Cyclists adapt to winter weather

By Jillian Morgan

Narrow roads, hidden ice, piercing wind and slushy snow – they’re all enemies of the winter cyclist. And Halifax’s small city streets and limited, snow covered bike lanes don’t help.

Sean MacGillivray rides his bike year round and he’s only missed one day’s cycling due to heavy snowfall in the past three years. With no car, he invests in his four bicycles and proper equipment to keep him safe during his daily four-kilometre commute from Halifax’s North End to downtown Dartmouth.

“I think there’s a perception that winter cycling is more dangerous than cycling other times of the year and I don’t feel that perception is incorrect,” says MacGillivray.

Of the 284 vehicle-pedestrian collisions reported in Halifax in 2015, 76 involved bicycles – roughly 28 per cent. But less than two per cent of bicycle-vehicle collisions occurred from January to April.

MacGillivray says drivers and cyclists are more cautious in winter but sharing the road becomes difficult when cyclists can’t claim their space. He says motorists might think he’s out of his mind when they see him brave winter weather on his bicycle.

“Maybe I kind of am,” he says.

But vehicle-bicycle collisions are on the rise. In 2014, they accounted for 18 per cent of vehicle-pedestrian collisions reported.

Eric Jonsson, a board member at the Halifax Cycling Coalition – a volunteer organization that promotes cycling – says cyclists should be aware of the challenges they’ll face in the winter.

Snow banks and narrow streets conceal bike lanes, he says.

“Halifax can be a bit more proactive in making sure the roads are wide enough,” says Jonsson. “Cars have a lot less room to pass you.”

The Halifax Cycling Coalition provides safety tips for cyclists who brave the winter roads. It lists the best equipment and advises riders to allow extra time to stop, to keep weight low during turns, to not brake too hard and to pedal smoothly.

“You just gotta give yourself more time to stop, take corners slower, be mindful of ice (and) pay attention to the road in front of you,” says Jonsson. “A beginner cyclist might not understand how snow and slush can affect your slowing-distance.”

Anthony Lacopia, assistant manager at Cyclesmith in Halifax, says wearing the right clothing is also important. Lacopia is an avid winter cyclist, commuting five kilometres each day in and out of the peninsula.

Lacopia recommends cyclists to wear layers, waterproof jackets and pants, and sturdy bicycle boots. To keep sharp wind out away from your face, full face masks are the best option.

Most important, however, are winter tires.

The skinnier the tire the better, says Lacopia, because it can cut through slush and snow easily. But these skinny tires might not hold up against the black ice on Halifax’s streets. For this, Lacopia recommends studded tires, which will slow the rider down but are good for turning corners.

Other recommendations include a thicker lubricant for the bike chain, a tarp to protect it from the snow outside, fenders to prevent splashing of salt and snow and anti-fogging spray for glasses.

Michael Phillips, co-owner of East Coast Mountain Biking – an online community which organizes weekly trail rides in Halifax – says winter cycling is good exercise.

“You’re getting out, getting active, getting fresh air. All the same benefits you get in the summer,” says Phillips. “You get to hang out with friends. It’s really a great feeling.”