Bicycle Commuting in Calgary

One of the challenges I gave to the families this month was to “”Bring Community to Your Commute””. This could be interpreted in a number of ways: carpool, walk or bike to school with friends (or organize a “”walking school bus“”), or even pick up someone friendly looking at a bus stop en route! I wanted to take on this challenge myself, but since my schedule is too zany to try to sync up to anyone else’s, I went a different route.

My neighbors Rob Millar and Estelle Donoghue are avid bikers, and in fact, do something I consider quite noble—they bike to work everyday. For the last five years since a “”Kyoto kick”” got Rob wanting to reduce his carbon footprint, he has been commuting year round. Riding in -30°C is no easy feat, so I asked Rob and Estelle how to make bike commuting work.

Q: Cycling year-round in Calgary takes a fair amount of resolve. Why do you do it?

A: Cycling everyday really helps you stay in shape. It’s a lot more relaxing than driving or taking public transit, and is actually faster for us. We consider the fact that we are able to ride from home to work on bike paths, one of the big perks of our jobs being located downtown. It’s also a great way to relieve stress after a long day at work; it’s fun and enjoyable.

Q: What are some of the challenges associated with bike commuting/winter cycling?

A: Anything below -25°C becomes challenging because of the cold factor and danger of ice. Another big challenge is navigating streets shared with vehicles. Rob has been hit by a car, and since then, he avoids the roads as much as possible. Bike storage is also important—somewhere secure and indoors so you don’t have to get on a freezing seat at the end of the day. The amount of clothes required to bike everyday and then change into work clothes means that the laundry hamper is a disaster by Friday.

Q: Do you have any smart tips for people considering bike commuting/cold weather cycling?

A: Wear winter boots on old-style petals as opposed to bootie covers on bike shoes so toes don’t get cold. Maintain your bike so that you are not struggling, and give yourself a fighting chance. Studded tires in winter are worth the money. Lights and reflectors on clothes are important for your own personal safety. Having a shower at work is nice, but a quick towel-down in the bathroom works too. It’s not like you’re drenched in sweat, because the purpose of the ride is to get from here to there, not ride hard. Keep a pair of shoes at work.

Q: Whenever I do get the chance to ride somewhere, I notice a lot of expensive spandex and fast bikes. Does the Calgary bike commute have a bit of a “”scene”” around it?

A: (Rob) Yes, it can be competitive. I’ve been called names, but it takes two for things to get out of hand.

image credit: Calgary is Awesome