Are you looking for a new way to get around in the city streets during the winter? Maybe taking the metro when it's -20 C gets you down--maybe you hate that feeling of walking down those steps into that disgusting haze of heat, struggling to remove your scarf, hat, mitts, and coat while rushing to get the next train. Walking might not be your best option either--it's so slow, and once December hits how often are you going to want to take a forty minute walk to school?
Your new mode of transportation may very well be winter biking! At first, it might sound crazy (maybe you've sat on the bus, watching through the window as a guy rides by through a snowstorm looking like an alien with his goggles and balaklava, and wondered what kind of drugs he's been smoking), and let's face it, it might be a little crazy. But it's also a great way of getting some exercise through the cold-and-lazy season, and being on a bicycle in Montréal, even in the winter, usually means that you're going to spend less time traveling (if you aren't going too far) than everyone who is stuck in traffic or waiting around in the metro. As an extra bonus, it saves you the money that you would have been spending on your opus pass or gas for your car.
There are just a few simple steps that you're going to need to follow if you plan on embarking on the epic journey that is winter biking in Montréal. To begin, there is...
THE PREPARATION PART
You will need:
1. A bicycle. One that you don't mind getting rusty and eaten by road salt. I would recommend checking on Craigslist, Kijiji, or at a local second-hand bike shop for something solid but not too expensive.
[*a sidenote on tires: Studded tires are not necessary! The streets in Montréal are cleared regularly. Your best bet will probably be a hybrid tire, which is thin, but not as thin as a regular road-bike tire--though feel free to test out anything!]
2. A good lock. A U-lock is the safest protection against bike theft. Cable locks are only a deterrent.
3. Warm mitts/gloves. Without them, you will feel as though your hands are falling off. And maybe they will. Mittens are always good because they keep your fingers together, and you don't need finger dexterity while biking, but a good pair of ski gloves can also do the trick. Make sure that they have a wind-protection layer (so nothing knitted).
4. A face/neck cover. This can be a balaklava, a couple of bandanas tied around your face and neck, or a good scarf. You'll want something that you can pull up over your cheeks, because otherwise the frostbite'll getcha.
5. A windproof body-layer. Either a good windbreaker, a rain jacket, or a good ol' winter coat. With the coat option, however, you might find that going up hills and during fast rides, you heat up a bit too much.
6. Sweater layers. This is especially important if you go with the windbreaker/rain jacket. That air is going to be cold. Even with a winter coat, sometimes you'll be better off if you have at least one other warm layer on underneath.
7. Optional: Ski goggles and splash/snow-pants. For those days when it's slush-snowing or extra cold.
8. Bicycling accessories:
- Fenders. To keep your feet and back free of slush.
- Buy chain oil. Oil your bicycle chain weekly to prevent rusting.
- Bike lights and reflectors (front and back). The days are shorter in the
winter, and cars are probably not expecting bikers as much either.
- Helmet. Even if you don't wear one in the summer, definitely do in the
winter. You don't want to crack your skull on the ice.
READY TO GO
When you're getting ready to go out and do battle with the weather and the streets, you should:
1. Check the weather. You'll always want a windbreaker layer on the outside, and something to cover ears, neck and hands, but other than that the temperature and conditions will make a difference to what you'll be comfortable biking in.
2. Allow more time. Give yourself more time to get from A to B than you would when you biked in the summer. You might have to go slower if there is ice, snow on the road, or if the road is narrower because of snow-plowing.
To keep your bike working you'll need to maintain it more than you did during the summer. Here are some tips to keep you ahead of the game:
1. Oil your chain. Oil your chain weekly to prevent rusting.
2. Lubricate your break cables. This can be done with any type of grease (vaseline works) or even candle wax.
3. Seal your bottom bracket. Your bottom bracket is where your pedals attach to the frame. You can buy something called a 'sealed bottom bracket', which prevents dirt and salt from corroding your pedal axel.
* * *
This should be enough to keep you alive through a winter of cycling in the streets of Montréal! Keep in mind that the only bike paths that stay plowed through the winter are the de Maisonneuve path and the University path (and even those are plowed later than the streets)--so you will have to be ready to be biking in close proximity to car traffic.
If you're looking for more advice, or if your bike is ailing from the rough conditions that you are dragging it through, then Montréal has plenty of cheap bike co-ops: once you pay for a membership, you get free access to their tools and cheap parts, as well as a lot of good advice. Concordia's Bike Co-op is called Right to Move and McGill's is called The Flat. Bike shops are also a place to go if you need advice or repairs (many stay open through the winter, with shortened hours).
If you choose to take this journey, through the sleet and the hale and the ice and the snow, on your trusty two-wheeled steed, then I commend you--and I look forward to saluting you as we ride past each other, in our goggles and balaklavas, through the snow.