Thursday, 13 March 2014

My Experience As A Die-Hard Bicycle Commuter

There are only two seasons in Canada: Winter and July.  With a ton of snow this winter and what seems like an endless cold spell (must be that polar vortex thing), winter seems like it will never end.  Now don't get the idea that I'm complaining (although it is quite understandable that most triathletes dislike winter)...this winter thing is really starting to grow on me.  Maybe it's my inner Canadian talking here, but winter is not all that bad (and if you disagree, I understand if you stop reading here).  Now I can see where triathletes are coming from.  The endless hours on the treadmill or even worse...the bike trainer, can really test ones motivation to train (trust me a couple hours on the trainer in the basement 3-4 times a week all winter gets to you).  So how do I combat this?  I ride outside!!

A typical winter commuting day


As most of you know, I study at York University, which is a convenient 15km or so from my house. Now call me a poor student or a crazy cyclist (don't call me anything else though), but I just can't bring myself to take the bus over my bike.  I have saved literally thousands of dollars by commuting by bike, and even saved time (commuting by bus is about half an hour slower than by bike).  Winter conditions: no problem, just bundle up and you're good right?  Well sort of....Here is my experience as a die hard bicycle commuter.

The Ride

My ride starts north of Toronto in the suburbs of Richmond Hill.  From my house (or rather my parents' house that I still live in), I initially travel along quiet side roads, and then make my way onto main roads with bike lanes (except Steeles, which has no bike lane).
I like to say the ride is about 15 km (in reality it might be a bit less), but I do bike around campus to justify the mileage claim.  My commute time ranges from 30 minutes (late for class, hammering, and getting all the lights) to as long as 55 minutes (riding home late at night with a headwind in the winter).
I ride to York 5 times a week, often in the early morning (for 6am swim practice).  My rides home are usually in the dark, although I am starting to get some light on the return trips.


The Bike

I really like my commuter bike.  It's not new or fancy, and is in fact quite heavy (probably 35 lb range). The bike used to be my grandfathers, and it has lasted me quite well. I have had to replace the usual parts because of wear, and had to add a few things like fenders (this has been a lifesaver for winter riding), and new lights (the vintage light that it used to have just wasn't cutting it).  I have kept my regular road tires on the bike, as they don't seem to make grippy 27' tires.  This hasn't proved to be a problem yet...


The Gear

The trick I have found to staying warm in cold temperatures is to layer correctly.  My go to items are my Nike Vapor Flash jacket (great visibility for morning/evening commutes), my Icebreaker Sierra hoodie (super warm), my Sugoi waterproof pants, my Icebreaker balaclava, and my Bontrager waterproof booties (that fit over my running shoes).  I also have a variety of Icebreaker base layers to adjust with depending on the conditions.  Most days I can wear sunglasses, but on a couple of those -40C days, I found ski goggles were the only thing I could wear.


The Workout

The majority of my riding this winter has come from commuting to school.  In a typical week, I am outside riding for approximately 7.5 hours, and am really only putting in 2 hard indoor sessions on the rollers (sometimes a third).  This formula seems to be working well for my riding, as I am riding pretty strong on my hard sessions and feeling good.   


The real workout with outdoor commuting seems to be more of a mental challenge.  My commutes are often early morning (like 5am) or in the evening (after a long day at school and other training), and there are days when I really don't want to be riding my bike.  Other days,  conditions will be poor, with temperatures like -40 C or a freezing 50 km/h headwind that can really have me questioning why I am out there freezing my face off.  When this starts to happen, I just tell myself that however hard this feels, it will just make summer races feel all the easier (which I can definitely see being true).       

The Conclusion

When I tell most people I ride my bike all winter, I usually get a blank stare, and a comment like "It's too cold out to be riding your bike" (a lady told me this the other day, and then promptly went out the door to smoke a cigarette in her hoodie).  In all truth, it probably is too cold on some days, or too snowy to be out riding.  But for the majority of the winter season, the roads are relatively clear, and all that is required is that you dress for the weather.  I don't take any risks when out riding, and I have found the roads the be relatively safe (with drivers respecting me on the road) .  I have taken the occasional drive or bus ride to school (you could probably count those on one hand though), and probably another couple days where I should have not been out riding my bike.  Overall though, it has been great to be outdoors for so much of the winter, although I too am eager for spring.  


2 comments:

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