I met with Brandon Evans the same week that I chatted with Fa-Linn and Kevin, but you’d never know it from the weather. Given how temperate it had been beforehand we had decided to meet in the Royal Sunalta Park and do the interview en plein. Of course, being Calgary, things turned cold overnight and we had a huge dump of snow. Getting there turned into a bit of a slog. Fortunately, we had arranged an alternate and we met at a nearby Starbucks – a little noisy but a bit more comfortable than sitting on a snowy bench in the cold.
Brandon moved from Edmonton a couple of years ago and started his winter commuting right away. He’d always commuted by bike, but never year-round, always stopping when the temperatures dipped and snow littered the road. When he got to Calgary he just decided to keep on going. Even though it was a bit of a challenge, he set it as a personal goal. He says that the best thing about winter cycling is “that I can just keep doing it for the rest of the year.”
Brandon and his partner don’t own a car so biking is his way of getting around. She uses the LRT to get to work downtown, but Brandon just has a short ride to get from his home in Shaganappi to the westerly end of the Beltline. His winter riding is mostly commuting, but he will run the odd errand by bike too.
His morning commute starts at close to the Shaganappi LRT station and he heads to work on residential roads. There are fewer cars and he’s not competing with pedestrians for space, but the snow isn’t cleared (as often) and it can be harder going, and last year was especially hard. The only pathway he uses is the bridge across Crowchild by the Sunalta School. After that it’s side roads until he gets to work on 15th Avenue. The pathway is cleared but the roads aren’t. Without studs it’s a bit sketchy, but at least there are hardly any cars to contend with.
Brandon will take a different route going home, but it’s still residential streets. In the summer he’ll ride up 17th Avenue. He hasn’t had any incidents or close calls with the traffic on 17th, but it doesn’t seem that safe in the winter.
He says that his work place has an outdoor, locked bike cage and racks to mount bikes. Unfortunately, the bike cage proved to be insufficient to keep the new bike he picked up for his winter commute from being stolen. It only takes one lapse, and that happened to be the day that Brandon didn’t also lock his bike to the racks. Since then he’s picked up a used bike from Kijiji which seems to be working out, although it’s a bit of a frankenbike – hard tail mountain bike with drop bars, slicks and full fenders. Brandon said that he’s waiting for his studs to come in, but he’s only fallen once with the slicks. Of course, it hadn’t been much of a winter up that then either.
Brandon also has a road bike for summer, but he’d like to prune down to just the one bike. Without a garage, the fewer things there are to store the better. He keeps both bikes in the house, which means special measures to keep the winter out of the living spaces.
He doesn’t do much for preparing to ride to work in the mornings. He’ll layer up on the mitts – wind-proofing over light gloves – to protect his hands which get the coldest the fastest. He doesn’t use clips or traps in the winter, although he’s got traps on his road bike, so he wears regular boots for riding. When it starts getting really cold, he’ll don some winter riding pants. Besides keeping him warm, they’re also great for keeping the road slush and grit from getting all over his clothes.
So far, Brandon’s stopping point is in the -10C to -15C range, or if there’s been a big dump of snow. That was last year though. Now that he’s got that experience under this belt, he’s aiming for more winter riding days this year. He thinks he only made about 30-45 riding days last year. When he isn’t riding he’ll take transit or grab a Car2Go to get into work.
His biggest winter commuting hassles are snow and cars. He hasn’t had any incidents so far, but he is extra vigilant. He says that most drivers are pretty cautious in the winter and they usually give him lots of room. He’s not the first person that’s said that “people are more patient in the winter.”
Brandon says that he rides to combine exercise with commuting. He doesn’t get out that often to ride just for exercise – it’s mostly commuting and just to get places. He likes to think of cycling as just another transportation option and says it would be nice if more people viewed is as a viable option instead of just a recreational thing.
We talked about some of the words floating around the whole concept of winter commuting – winter warrior, extreme, intrepid. Brandon says that it “speaks to the challenge of winter cycling,” which makes it seem “extreme” when it really isn’t. He muses that maybe more people would consider riding their bikes in the winter if we didn’t use words that make it seem unnatural.
It’s important to encourage people to get out and ride in the winter. At some point we’ll reach a tipping point where the living examples will make this a “normal thing” – something that’s “possible.” Of course, it’s not just attitude – infrastructure also plays a part. Brandon says that better snow clearing would help. The MUPs are good but snow clearing in residential areas – the feeders to other routes – is not. At the time, Brandon wasn’t aware of which pathways were cleared of snow. The City of Calgary has quite a bit of information available about snow clearing on the pathways system.
We also talked about bike culture in Calgary, helmets and licensing. Brandon said that he always wears a helmet in the winter but that wasn’t always the case in the summer. A nasty fall on gravel that brought his helmet into hard contact with the road made him rethink his helmet usage so that it’s an all-time thing now. He is aware of both sides of the arguments though – helmet laws discourage more people from riding, and helmets do lessen the severity of head injuries.
Brandon believes that more infrastructure will encourage more cycling, but we need to be proactive if we want to see it happening. How do we change our car-centric way of thinking? “If the alternatives aren’t there then the people won’t use them.” He says that people need to see that “normal people ride their bikes in winter and that it can be more approachable.”