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A Look at Winter Riding in Ottawa
By:  Andre Marchand   (2014/01/03)


This year is my first year living on the Ottawa side of the river, which has been very handy for reducing my daily commute time from home to Carleton University where I am attending school. Having lived on the Quebec side for all of my life, I had grown quite accustomed to the 30 plus minutes of driving to commute across the river to Carleton, and of course the other 30 plus minutes to get back home once classes were over. Now that I can ride my bike to class in less than 15 minutes, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back!


bike_runs_money_fat_car.jpg Reference[1]


A humorous argument in favor of commuting on a bike. Also, if you’ve had car troubles like me with all this cold recently, note that your bicycle will always start ;)


There are tons of advantages to commuting on a bicycle. Some of the big ones for me are saving money, saving time, and adding a short easy and refreshing workout to your day. Plus you rarely have to deal with traffic that slows you down, and you quite often get the satisfaction of passing motorist who are stuck in that traffic, making you feel like you made the right choice to ride your bike!


As mentioned, saving time is a big deal for me with my loaded skiing, school and work schedule, and riding a bike is way faster than driving, walking or even running from place to place. Obviously a car can go much faster than a bike, but its not everywhere that you can drive your car right up to the entrance. This is certainly not the case for the Carleton University campus that is well over a kilometer long from the main parking lot to the other end of campus. So once you have parked your car, you still have a good 10 minute walk to do before getting to your class. Conversely, I can ride my bike through the campus pathways right up to the entrance of my class and lock my bike there, moving significantly faster than anyone that is on foot, and saving time over those who had to drive, park, pay, and walk.


My commuter bike was given to me by XC Ottawa alumni Kyle Power, on the condition that I fixed the bike up to be just the right mix of performance and hipster. I think it looks pretty good, I would assume Kyle agrees.



We have all seen the price of gas lately that is steadily on the rise making it more and more expensive to fill up your car. My bike, seen above, costs roughly 200$ or less and is considered a perfect “beater” bike. It is called a “beater” because it will sadly be exposed to all the elements of riding (water, cold, rain, salt, etc) without much care or maintenance. This will obviously lead to rust build up, and therefore the bike should be considered disposable. It is however very important to have a safe bike, that has working brakes, wheels, and is not going to fall apart on the rider. Bikes are surprisingly tough and will typically continue to function even when they don’t look very good, but it is important to monitor the drivetrain, and all the components so that you replace parts before they become unsafe to ride.


Unlike your car, replacing parts is quite a bit less expensive for a bicycle. Even if you were to buy a new bicycle each year, for 400$ or less, it would be cheaper than running your car or even purchasing a bus pass for public transit. Not to mention other positive effects of exercise and reduced gas emissions for the environment.


The major disadvantage of riding is that your bicycle is not heated, so it is very important to dress appropriately. For winter riding I typically wear my podiumwear warm up pants and a winter jacket over top of my everyday clothes (usually jeans, t-shirt, hoodie, etc…), as well as the below gear that I find to be essential.



My Vauhti ski wax “Buff”, which is basically a multi-purpose scarf, if you don’t have one of these yet, you should definitely get one, they are super handy! This combined with my Fresh Air headband keeps my neck and head warm underneath my Rudy Project helmet (ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET! You never know what could happen!). Also, you need a pair of thick winter gloves or mitts to keep your hands warm in the wind. Finally, my Rudy Project glasses keep my eyes protected from any flying sand, salt, snow and cold wind that is trying to attack my eyes.


All dressed up for a -20 oC ride!


Another recommendation I have is to get cycle-cross tires. They are basically narrow knobby tires, as seen below, and are the closest thing to a winter tire for bikes. You can also get studded tires that are even better but it is important to keep in mind that you will still need to ride carefully in the snowy weather regardless of your tire choice.




The Ottawa bike paths are also very well maintained, and are usually cleared of deep snow, sanded and salted for pedestrians. The roads are also fine for riding on, as long as the cars around you are aware that they must share the road with cyclists. Most drivers are great, and the more cyclists there are on the road, the better the awareness for cyclists will be. It is important to be aware of the cars around you though, and to steer clear of any dangerous situations even if they aren’t your fault.


Hope to see you out on your bike this winter!


Andre M.


 Reference [1] http://stuartwalpole.blogspot.ca/2012/07/this-one-runs-on-fat-and-saves-you.html

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