it still gets the heart rate up and the calories burn away.

Which still doesn’t take away from the clothing question.

Sitting in a warm house, it’s always a question of putting on one shirt or two under my jacket, which pants to wear or whether to put a toque on under my bike helmet or just go with ear muffs?

Once properly dressed, I head out on the road and am absolutely freezing (no matter what I’ve put on) and questioning my sanity.

A very few minutes later, I’ve heated up, regret my clothing choices and consider stopping to shed a layer or two. Invariably, I can’t bring myself to stop and congratulate myself later on the return trip home, when the wind is blowing in my face and I wish I had more clothes to put on.

The reality of any ride is that it’s either too hot or too cold – and usually both.

But, then, given my determination that this activity be as economical as possible, I’ve not gone to the trouble or expense of buying the good winter clothing that, I’m sure, exists out there somewhere.

But, don’t take my word for it. Experts are willing to help you get ready for International Bike to Work Day on Feb. 8.

There’s a winter cycling workshop at Parkinson Recreation Centre tomorrow (Jan. 31) at 7 p.m. Register at winterbiketoworkday.org/ and dress for the cold.

And remember, the flip side to chilly winter riding is the joy I experienced the other day when the temperature hit 10 C, the sun was shining and it was a delight to get out on the old bike and enjoy the wind in my face. Now, that one was fun.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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