Winter biking in Calgary: Why some cyclists say it's worth it

A light jacket, a pair of earmuffs and some gloves are all Duncan Findlay needs before hopping on his bike at the crack of dawn in –20 C weather.

The Calgary geoscientist has been riding his bike to work for the past five years and isn't bothered by the cold.

"As long as I've got my extremities covered and my ears aren't flapping in the wind, I feel fine," he said. "I bike to work in –30 and I don't know it's –30 until I get there."

He likes riding because it keeps him fit and is more enjoyable than driving, while also saving him money.

He said his wife feels the same way, but she draws the line once winter arrives.

And apparently, so do many Calgarians.

Various measures have shown cycling is on the rise in general, but along several stretches of the downtown cycle track network in particular, the numbers are down so far this year compared to last year, when the winter was milder.

Between Jan. 1 and March 7, there were 21,502 bikes recorded by the automated counter along Fifth Street S.W. at the CP Rail underpass. That's down 32 per cent from 2016.

It's a similar story along the 12th Avenue cycle track, where counts near the intersection of Eighth Street S.W. are down 33 per cent to 11,413.

The drop-off is less steep along the Eighth Avenue cycle track, where counts near Third Street S.W. are down five per cent to 20,330.

Kevin Schlauch, who rides year-round, believes weather and the economic downturn are behind the declines.

"It has been a colder winter and everybody might have a different tolerance for what their drop-off level is for how cold they'll bike in, but it is something you get used to," he said.

"And also, unfortunately, there's probably just less people working downtown these days."

Schlauch figures he and his wife have saved $15,000 over the past four years by relying more heavily on riding than driving.

Last year, they went entirely car-free.

He doesn't feel as impervious to the cold as Findlay — quite the opposite in fact — so winter riding requires a little more preparation for him.

"It runs in my family that we have very poor circulation in our hands and feet," Schlauch said.

"So that's why I've got really warm boots on. I've got electric gloves underneath my winter gloves. And once I've got all that set ... I can handle any cold weather."

Findlay recognizes winter cycling isn't for everyone, but believes more people might like it if they gave it a try.

He said the biggest thing stopping many people who ride in other seasons isn't a lack of gear or experience, but a mental barrier.

"There's a perception that it's deeply unpleasant, that it's hard, that you're going to be somehow sweaty and freezing by the time you get to work, that it's dangerous," he said.

"And, well, in my experience that's not true."

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