Icy roads, freezing wind, and increased chances of rain, snow and hail - the winter months can deter all but the hardiest cyclists from riding to work or school. Yet with ‘2020 Winter Bike to Work Day’ falling on Valentine’s Day, this Friday 14 February promises to celebrate not only love, but also winter cycling.
The climate emergency is the theme for this eighth edition of Winter Bike to Work Day, encouraging participants to ‘save winter’ by committing to cycle more often as a climate friendly mode of transport. Under the hashtag #WinterBikeLoveStrike, anyone can pledge to cycle to work or school, registering via the dedicated website to take part in the day.
Although there is a participant leaderboard - currently dominated by cities in the United States, Canada and Sweden - the fundamental aim of Winter Bike to Work Day is to encourage year-round cycle commuting in a spirit of friendly competition between cities.
Organisers wish to prove that cycling in the colder months is more fun than it first appears.
Different actions and incentives being organised by participating cities and community groups include pop-up kiosks with free hot drinks, giveaways (such as balaclavas), tips on how to overcome the challenges of winter riding, and workshops. All initiatives are mapped out so people can find events closest to their home.
Cities take the lead
Winter Bike to Work Day follows last week’s Winter Cycling Congress 2020, which was hosted in Joensuu, Finland. An appropriate place to host a Congress bringing together cycling experts and advocates, Joensuu may see a dip in cycling levels during deep winter, yet year round, 20% of all trips in the city take place by bike, supported by a network of segregated bicycle tracks. Many inspiring examples of cycling promotion come from Finland. In Oulu, in Central Finland, despite the fact winter temperatures can plummet to -17C, 1000 of the 1200 pupils at one of the city’s schools ride in each day, something that was virally captured via social media.
At the national level, the country priortises the role of active travel to work and school as a means of improving public health. The Finnish Schools on the Move Programme - in which 90% of municipalities are taking part - encourages physical activity and movement throughout the school day, and active travel to and from school. With the bicycle well placed to meet these active travel ambitions, having the right infrastructure in place to enable year-round travel to school by bike is appreciated by civic leaders.
Alongside cyclist willpower, city or regional support for cycling in winter can also make a huge difference - with protected bike lanes in snowy cities often proving more impactful than in their warmer counterparts.
A major civic challenge remains the clearing of snow and ice from cycling infrastructure. In Copenhagen, a UCI Bike City Label holder, the city focuses on removing snow and ice from bicycle tracks before clearing the road - sending a message that bicycle users are cared for and prioritised in the transportation mix.