Ottawa’s Second Annual Winter Bike Ride in Perfect Conditions


The traditional group picture of the winter cyclists at City Hall.
The traditional group picture of the winter cyclists at City Hall.

If you mention winter cycling, one tends to think of bearded middle aged men, who’s mission it is to prove that one can live without a car in Ottawa under any circumstance, come hell or high water, or in this case, high snow. Ottawa, for those who are not from here but perhaps from a more tropical place like Toronto, is the second coldest capital in the world, leaving to Ulanbatar the first place. Which means we have to put up with fairly chilly conditions. Temperatures can go as low as -30C and to -40C if you take the wind chill in consideration.

Charles, who organises the Bluesfest bike parking every year, is  always ueber equiped with mirrors, lights and even a snow brush, the type you use to brush off the snow of your wind shield.
Charles,  past president of CfSC, who still organises the Bluesfest bike parking every year, is always über equipped with mirrors, lights and even a snow brush, the type you use to brush off the snow of your wind shield.

But as every cyclist who cycles year-round will tell you, it is not the temperature that is the threshold, it is the condition of the road. And on many days in winter, the roads are just fine. One always needs to keep an eye out for some black ice or some ice lumps, but they are fairly obvious. The worst days are actually not the cold days, but the days after a fresh snow fall, as the slush makes you dirty, and it gets in every nook and cranny of your bike (read: salt). Ideally, there is a winter network, with packed snow and gravel, but we are not there yet. So in the meantime we’ll cycle on the road.

Yes, kids can handle -16 too.
Yes, kids can handle -16C/3F too.
All bundled up!
All bundled up!

Winter cycling in a place like Oulu, near Finland’s Arctic Circle, is much more common and over the years they developed a true winter cycling network. Eventually we’ll get there too, but I fear we have to wait a few more years.

Patiently waiting for the the last ones to show up.
Patiently waiting for the the last ones to show up.

Citizens for Safe Cycling organised the second annual family winter bike parade to show that winter cycling is doable. Often the press’ first question is if it is not too cold, and our standard answer is that just around the corner, on a good day, 17,000 people a day skate on the canal, a World Heritage Side; so no, it is not too cold.

Tat same day, thousands of people skated on the Rideau Canal. Same temperatures as on the bike paths folks!
That same day, thousands of people skated on the Rideau Canal. Same temperatures as on the bike paths folks!

Cycling keeps you warm and you don’t need much more clothing than a cool autumn ride, an extra layer is usually enough. If it really gets into the low minus twenties you’ll need to bundle up a bit more. But the bottom line is that you are much cosier than the people at the bus stops you pass.

Citizens for Safe Cycling President Hans Moor addresses the crowd, explaining the rules and promising hot chocolate after the ride.
Citizens for Safe Cycling President Hans Moor addresses the crowd, explaining the rules and promising hot chocolate after the ride.
Risa thinks cycling in Ottawa is better than in Vancouver in winter.
Professor Sargent thinks cycling in Ottawa is getting better all the time.

Let’s take a look at some great pictures that Citizens for Safe Cycling board member Simone (Memberships) took on Sunday January 27, 2013. The temperature was -16C/3F, there was a nice sun and virtually no wind. Those are the best conditions you can imagine.

The participants waiting to go, taking in the route. the man in the safety vest is soon to be dad, Frank Hartmann.
The participants waiting to go, taking in the route. the man in the safety vest is soon to be dad, Frank Hartmann. Is that cat woman with a  bike helmet?

What you will notice is that winter cycling doesn’t equal frozen beards, frost bites and fanatic bicyclists, but really just average people, who could be your neighbours even.

Cycling past the Rideau Canal in Ottawa where thousands of people skated that day.
Cycling past the Rideau Canal in Ottawa where thousands of people skated that day.
the Rideau Canal pathways area reasonably maintained, but not everywhere.
the Rideau Canal pathways are reasonably maintained.
A serene picture of winter cycling in Ottawa.
A serene picture of winter cycling in Ottawa. Somewhere in there is City Councillor Matthieu Fleury.

You don’t have to cycle every single day in every imaginable winter condition to be a winter cyclist. What is the definition of a winter cyclist anyway? Thanks to Rob Wilkinson of Safer Roads Ottawa for helping to organise the event and Beavertails for the hot chocolate. Envirocentre was available with two tables for crafts and information and donated the prizes for the draw (approx. 120$ value in total). Is always easy and fun to work with these community partners.

There was quite a bit of media too:

  1. Ottawa Citizen (includes a video)
  2. CTV News (and a a nice video here)
  3. See over 40 pictures on Facebook (I don’t think you need to log in).

We were also on CBC that night. Radio-Canada, Centretown News interviewed us, CFRA interviewed us live in their morning show. You can read about the first annual family winter bike parade here. (2012)

All pictures by Simone Rivers, except canal picture.

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