Winter Cycling - Calgary







Cyclist on 2nd Ave



Winter Cycling in Calgary

In North America, there seems to be a growing demand for cyclists to continue their cycling throughout the winter.  The demand does not stop there.  The demand includes people during day and evening hours who want to cycle for commuting to work or schools, their trip needs, which may include shopping, meetings, get together, recreational excursions and exercising their bodies.   Weather, which was a barrier at one time for winter cycling trips, seems to be less of that now.

For nurturing this demand, it is not simply a matter of a personal commitment of doing it.  It is more of a concerted effort to reshape the urban place and people’s thinking towards being more conducive for growing the demand and attracting new people to this experience.  Winter cycling needs to be moved in people’s consciousness to that of a social norm than an elitist or specialist activity.  Some Northern European cities are prime examples of this where winter cyclist is just something one does.

Cohesive winter cycling campaigns in cities including people, the municipality, the transit operator, the retailers, the marketers, and cycling advocacy organizations



Velo.Urbanism, Barcelona

Velo.Urbanism, the Blog


Cyclist on Bow Trail Downtown




Want to increase winter cycling in your city?  Then an active winter cycling campaign must be part of your local urban place and inherent in its thinking.  Such a campaign has a number of components to it, the people side, the retail support system, the urban infrastructure, and social marketing of winter cycling.   

The people side (the CUSTOMERS of winter cycling)

The personal, mental process of embracing winter cycling
Fitting winter cycling into one’s day schedule
Understanding clothing and equipment needs
Knowledge on what it takes to do winter cycling, weather effects
Bailing out of a cycling trip during adverse weather, alternatives

The retail support companies

The equipment – bicycles, parts, sizing of bicycles, clothing
The maintenance of bicycles

The urban transportation infrastructure

Efficient trip time routes – from home to office and other destinations
The cycling roads and pathways
Municipal policy – car parking lots outside of downtown core areas (5 km plus) along bike trails and paths, cycle to work rest of way
Night cycling and street lighting
Maintaining for winter cycling
Supportive facilities – toilettes
End of trip facilities and bike parking facilities – indoor parking, change rooms, clothes storage – cycling gear, business clothes, clothes drying

The transit operator

Efficient trip time routes – from home and end destination to high service transit routes
Combined mobility with the transit system – buses, rapid transit, commuter trains

The social marketing of winter cycling

Winter cycling a marketable product – marketing techniques for selling this product to customers
Advertising campaigns – making winter cycling a norm, autumn season to attract, winter to support cyclists’ determination
Encouragement to continue cycling in adverse weather
Education on winter cycling skills and competency
Promotion with useful information, winter cycling maps, up to minute bikeway condition reports

The cycling advocacy organizations

The promoters
The teachers
The social marketers
The watchdogs of the urban environment and its support for winter cycling

Cycling in Calgary after a 15 cm snowfall

What is in it for the city?

Increased transit ridership over the year.
Winter peak off loading of transit ridership during peak ridership demand periods.
Reduce overall transit trip costs per transit rider.
Less demand for road expansion for cars, for additional traffic lanes, and other car traffic capacity expansions.
Less demand on municipal road maintenance and road snow clearing budgets.

Winter is a peak period for transit as motorists abandon their cars with inclement weather about.  Peak periods means peak ridership, peak pass byes, and peak operating costs.  Some of the stress on the transit system can be relieved through encouragement for using cycling instead.

At the Velo-city Global 2012 Conference in June of 2012, special focus was placed on winter cycling with presentations form Europe and North America.  Now, in February 2013, the City of Oulu in Finland is holding a conference focusing solely on winter cycling.  The City of Oulu is an appropriate location as 12% of the winter traffic is cycling.


Winter Cycling in Calgary,

From the Vancouver Wimp

Some personal comments on progress of transition to winter cycling from a city where Oceanside winter rain and above freezing days are the predominate conditions to where prairie minus teens and twenties degree temperatures with stiff wind-chill take over.  Yes, making forward progress but still avoiding the minus twenties conditions if there is an excuse available.

The black darkness of morning is slowing giving way to shades of cold blue as sunrise is steadily taking place.  Eight:fifteen it is now, as the temperature has risen from days’ past to minus 12 degree with wind-chill of minus 20 degrees.  The mornings of minus 18 degrees with wind-chill into the deep minus 20’s and strong winds have now been replaced.  Strong, continually-on beamed headlights of cyclists making their way along the bike trails by the river are now replaced with skeleton outlines of humans on cycling wheels.


Two nights ago, a white blanket of 15 cm of fluffy descended upon the city.  On that windy night at 10:00 pm, the only marks breaking a white sheet of snow were that of footprints down the centre of streets.  On the bike trails along the Bow River, deep footprints were now being supplemented with a few bike wheel imprints, as some cyclists were working their way slowly through the fluffy snow.  The forward progress was energy consuming.  The tracks were weaving as the wheels were blowing away the light snow.  One determined cyclist was thrusting his way forward in the deep snow and the cold, wind, snowy temperature without any covering on his almost-bald head.  Hardy or what?

For encouraging cycling, an intensive snow-clearing program is a must for bike trails, bike paths, and bike lanes on roads.  Calgary has that.  This year, bike lanes on streets are getting serious attention with a council commitment for “priority 1” status for snow clearing.  BikeCalgary is monitoring the effectiveness of this policy with an on-line survey.  During the early darkness of night, cyclists can be seen on their homeward commute to suddenly stop their bicycles; rest them against any reasonable object; whip out their cell phones; and snatch pictures of snow build-up on bike lanes at intersections, parked cars in bike lanes impeding snow clearing operations, and other signs of lack of adhering to the snow clearing standards. 

By 7:00 am in the morning, snow blades and sweepers were busy along the trails as the morning cycling commuters were making their way downtown. 


Snow-Clearing Equipment

As winter cycling is slowly becoming the next evolution for a larger part of the cycling community other than the avant-garde winter cyclists, questions are more frequently forthcoming on what types of snow clearing equipment are being used by municipalities on bike trails, bike paths, separated and unprotected bike lanes.  Of course, this depends a lot on the type of snow a municipality tends to encounter the most, from light, fluffy high- elevation, prairie Calgarians snow to sticky, wet snow of Oceanside municipalities. 

In Calgary, the snow clearing equipment may be contracted from landscaping firms or city-owned and of the type frequently seen on golf courses in the summer.  Snow blades and sweeper attachments are used.  Salt and sand spreading equipment I have not seen in use yet.  Along the Bow River, sweepers are busy on the downtown bike trail, leaving bare asphalt behind with traces of snow.  Twenty some kilometres further downstream where Fish Creek joins up, snow blades on pick-up trucks tend to be the snow clearing equipment, leaving behind a white covering of packed and slightly iced snow.  Studs on bicycle tires are a must to cycle here.

After the snowfall - the clean-up equipment

  Intersections - A cyclist's challenge or a hindrance to winter cycling
Image caption.


From my cycling experience this winter, snow clearing at intersections where cycling facilities meet streets is critical for my personal self-confidence in undertaking winter cycling.  If snow has been carefully cleared through this transition then the cycle is pleasant.  If there is build-up of packed snow or ice as in the picture , then timidity becomes the sensation of the minute.


Cycling Infrastructure for Winter Cycling

Bike trails with limited intersections maintained for winter cycling along with bike paths alongside traffic lanes, separated bike lanes, and even unprotected bike lanes are inducement for winter cycling, especially cycling facilities that are physically separated from motorists.  Some strong, cycling-experienced, risk-taking cyclists are very comfortable in their dark hours commute to work or home and do not have a problem charging down the middle of a lane or where any bare road surface appears.  They can handle the tricky cycling on a layer of snow mixed with sand on top of packed snow or ice where cycling on normal tires and control of the bicycle is like cycling through loose sand.  For most of us, that would be enough to put aside winter cycling.  Give us well-maintained bike trails with limited intersections and other high-quality, well-maintained cycling facilities that provide separation from motorists.  Oh yes, toilettes along the way are an attraction.

Some fat tire bicycles are appearing.  Calgary Herald’s Tom Babin recently did an article on the effectiveness of this type of bicycle in snow.  Maybe this will be our winter bicycle of the future. (



Image caption.


A Retailers’ Dreams,
Retailers Should Support Cycling Infrastructure for Winter Cycling


Winter cycling facilities snow clearing programs that start with the early hours of the day.

A downtown bike trail at the door step maintained in the winter; leading to bike paths on roadways 15 or more kilometres farther down the rivers; taking cyclists right into the heart of big box shopping and even to the doors of the Calgary Farmers Market along one route.

A winter-maintained downtown bike trail leading to a bike lane into grocery shopping area, as downtown grocery stores in Calgary do not exist, even in the high density residential areas, such as Eau Claire.
Winter-maintained bike trail along a river connecting with a bike path along an urban freeway to the largest shopping centre in Calgary.

A rapid transit system (C-Train) allowing bicycles on restricted hours with bike paths along roadways from stations into shopping areas.

Calgary has this making shopping by bicycle totally feasible, even when the shopping trips may be 15 to 20 kilometres into the suburbs or into downtown.


Cycling Fashion, Winter-Style

When temperature in Calgary rises to the freezing point level, It is always amazing to see cycling fashion change quickly back to shorts, with cycling tights or without, come back on the avant-garde cyclists.  It is also amazing to see cyclists wear thin spandex cycling jackets when the temperature is low with wind chill.  Others are draped in thick skiing jackets or heavy ordinary street outerwear.  Gloves tend to vary from thinner wear designed for the cold to thick mittens.  Faces tend to attract special fashion wear.  Scarves and other face protectors are much in vogue.  Eye covering tend to vary from cycling glasses to very large downhill skiing eyepieces.

For me, so far I have cycled into the minus mid-teen temperatures with wind-chill into the minus twenties.  I am good with that for the first 30 kilometres, then the feet start to become a problem without any shoe covering.  Tried to get some winter-insulated cycling shoes unsuccessfully and now waiting for the arrival of shoes with less permeable material to the wind.  Three layers of cycling socks seems to work layering from thin ones first followed by medium weight and then a heavy weight. 

Head covering seems to work with a rain cap on the helmet and a medium heavy skullcap covering the very balding head and ears.  In the handlebar bag, various additional skullcaps of varying weight and a headband wait in anticipation of becoming additional layers as colder temperature takes effect.

Fingered gloves with the flexibility of a wind cover turning them into semi-mitts and liner gloves underneath seem to work.  The more cumbersome ski gloves have not been used yet.  Some cyclists seem to use those insulated gloves that are affixed to handlebars where their hands are place in bare or with liner gloves.

For the legs, thick fleecy cycling thighs under a heavy rain pants has worked so far.  Ready to put on another layer as I venture out into colder temperatures.

For the upper body, five layers seems to be what I need starting with a base layer, a second layer, a sleeveless vest with wind protection to a medium weight, full sleeve length fleecy, covered over with a heavy winter/rain Gore-Tex jacket with a beaver tail that can be let down for really heavy winds.









Bike Calgary logo is the property of the Commuter Cycling Bike Calgary Association
Unless stated otherwise, photographs are the property of the article author(s)
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2013
©H-JEH Becker, Velo., 2013