Cold Weather Commute

21 Jan

Ice fog commute

The temperature never successfully broke -30 C (-22 F) this week.

On day 1, commuting to work in temperatures around -40 is an adventure.  I finally got to try out my new Christmas polar bear mittens, which exceeded expectation when it comes to warmth.  I got to take my Skookum parka out of the closet and see if it was as amazing as I remembered (it is).   And, I’m not going to lie, I got to be the crazy winter cyclist, that people shake their head at.  ”You rode your bike in this?” they ask – and I take their awe with pride.  The cold weather couldn’t keep me down, couldn’t stop me from my daily routine, and couldn’t keep me off my bike.

But, by Friday, the routine has lost its novelty.  I’m tired of the pre-ride ritual of layering on all my clothes.  Every day I get to work, exhausted from battling the cold – soaking wet from all the energy it’s taken to fight the freezing lubricants, and rigid tires.  I’m annoyed at the people that say to me “You rode your bike in this?” with their disapproving tone, like my bike riding is somehow causing the cold snap.  Maybe if I got with the program and jumped in my car, we could climate change this problem away.


Riding to work at 40 below


Some of my annoyance is because of the cars that drive past me on my morning commute.  In these temperatures I try to stick with the paved pathways.  It’s too cold for a helmet – I need all the hats I can get on my head.  And at -40, cars spew thick exhaust that lingers in the air, too cold and dense to dissapate.  I have no desire to ride through the fog of petroleum products.   More importantly, the cold snap has left people cranky, and less inclined to follow general traffic rules.  Apparently at around -35, martial law is enacted on the streets of Whitehorse and you can do anything you want.  On Wednesday, I was crossing 2nd avenue when a car rushed passed me, honking its horn and shaking its fist.  It may have been too cold for them to roll down the window, but  the message was pretty clear.  I had obviously inconvenienced this driver.  I may have been crossing on a green light, and they may have completely blown a red light; but that’s really not the point.  What was I doing on their street in the first place?


View from the bike lane at 40 below


The car vs. bike debate seems to be renewed in the chill of January’s coldest week.  I sometimes wonder if the anger is due in part to the inconvenience of a car in this weather.  There’s parts to plug in, windows to scrape, gas-line antifreeze to inject – from atop my little bike I can hear the cars grumble down the street – metal scraping, and engine struggling.  Our esteemed Mayor Bev Buckway told a newspaper earlier this year that bicycle commuters “can be really scary for cars”.  Sometimes I imagine that through a windshield I look like a crazy flesh eating zombie that at any moment could jump through the passenger window and eat someone’s brain.   Putting my overactive imagination aside, I can see the concern.  If a car hits a bike on the road, there’s huge repercussions for a driver: police reports, insurance costs, car repairs, and probably hundreds of hours of paperwork.   All things most cyclists don’t have to do – because they are dead.  I wonder if cars know that in the 58 car/bike accidents that resulted in fatalities in 2005, the cyclists are up 58 to 0 when it comes to deaths.  I’d say they don’t need to be too scared.


40 below commute


But, it’s easy when the weather’s bad and you’ve almost been killed by a giant box of metal, to become bitter.  The truth is that 99% of cars are great.  They are courteous, they are kind.  Lots of them give me a little wave as the go by (and not with their middle finger).  I’m not stupid, I know that sometimes I delay a car by 5 or 10 seconds, because it takes me that much longer to get through the round-about.  But, most drivers seem to be okay with that.  In fact many vehicles try to cede right of way to me (which by the way is completely unnecessary and can be kind of dangerous), stopping to let me cross the street, or make a turn.  So instead of making this post about the crazy winter drivers, I’m writing it to thank the not so crazies.  The ones who scrape their windows, so they can actually see the human powered commuters on the sidewalks.  The ones that follow traffic laws, even when it’s cold.  The ones who don’t yell at me or threaten to kill me.  And most importantly, the ones that don’t maim me on my way to and from work.   For you, I am truly grateful.


Frozen Commute

7 Responses to “Cold Weather Commute”

  1. PARKER January 21, 2012 at 12:17 PM #

    Nice post, Sierra. Good reminder that the majority of motorists are courteous and respectful (although it’s hard to tell sometimes!). Being home with a future cyclist has curtailed my cycle commuting this winter, but I had an ongoing email conversation on the topic w. Mayor Buckway last winter. I eventually gave up on her when it became obvious that she really feels that bikes should be put away until spring. Put the environmental and financial benefits of cycle commuting aside for a moment and consider the health ones: the average Yukoner is physically active 26 min’s/day in summer and just 15 min’s/day in winter. “…this seasonal decline becomes a physical activity deficit which accumulates and can lead to obesity and chronic conditions (Can Fitness and lIfestyles Research Institute, 2008).” Instead of casting us as crazy and dangerous, the Mayor should be supporting anything Yukoners do to stay active in winter.

    • Mrs. Northsixty January 21, 2012 at 12:43 PM #

      It’s too bad because Mayor and Council have done a lot of great things for cycling in the Yukon. They have supported trail crew for mountain biking, and things like the bike boxes in key downtown locations have made it safer to lock your bike up. They have that big pancake breakfast for bike commuters in the summer, and support the commute to work program. My only wish is that they could see that winter commuting is also valuable. There’s parking issues downtown, that are solved by commuting. As well as the ongoing power consumption issues that are helped when people power themselves to work, instead of plugging in their car. Winter cycling is not for everyone, but those who are willing and able to do it should be encouraged, not dissuaded. Maybe if every time someone looked outside their window and saw one more parking stall, and one less blackout – instead of one annoying cyclist – there would be less aversion to the idea of winter commuting.

  2. Jerome January 22, 2012 at 6:54 AM #

    Thanks for writing this article. A friend pointed me to your website. I too commute to work in winter and most of the comments can also apply to my situation in Calgary. we just finished a week of minus 30 weather and the number of commuters at my work dropped to a handful from the normal 20 or so.

    The only difference is that last year I bought an electric assist kit and mounted it on a full suspension bike. Got myself the best studded tires I could find and went for it. I too wish for solutions to extreme cold problems with hubs, chain lube and grime eating my drivetrain.

    Keep on riding. No one can ever take that away from you. Being also a trailbuilder, I have a saying that they will need to pry my pulaski and my mountain bike from dying hands as they have become a part of what defines me.

    Stay warm!!!

    • Mr. Northsixty January 22, 2012 at 10:49 PM #

      Interesting set up. I wonder, how does the battery on your electric assist perform in the cold?

  3. richard January 22, 2012 at 8:16 AM #

    really enjoyed reading what you wrote all the way through.
    I have not riden through this past week by choice but will soon again be out there.
    I would like to say something that might sound like I am defending the no so courteous drivers – when people are scared of passing close to a cyclist, impatient, upset from the cold unpleasant morning and so on, they might do not so nice gestures but really we need to remember that those people are simply reacting under there own stress.
    Stay healhy! riding in thick diesel and car exhaust is something I chose not to do so I understand your points on that too (plus the dressing, an sweating)
    thanks again!

    • Mrs. Northsixty January 22, 2012 at 12:02 PM #

      I agree about the drivers. Getting to work in the cold, dark morning isn’t fun for anyone. Sometimes I think the frustration isn’t necessarily directed at me, but just at life in general

  4. Susan Minnich February 1, 2012 at 7:07 AM #

    Great post thanks! Puts a whole different perspective on cold weather cycling for those of us in (relatively southern) New England.

    Drivers are drivers everywhere. Most are courteous and careful here, but even in daylight on uncrowded roads I get one or two who have to blast their horns and waggle their hands around in the air as they go past. Guess its hard for them to swing into the other lane when no cars are in sight.

    Apparently bikes are equally powerful everywhere … at bringing hmmmm … cold and icy weather?

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