Chris Turner locks his bike to a stand and walks into the Bike and Brew along 1 Avenue N.E. in Bridgeland. While there’s no snow on the ground yet, he is dressed for the cold and has to take off a few layers of clothing before he sits down to enjoy a cup of coffee.
But even if Calgary had just been hit with two feet of snow, Turner would have chosen the same cycling commute, though he probably would have just added a couple more layers.
Cycling has been Turner’s primary mode of transportation in Calgary for nine years, but the 32-year old has been biking for more than 15 years.
“For me, it’s about continuing to be active throughout the year. It’s less stressful being on my bike than being stuck in my car, in traffic or snow,” said Turner.
While Turner has all the winter cycling gear he needs, seeing bright green, ride-share bicycles pop up downtown Calgary has him excited.
Winter cycling has a new look with the launch of LimeBike, a new company on the scene hoping more Calgarians will cycle all year round.
The dockless ride-share company set out their first fleet of 375 electric pedal-assist bicycles on Oct. 30, 2018, as part of the first phase of their introduction to the city.
“This will be a really great experience. We do have other Northern United States markets that get winter as Canada does but we don’t have experience with that really, really cold weather. So we will be taking away some lessons and prepare for whatever weather comes our way,” said Scott Harvey, the Calgary operations manager for LimeBike.
The city and LimeBike came to an agreement to allow the e-bikes to hit the streets right before winter after testing their safety in Calgary during some of the earlier snowfalls.
“[Those testing the bikes] had ridden while it was snowing and the bikes performed amazingly. The feedback we got back from the city was that the motor actually acted a little bit like traction control during that slushie and snowy weather,” said Harvey.
Harvey is looking to cities like Spokane, Washington, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Chicago, Illinois, where LimeBike runs through the winter, to compare Calgary’s winter success. Other city’s winters haven’t caused problems with the battery life of the e-bikes, but Harvey is concerned that might change with the low temperatures in Calgary.
LimeBike saw 711 new riders one of their busiest days since launch, which was the following Saturday, Nov. 3, and has seen an increase in new riders each day since then.
“If you have the will-power and certain pieces of gear, you can easily ride all year-round.” — Chris Turner
Harvey said the company tracks a spike in use each time a chinook hits the city and temperatures rise, so he isn’t concerned about ridership. He’s confident the company will troubleshoot problems that might come due to low temperatures and the bikes will have a successful winter in their coldest climate yet.
Turner hopes people ride the e-bikes with proper helmets, and warm gloves and boots, in order to stay safe during the winter months.
“When I first saw them, I thought, ‘It’s about time,’ because they’re all over the States,” said Turner.
“You can ride all year in Calgary, some people might not understand why these bikes are out in the winter but there’s a lot of parts on them that are water resistant, some that will need to be replaced anyway...They’re not being wasted out there.”
Checking the weather before leaving the house is part of cycling around the city safely, for Turner that’s how he starts his morning commutes.
“There’s a saying, probably in a lot of winter sports, it’s, ‘Be bold, start cold.’ As soon as you start moving, your body creates so much heat and the last thing you want to do...is get a little sweaty. That sweat will cool off really fast,” said Turner.
“Especially if you have to stop somewhere or you get a flat tire. You need to be prepared for everything.”
Turner is always prepared to have to switch bike paths if his current route becomes dangerous due to the changing weather conditions. He gives himself enough time to get where he needs to go safely.
“Focusing on your bike paths is really important, rather than bike lanes on the street, like the shared lanes. A shared lane, as soon as the snow starts to accumulate, your room for taking over the road is getting smaller and smaller,” said Turner.
“You could slip at any moment and a car might not be able to stop in time. So I stick to bike paths”
Once he gets to his destination, parking isn’t a problem. He’s attending to Mount Royal University after working at a local bike shop for nine years, and the campus has bike lockers that keep bikes bone-dry despite snowfall. He knows many places downtown offer the same option.
“Calgary is a pretty forward-thinking town in getting more cycling-friendly, so companies, businesses and the city itself have seen it’s a pretty wicked way to commute. Them supporting that by offering protected storage is important,” said Turner.
Better tire technology is continuously hitting the market, like studded tires, fat bikes and tires with good sipes, winter biking is becoming safer and easier.
“Because Calgary is so variable — it’ll be warm, cold, icy, snowy — you don’t always necessarily want studded tires but if you have the will-power and certain pieces of gear, you can easily ride all year round,” said Turner.
With winter cycling becoming more convenient, Calgary could see more people hopping on a bike while snow is still on the ground.
- By Stephanie Babych