While dropping temperatures and snowy roads have traditionally resulted in everyday cyclists hanging up their bikes for the winter, that trend is gradually changing.
More and more people are equipping themselves with clothing and bikes adapted to the winter elements, as is demonstrated by the annual Winter Bike to Work Day. The 7th edition of this international event takes place on Friday, February 8th, and commuters from cities around the world have signed up for the challenge.
With a leaderboard in place, the campaign ranks cities according to the number of participants; encouraging friendly competition to drive up the numbers committing. Various events – such as street parties and organised group rides – are also being held to encourage participation and boost visibility.
Meanwhile, authorities around the world are increasingly studying how they can make cycling easier for their outdoor-loving population. The annual Winter Cycling Congress is currently being held (February 6-8) in Calgary, Canada, bringing together experts from around the world to share best practices for building and maintaining year-round cycling infrastructure.
Research from Go Cycling Denmark has shown that more cyclists would ride in winter if bike paths were salted, cleared from snow and better lit; making it clear that cities need to prioritise making bike lanes safe.
This is already the case in several regions. An innovative example comes from the Netherlands, where perhaps the world’s longest heated bicycle path is set to open in Gelderland - a UCI Bike Region.
Running between the towns of Wageninhen and Arnhem, the 1.7km long path will be heated by excess heat provided from local industry - keeping the path ice free year-round. This path will enable safe cycling between the two towns all year round.
Meanwhile, the city of Oulu, in the north of Finland, has an extensive bike path network separated from the roads. In winter, the local authorities are quick to ensure the bike paths remain rideable. When there are several consecutive days of cold weather, rather than removing the snow – which can lead to the creation of ice patches - they compact the snow so there is a uniform cover of several centimetres. This is less slippery and gives bike wheels a better grip. As soon as the temperatures rise and the snow begins to melt, the bike paths are cleared entirely, returning them to their tarmac surface.
Authorities in the Canadian city of Montreal have also pledged to make life easier for their winter cyclists, promising to keep 76% of the city’s bike network snow-free this winter.
Improved city infrastructure coupled with adapted bikes – often with studded or fat tyres – means cycling in winter need not necessarily be a dangerous, dare-devil activity. More and more people are learning to appreciate the beauty of the winter landscape, the silence of riding in snow, and the body-warmth generated by pedalling in the cold.