With a rather sudden, fairly thick blanket of snow on the ground in the second week of November, it may seem like an unlikely time to discuss the wherefore and the how-to of bicycling, but in fact winter biking may be the best place to start. After all, if fighting the status quo that facilitates copious carbon emissions is at the crux of the climate debate, then challenging well worn habits and assumptions is certainly one very good way to proceed. If my experience of bicycling year-round for several years is any indication, by and large, people have a whole host of assumptions about biking in the winter that are downright inaccurate. I suspect the reactions I hear, more often than not, have more to do with fearing that a car-oriented norm is under attack by anything half as crazy as riding on two wheels in the worst elements that mother nature has to throw at us.
Full disclosure: I actually do happen to consider that the crazy ones are those of us who hop into four-thousand-pound box of steel and plastic on wheels each and every day to move their own bodies around. To my mind, these people are at least eligible for some sound ribbing, if not an outright diagnosis of clinical insanity, or perhaps a healthy dose of shaming, but let me not digress…. Suffice it to say that for me, moving under my own steam seems so obviously normal.
Before going any further, I should also say that cars have their place, and that cycling (let alone winter biking) is not for everyone. But I will add that it really is far and away very appropriate for a huge number of us who currently do not take up the practice. My favourite definition of a motorist is “a future cyclist, who just doesn’t know it yet”.
It’s a common trope to suggest that a “war-like effort” is required to reduce CO2 emissions in a meaningful way so as to combat climate change collectively. While I wonder if most people who make this assertion understand the implications of that suggestion, I would like to suggest that recruiting an army of volunteer cyclists from the pool of everyday citizenry is one of the easiest ways to improve the quality of life of the urban environment. And while many objections are made about the construction cost of retrofitting infrastructure to accommodate bicycle traffic, in the big picture, making room for bikes is far more inherently cost effective; it’s far less onerous than building bridges, rapid transit rails, metro tunnels, electrification networks (all things that, yes we should be doing as well) … After all, the lowly bicycle is a hundred and forty year old, proven technology, relying on little maintenance when compared to almost any other mode of transport.
So while the commonly accepted industry-driven mantra is to wait for self-driving electric cars to come along and “improve” our lives, it’s by no means clear that this agenda actually has anything to do with fighting climate change with anything other than lip-service.
With that in mind, I challenge any and all able-bodied urban citizen to consider bicycling as their primary transport option. In some cities this call to arms would be drowned out by the sound of engines humming and tires rolling; in others, it may almost seem like preaching to the choir. Either way, there’s no harm in repeating the message. The sooner our numbers can double, and double again the better. Every bike is one less combustion engine.
If like me, you’re faced with snow in the streets, maybe now is the time to leap into the adventure of winter biking. If so, do so with the best equipment and accessories you can afford – ice can be very unforgiving!