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Winter cycling is good for your health and your budget

In this Bold feature we brave the snow-covered roads of winter riding and highlight a winter riding workshop set for Thursday at Fixed Gear Brewing

Many cycling enthusiasts count the winter days between the time they put their bikes in storage and pull them back out in the spring but for a growing number of people cycling has become a year-round thing.

“I ride year-round,” said Mike Darmon of the Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation. “I rode my bike here. It’s my winter beater bike. I have three bikes and this is my worst case one.”

He and his fellow GCAT winter cyclists rely on bikes as their primary form of transportation.

“A lot of the tasks we do are within 5k so it’s not really as big a deal for me as it is for some people who have to take the car everywhere they go,” he said.

Nevertheless, if you plan to cycle through the winter you have to dress appropriately and be prepared for winter road conditions.

“The salt is murder on them,” he said. “After a big snowfall they are trying to get rid of the snow as quickly as possible. Some people don’t care but I hate to see a good bike get destroyed. It is hard on the chain. I have to oil it every two weeks because the salt wipes all the lubricant off.”

He uses the city trail system as much as possible.

“I rode here using the TransCanada Trail then I used the Spurline Trail which is also winter maintained,” said Darmon. “City staff are actually doing an excellent job keeping them plowed.”

That isn’t always the case with the designated bike lanes on the main roads in town.

“I had to ride down Edinburgh to come here and the bike lane is full of slush and snow,” said Darmon. “They seem to be using it for snow storage. So, I had to ride in the car lane and most of the motorist were good. They didn’t try to squeeze me into the snow but you still feel kind of threatened and that is another thing that deters people from cycling in the winter.”

People ride year-round for a variety of reasons, health and fitness, environmental and economics.

“I know a young couple with two young kids and their decision to ride year-round is more economic than anything else,” said Darmon. “They wanted to buy a house and they couldn’t afford a house and a car so they bought a cargo e-bike. They have to live a different lifestyle, but they have been doing it for a couple years now.”

Darmon and fellow GCAT member Laura Brown noticed a growing interest in winter riding and decided to hold a winter-cycling workshop.

“We’re trying to offer something that will be good for people that are thinking about it but never tried it and are curious about how people go about it,” said Brown. “It is also for people who already do it but want to get together with like-minded people and get some tips and ideas.”

The workshop is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec 12 at Fixed Gear Brewing, 20 Alma St. and will include presentations by GCAT members Alex Ball and Richelle Forsey.

“They are going to speak first and talk about their experience with cycling,” said Brown. “We also have a fellow, Gian Carlo, from the CSA at the University of Guelph and he is coming to talk about bike maintenance. At the university they have places where you can rinse off your bike and he will talk about some of the maintenance that is different from the summer.”

They have also invited Cosmo Carere, owner of Speed River Cycle and bike mechanic Taylor Moran.

“They are going to bring some specialized gear for riding in the winter just to show what is available,” said Brown. “I want it to be applicable to a wide range of people.”

The owner of Fixed Gear Brewing, Michael Oosterveld, has been a member of a bicycle racing team for many years. He doesn’t cycle in the winter but is curious to learn more about it and was only too happy to host the event.

“I am very pro bicycle,” said Oosterveld. “My heritage is Dutch and if you go over to Holland today or even 20 years ago it is incredible the level of cycling that takes place there. It takes precedent over cars and works really well because the streets are designed for bikes.”

The GCAT advocates for building infrastructure that encourages cycling as well as walking and has been working with the city to make Guelph more bike friendly.

“It’s going to take time to change the culture here but you need to have more bikes on the road to let people know that the road is for all users,” said Brown. “Hopefully, some day winter cycling won’t be considered a bold thing to do.”

They encourage people to come to the workshop and see for themselves.

“There is this whole winter-blahs thing and I find getting on the bike lifts your spirits especially on these cold winter days and, of course, it is free exercise,” said Darmon. “Personally, I find driving a car in the winter time gives me a lot of anxiety. When I am riding my bike, I am less anxious. So, there are lots of free health benefits – mental and physical.”