Montreal conference highlights growing popularity of winter cycling

Montreal conference highlights growing popularity of winter cycling

MONTREAL — While most Canadians still put their bikes away when cold weather hits, a growing number of winter riders has cities switching gears to accommodate the demand for ice-free pathways.

This week, Montreal is hosting an international cycling conference where participants from eight countries are discussing the benefits, challenges and best practices surrounding winter cycling — which advocates insist is no longer only for the brave.

Cities such as Ottawa, Montreal and Calgary have been experimenting with all-weather bicycle paths and are seeing a jump in ridership, according to Magali Bebronne of non-profit cycling organization Velo Quebec.

She said surface conditions, rather than cold weather, are what keep Canadians off their bikes.

“Canadians know how to dress for winter,” she says. “They’re more worried about whether the surface is slippery, if they’re going to fall off.

“When we talk about winter cycling infrastructure, we say ‘if you clear it, they will come.'”

Montreal has seen the number of winter cyclists jump 14 per cent over the last three years, according to the city councillor responsible for the file.

Marc-Andre Gadoury says about 15,000 riders a day — about 12 per cent of the number of summer riders — use Montreal’s 400 kilometres of cleared paths.

By 2025, he hopes a quarter of summer riders will choose to ride all winter long —comparable to Calgary, which according to Bebronne has retained more than 30 per cent of riders since it installed a large network of protected paths.

Bebronne says one of the conference’s goals is to help cities share knowlege on the best snow-clearance techniques, such as using brushes and saltwater brine for better snow clearance than traditional plows can provide.

While critics sometimes accuse cities of diverting resources to accommodate a small number of cyclists when they should be focusing on sidewalks and roads, Gadoury says getting more people out of their cars benefits everyone.

“Cost-wise, it’s less expensive to build and maintain bicycle paths than roads, so from that point of view it makes sense,” he said.

Bebronne, too, bristles at the suggestion that maintaining cycling paths isn’t money well spent.

“Nobody ever feels the need to measure how many people will walk on the sidewalk or will use a specific street before it’s cleared of snow, but when it comes to bike paths we have to come up with numbers and prove it’s going to serve enough people,” she said.

While truly dedicated riders may use studded tires or have a second bike for winter, she says no special equipment or skills are needed on the nicer winter days.

Although people need to be prepared for some salt damage to their bikes, her main recommendation is to keep an open mind and give it a try.

“You’ll see how fun it is,” she said. “You have all the benefits of cycling in the summer. Plus it keeps you warm.”

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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