I’ve known Kevin Dalton for a number of years, but only professionally. Our cycling paths have only crossed once before, when I was photographing the 2014 Winter Bike to Work Day events. I sat down for a chat with Kevin last November when the snow was still sparse and the real cold hadn’t materialized yet. We also got together in mid-December to film some of Kevin’s morning commute for the documentary.
Kevin’s been on a bike since he as a kid, although he took a brief hiatus to go dirt biking. He got back into mountain biking as a way to do the same thing, but without the motor – plus it was cheaper and just as much fun. Kevin “only” started commuting by bicycle about 13 years ago. He’d always wanted to ride to work, but he never lived far enough from downtown to bother getting out the bike. When it was time for the big move, he soon realized that it was “hard to get Realtors to understand that I want a place that has either a walkable route to work, or a bikeable route to work.” It took awhile but they eventually found what they wanted. The first move was close to Edmonton Trail and 20th Avenue NE. He had a good bike route into the downtown and since the move was in February, he started winter commuting right away.
Around the same time, Kevin started to do more mountain biking and entered his first 24 Hours of Adrenaline race. He found the first experience challenging, but doable. Since then he’s developed a compulsion to keep going back, captaining his own team for many years. Mountain biking is one of his major forms of recreation, taking him on trips to Moab and parts of the Continental Divide Trail. Being on a bike has become part of his life. “Most of the friends I have now are friends that I have through cycling.” He does lament, though, that the keen interest isn’t shared with the rest of his family. They do bike as a family unit when heading down to Prince’s Island in the summer, or on vacation on the Hiawatha Trail in Idaho.
The family has now moved out to Westgate, via Wildwood – both houses were purchased, to some extent, because they have excellent access to the pathway system to get to work. His ride usually takes him down 8th Avenue to 37th Street, and then along residential streets where he’ll eventually join up with the Quarry Trail pathway, that runs past the north side of the Shaganappi Golf Course, and on down the hill to the Bow River pathway. He takes that to 11th Street where he switches over to 8th Avenue, and winds up at Bankers’ Hall where he works. Eventually, at some point in the winter, the Quarry Trail pathway gets rutted and iced over and it becomes too risky to ride down. Kevin will backtrack to Edworthy Park and ride into downtown on the North side Bow River Pathway instead.
Kevin describes the bike parking available in Bankers’ Hall as “deluxe.” It’s a bit crowded in the summer, but the bikes aren’t piled on top of each other, and there’s more than ample room in the winter. He says that there are at least three bike lockups that he knows about, and it seems that everyone that wants to park their bike gets in. This compares favourably with the Devon Tower where I used to work. There’s a four year waiting list for bike parking where I am now in the Transcanada Tower. Perhaps they should repurpose a few car parking spots if there’s that much demand.
His company provides locker rooms, shower and change facilities, which is OK with Kevin. A “laid back ride in your street clothes” is definitely not his style. He dresses for his rides in “full gear” and changes when he gets to work. He tries “to get to work as quickly as I can without taking any risks.” He wouldn’t have it any other way. Kevin enjoys his rides, regardless of the weather. He’s not a big fan of either the LRT or the buses – it takes longer and you’re colder anyways.
When I asked Kevin about his most miserable winter commute he was stumped, but said that there were a couple that were memorable. Once when he wound up post-holing his way up the Quarry Trail hill after a huge daytime dump of snow, and another when the temperature dropped and he was riding with a -45C wind chill. But, those experiences are rare and he says that “people are really missing out.” The extreme parts of winter cycling are at both ends of the season. The weather in Calgary for most of the winter cycling “season” is really quite reasonable. He did have a funny story about the things that sometimes happen on your winter commute. He fell coming down Quarry Trail and couldn’t get back up to get on his bike because it was so icy. Since then he’s modified his winter riding shoes to add some screws to give him a bit more traction.
Kevin has the same challenges as any other winter commuter. The infamous SNIRT is always a problem, but he’s “solved” that one by picking up a fat bike to help out when the snow gets to that stage. It’s not much of an issue in the residential streets, but downtown gets tough because the snow is not removed – it’s just plowed to the side of the road where it’s either too hard or too soft to ride in. In a lot of places the road just gets narrower and narrower as the winter goes on. Eventually, he says, you have no choice and you have to take the lane.
We talked about helmets and other safety equipment. Kevin won’t ride without a helmet, and he won’t let people ride with him without one either. He has very strong opinions on the matter based on people he knows – people who have escaped serious injury because of their helmet. He “gets” that helmets may make cycling look dangerous and may keep people from getting out and doing it. But, he says, we just don’t have enough cycling infrastructure, or the laws, to make safe places for people to ride. Drivers in Europe have a way different attitude. Here, “we’re like a moving target.” In addition, Kevin lights up his bike for those dark winter commutes, to “take away as many excuses to hit me as I can.”
Kevin is looking forward to the downtown cycle track network, especially on 8th Avenue – “it can only be a good thing!” It will help tremendously because “they have to try really hard to get you!” On the plus side, from a winter commuting perspective, anyways, his worst experiences with traffic happen in the summer time. Residential streets are not an issue, but the 37th Street and Bow Trail crossings are a bit of a problem. It can be “really sketchy” through there. Most incidents and near misses, though, are downtown.
When we talked about “bike culture” in Calgary, Kevin said that there are certain aspects of it that may keep people from getting out and cycling more. The same people who are “idiot” car drivers are also idiot cyclists. He could see where inexperienced cyclists get out there and see “that kind of nonsense going on” and they’re going to get intimidated and not want to do it. As far as he’s concerned, it takes a certain level of experience and skill to ride in traffic and feel reasonably comfortable. Even he, with all of his experience, won’t ride on 5th or 6th Avenues because there’s way too much traffic, going way to fast. “For a cyclist to survive out there, slowing the traffic down is a good thing!”
We finished off our conversation talking about the positive part of bike culture – the part that sees more people on bikes every year – winter and summer. The new buildings going up have showers, lockers and bike lockups out-of-the-box because people are demanding it. He says that if anybody is thinking of trying winter commuting, they should just, try it. “It’s really doable” and “it’s fun.” If you’re too far out, you should check out the Park and Bike Sites where you can drive to park your car, and then bike the rest of the way into work. “Don’t enjoy transit, but always enjoy the ride!”