Committed to Cycling

🕔Dec 01, 2011

Stephen Rader remembers feeling horrified when his mother told him he had to ride his bicycle to school. Stephen was starting high school and it was a whopping five kilometres away. To 12-year-old Stephen, five kilometres was huge. It was impossible for him to visualize such a distance. With his mother’s encouragement, though, he concluded it would definitely be faster than walking.

On the first day of school, he filled his back-pack with school supplies, got on his three-speed bike and set off. He never looked back. Today he is still riding to school, up the hill to the University of Northern BC where he works.

Peggy Tobin not only rides her bike to work everyday, she uses it to bring home groceries in her panniers. In fact, her car spends most of its days sitting idle in her driveway. Peggy hasn’t insured her car for a couple of years but she may take out temporary insurance for a day or two, such as when she had to transport hundreds of pots of flowers to businesses all over town as part of her fundraising initiative for the Sears National Kids Cancer ride, a 15-day cross-Canada bicycle ride that she did in 2010 to raise money and awareness to fight childhood cancer.

Peggy says she saved so much money by not insuring her car, and not having to buy gas, she was able to buy a lightweight road bike for the cross-Canada ride. She now rides the lighter bike in the summer, saving her heavier mountain bike for winter.

Apart from the economic benefits, bike riding, like walking, is a much greener way to get around the city. Peggy chooses riding because it’s faster than walking and she can carry a lot more in her panniers than she can in her arms.

A toque beneath her helmet
Carolyn Ibis eschews owning a car altogether, and rides her hybrid bike year-round. She found riding in dense city traffic became easier when she attached a mirror to her handlebars. Now she can easily see behind her rather than constantly swivelling her head and having to take her eyes off traffic in front of her.

Because she lives and works in downtown Prince George, Peggy is super aware of the possibility of bike thieves. At work she brings her bike inside; otherwise she uses a bike lock to secure both wheels to something stationary. Bike racks are not always available. Once, when she did not take the time to lock her bike, someone took it. She managed to attract the sympathy of someone in a car and together they gave chase, eventually catching up with the perpetrator and retrieving her bike.

Neither Peggy, Carolyn nor Stephen let winter weather distract them from riding their bikes. Peggy layers tights over her chamois, padded bike shorts, and a sweater and jacket over her bike shirt. Add a pair of warm mitts and a toque under her bike helmet and she’s ready to brave the frigid temperatures of a predawn February commute. Stephen concedes that -30ºC is his biking cut-off temperature. Carolyn admits to taking the bus to work when a blizzard was so heavy she couldn’t see more than a couple of centimetres in front of her.

Winter weather is not just about cold; it’s also about snow falling from the sky in blinding blizzards, fluffy layers of snow blanketing the roads, piling up and shoveled into icy hills on the sides of every road. As winter turns into slushy March the snow melts and freezes and melts again, turning roads and sidewalks icy and slick overnight.

No problem, says Stephen. He swaps his smooth summer tires, called slicks, for studded tires, specially designed to plow through snow and grip on ice. Peggy likewise switches from her lightweight road bike with its summer tires to her more rugged mountain bike with studded winter tires. The added traction, stability and peace of mind that her properly equipped winter bike offers is worth the extra weight and loss of speed, she says.

With winter comes darkness. Stephen has a light on his handlebars to help him see the road ahead; Peggy and Carolyn wear headlamps. Of greater concern for them all, though, is being seen. It’s worth spending a bit more money for specially designed cycling clothing, with built-in reflective material that lights up in vehicle headlights, says Peggy. For extra protection they wear reflective ankle straps and have reflectors installed on the front and back of their bikes.

More than good exercise
Flat tires are a pain. Carrying a spare inner tube and knowing how to change it is necessary. Stephen has a pump attached to the frame of his bike. Peggy prefers the lighter weight of a CO2 canister. CO2 canisters are a quick way to inflate a tire but a tire filled with CO2 bleeds down faster than one filled with air. On the road, some cyclists use CO2 canisters to give the tire a quick initial boost of air then use a pump to bring it up to optimum pressure.

Like cars, bikes need regular maintenance. Oiling the chain with a good-quality lubricant and checking tire pressure are at the top of the to-do list. Stephen says he checks tire pressure and the condition of the chain before every bike ride. Annual tune-ups include cleaning the gear sprockets and derailleurs, checking the brakes, and replacing brake pads if they are worn.

Both Peggy and Stephen cite health as their main reason to choose biking over driving, but they both say the benefits are far greater than just exercise.

Stephen says he cherishes his time alone on his bike every morning; it’s his opportunity to think. It’s a time of calm that he looks forward to before his hectic workday begins. Peggy agrees: there is no traffic at 6 am, it’s a peaceful time of day and she relishes her time alone on her bike. “Sometimes, on the commute home, I’m gliding down the hill, feeling the wind against my cheek, blowing my hair, and I just keep riding instead of going home. I love the freedom to think my deepest thoughts and to ride anywhere. It’s pure enjoyment.” Bike-riding experiences like this are what have convinced Peggy to keep going to bed early so she can get up every morning to repeat them.

As daylight shrinks and mornings go from nippy to cold, Carolyn layers Polartec pants and a long-sleeved shirt over her bike shorts. She would never think of ditching her bike to take the bus, no matter how cold it gets.