Urban Hippie by Jen Lahey is published every second Tuesday at OttawaMagazine.com. Follow Jen on Twitter @Jen_Lahey.
This week we consider all those who might be thinking about joining the ranks of the brave, the few, the possibly nutty: the dedicated folks who take to Ottawa’s wintertime (read: slushy, snowy, messy) streets not by car, not by bus, and not even by foot, but on two wheels: the cyclists who keep biking year round. Of course, biking is ever-so environmentally friendly, but is it possible to stick to one’s green leanings and do it year-round?
For answers, the Urban Hippie turned to Steve Lewis, head mechanic at The Bike Dump. He’s been biking through Ottawa’s sometimes treacherous winters “forever,” and has the extra cachet of a background as a bike courier — if anyone knows how to get around on two wheels, it’s a bike courier. Lewis thinks it’s entirely possible to bike throughout Ottawa’s winters, and offers up three top tips for braving the streets on your trusty two-wheeled steed:
Go ahead and invest in a set of skinny tires. Lewis swears by these for cutting through the slush and sleet of Ottawa’s wintery streets. While you’re at it, make sure you’re equipped with fenders—they keep the slush from kicking up all over you.
Keep your bike clean and in good working order. There are a couple of schools of thought on this one: the first says to just tune your bike properly (or have someone do it for you) at the start of the season, then leave it outside through the winter, so that the road salt doesn’t have a chance to mix with melting water and corrode everything. The other school says to keep the bike well coated in oil to protect against the elements and go ahead and bring it inside. The choice is yours.
Dress for success. What you’d wear for walking home isn’t the same as what you might wear for biking home, says Lewis. You want warm, but breathable layers so that you avoid overheating while you’re zooming around town. Lewis is reluctant to recommend pricier fabrics, but he admits that he’s a fan of Gortex gear for the outer layer.
(A final winter biking thought: a clever UH makes him or herself as visible as possible. It’s dark out there on the morning and evening commute, falling snow can wreak havoc on visibility, and people are in a rush to get where they’re going. Before braving the winter streets, get yourself some nice lights for the front and back of your bike, along with some snazzy reflective strips for your clothes. Consider topping it all off with a nice headlamp. And with that…bike on, UHs, bike on.)