You see them on the roads and the pathways their eyes barely visible beneath frosted balaclavas as they navigate snow and ice on two wheels. Winter cyclists are a determined bunch braving the elements and the slippery streets in all kinds of weather. They also know how to party and are inviting anyone who has an interest in winter cycling to join them for Winterpalooza the new cold-weather version of Cyclepalooza.
“We’ve been doing Cyclepalooza now for three years in the summertime — the 10 days of biking fun — and we really wanted to do something in the wintertime to promote winter cycling because you know Calgary is a really big cycling city and there is a lot of people that commute and ride their bikes all winter long” says Marc Desilets volunteer co-ordinator.
“There’s bicycle couriers out there working every day there’s people that maybe don’t ride when it’s minus 30 but when it’s minus 10 they’re out there riding every day…. It does get this kind of rap that no one rides in the wintertime but there are a lot of people that ride in the wintertime.”
Winterpalooza is a do-it-yourself festival running from February 12 to 17 that includes a range of fun and accessible activities organized by members of the local cycling community and posted online ( cyclepalooza.ca ). The goal is not only to have fun but also to reach out to other potential all-season commuters.
“We do want to convince new people to give it a shot too and that’s why there are fun engaging events to get people on their bikes that maybe haven’t been biking for a few months” says Desilets.
One of the events that will draw attention to the number of winter cyclists in Calgary is the Winter Biking Photo Booth on February 12 where bike commuters can have their photo taken in a giant frame on the South Bow River Pathway near the 10th Street S.W. bridge starting at 3:30 p.m. “It’s going to be set up on the bike path and it’s going to be getting pictures of all the people that ride the bike paths home from work every day” says Desilets.
For those who think cyclists must be half crazy to ride in winter the N-Ice Cycle Races may confirm their suspicions. Hosted by the NiceGuys who own a local courier company cyclists face off in timed laps around a skating rink. “They’re (NiceGuys) really involved in doing cycling events in Calgary throughout the year and they did this one last year too even when there wasn’t Winterpalooza” says Desilets adding that it’s all in fun. “A lot of people just come out to watch and to be involved in the party because the NiceGuys always throw really good parties.”
Some of the special events in the lineup include: a veg*n dinner ride on February 13 starting with a veggie-friendly meal followed by a group ride; Winter Bike to Work Day on February 14 which encourages people to “stand up and be counted” by taking a pledge to ride their bike to work; and likely the shortest and coldest event a Polar Ride on February 15 that invites people to take part “as bare or bear as you please!” (So undergarments swimsuits mascot costume — you get the idea.) The festival also coincides with the ongoing Centre City cycle track open houses running from February 10 to 14 ( calgary.ca/cycletracknetwork ).
Winterpalooza wraps up with the Winter Bike Love-In Dance Party at Bike Bike on February 15 which is a fundraiser for the Calgary food bank. The dance party will give cyclists a chance to peel off the layers of bike gear and dress up for drinks and dancing. “It will be cool to have all the bikes parked in front of Bike Bike and everyone will bike there and commute home and there’s going to be the bike photo booth there as well” says Desilets.
One of the goals of Winterpalooza is to promote winter cycling. With that in mind Marc Desilets offers a few basic tips to get you started:
• “Have a bike that you don’t mind getting completely covered in mud and grime and dirt.” Winter cycling is messy business especially with our Chinooks but Desilets says you don’t need a second bike for winter. Learn about bike maintenance and when necessary get in there and clean it by hand using a cloth and a bucket of water.
• Be prepared. “Definitely always have gloves and a toque — you’re going to need that. Bring them to work with you even if it’s a sunny day have them in your bag because you never know when you’re riding home what it’s going to be like.”
• Invest in good tires. “Some people will use studded tires but even just to have thicker tires or fat tires or something with a lot of tread like a brand new tire that you’re going to use just for winter. That way it will have a bit more traction.”
• “You’ve go to know that it’s going to take you longer to ride…. You do have to go slower and you might have to pick a different route ’cause you might not want to be riding on the road as much. You might want to find a different route that’s going to be a little bit safer.” Know which pathways are cleared in winter and get an up-to-date map of cycle routes from Bike Calgary.
• “It gets darker earlier so you want to have lots of light.” Not only do you need to see where you’re going but cars need to see you.
• Finally contain the mess. “It can get muddy — in your apartment or your house you need to have a mat or something a big carpet at your front door so your bike can defrost and drop all the ice and dirt and everything off of it when you get home.”