She pumps her legs effortlessly. Her tires turn soundlessly through the thick, powdery snow. Even time passing has been muted by the heavy flakes that sting her cheeks in the most delightful way. The street lights shimmer from the frost and falling snow. Soon she’ll be through this oasis of calm and riding beside the morning traffic as they all make their way into work. That’s fine too because this is just another morning commute by bicycle.
Not every winter commute is like this, of course, but we all cherish those days when everything conspires to make our ride extra special. We ride our bikes to get to work, or school, to run errands, do some shopping and go out on dates. We do this winter and summer because it’s fun, and healthy, and inexpensive, and, perhaps, the right thing to do.
There are many places in the world where riding your bike in the winter is something that’s ordinary and everyday. Although attitudes are changing, there are still many in this city that consider winter commuting by bicycle an extaordinary activity; something that’s reserved for elites and the overly adventurous. I doubt that we’ll ever become another Copenhagen, Amsterdam or Oulu, but I do think that momentum is favouring a more bike-friendly city.
We are Bicicles; a documentary about winter commuting by bicycle in Calgary. We want to add your voices to the momentum that’s building. Our goal is to tell some personal stories about getting to and from work by bicycle as well as giving voice to all of the people that are advocating for better cycling infrastructure in Calgary.
Our little project started with a survey about winter commuting by bicycle in Calgary that showed some interesting but not really unexpected results. The cold certainly didn’t play a large part in determining whether you’d ride at all in the winter, or if you’d curtail your usual winter commute. Snow and missing infrastructure are the most likely reasons for not riding on a particular day. People will also commute on their bikes regardless of the facilities at their workplace. By-and-large, people that ride just seem to make do with whatever they have available.
Andy Sharp summed it up nicely. When I asked him about what he thought about the plans for new cycling infrastructure, he said that “… the city isn’t putting in bike lanes because of the people who are already cycling. The city is putting in bike lanes to try to encourage the people who are sitting there in their cars who aren’t cycling … to lower the bar to cycling.” Having dedicated cycle paths, clear of snow and separated from the cars would be awfully nice, but we’re going to ride anyways. The goal is getting more people out of their cars and onto two wheels.
Andy was one of a number of winter commuters that responded to my survey, and that I interviewed about their commute, about their riding habits, and about what they think about winter commuting in Calgary. The overwhelming consensus (hmmm, more like unanimous consensus) was that no one thought of themselves as extra-ordinary. They just wanted to get to work and riding their bike was simply the transportation choice that they had made. Some were, perhaps, a bit more vigorous in their riding style, but no one was doing it to be special or stand out. On the other hand, in Calgary, being on your bike in the winter makes you special and you stand out by default. Maybe we can change that.
Next time I’m going to talk about all the wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing for this blog and for the documentary. Until then, enjoy what’s left of winter and happy pedalling.