Crazy Copenhagen Cyclists

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 17, 2009

Wait, this can't be right.

Bikes in Copenhagen
Bikes in Copenhagen

Everybody knows that no one in their right mind would ride a bicycle in the snow. It's one of the many reasons we're always told why Hamilton could never be a truly bicycle-friendly city.

Bikes in Copenhagen
Bikes in Copenhagen

Next, you'll try to tell me some nonsense about how pedestrians prefer walking on two-way streets.

photos courtesy of Peter Ormond, who is in Copenhagen for the COP15 Climate Conference

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.


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By Average Toronto star commenter (anonymous) | Posted December 18, 2009 at 02:34:42

This will never happen in Canada! Denmark is a tropical paradise! I'm too fat, my children are too lazy, cyclists don't pay taxes!!

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By Uhh... (anonymous) | Posted December 18, 2009 at 11:44:21

It is December 18, 2009. Winter is officially only three days away and it hasn't really snowed yet in Hamilton. I'd go for a bike ride but the two-wheeler is stashed in the garage behind my snow tires and a case of windshield washer antifreeze.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted January 03, 2010 at 09:20:43

In all fairness to the nay-sayers, that ain't the kind of snow we're worried about here in Hamilton. The cold is inconvenient and snow as shown in the pictures can leave you damp and feeling chilly - but I still ride my bike to work in that kind of weather. But we have two problems that Copenhagen doesn't.

The first is killer snow ruts. Once you get enough accumulation to form ruts on the roads, a bike without studded tires becomes a death mobile - I've found myself lying on my side on the road too many times to try that again. Granted, after a day or three, the roads are clear enough to take my bike out again. Though I always run the risk of having to walk home if snow falls while I'm out.

The second problem is road salt. In both 2008 and 2009 I put my bike away to wait out a snow fall and went back a week later to find my chain orange with rust - completely orange. In a week. It takes a lot of care to keep a bike rust free when faced with the combination of clinging snow, salt and sunshine.

Anyone have any tips for winter-long biking?

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By LL (registered) - website | Posted January 03, 2010 at 18:13:23

Nylon balaclava under helmet, neoprine (or similar mat'l) face mask, tights under shorts, good windbreaker, good ski gloves.

Good to go.

Will be trying studded tires on my singlespeed snowbike - see how it goes.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 04, 2010 at 11:10:22

My commuting bike is a beater anyway, so I'm not that worried about wear and tear. (I go through a chain every three years or so.) I just buy a big bottle of winter chain grease (stays fluid at low temperatures) and re-apply regularly.

As for clothing: vinyl over-pants, winter coat (two-part, with removable inner fleece), tuque under helmet, scarf, skiing gloves. My bike also has splash guards (note to self: remember to replace front splash guard), which are well worth installing.

Finally: make sure you have a working white headlight (I just got an awesome white LED headlight from Downtown Bike Hounds), a working red taillight (note: by law your taillight must be solid red, not flashing), a working bell, horn or gong, and plenty of reflectors. I always wear a reflective vest as well - don't give 'em any excuse to pretend they couldn't see you.

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By KennethMoyle (anonymous) | Posted January 06, 2010 at 10:42:04

Ryan ... why the solid-red tail light? I generally set both my front and rear lights flashing since I think that it makes them more visible.

I'll have to look into winter chain grease - my usual white glop is rather hard to smear on in the winter.

I've settled on a knee-length over coat with a deep back vent for cold weather - the vent parts to allow my rear light to be seen and allows the fabric to rest over my thighs in front.

I'm still working on warm head gear - hat doesn't stay on when I'm hunched over the handle bars and a touque doesn't keep my ears warm. My eventual plan is to trade my hunched-down hybrid for a proper grown-up sit-up-and-beg bike, but I'm still saving my pennies for something decent.

I'll be interested to hear how the studs work out, LL. When I get my new bike, I might get a pair of studded tires for my current hybrid - but then again, I might also just walk :)

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By LL (registered) - website | Posted January 06, 2010 at 23:10:30


I'm telling you: nylon balaclava ("ninjaclava") underneath the helmet (or toque). It doesn't sound like much, but it works pro. You can get them at crappy tire or mountain equipment capitalists. On really cold or windy days, the neoprine mask and ski goggles go on and my whole head/neck area is encased except for breathing vents.

What I'm saying is synthetic fibres are a far better use of petroleum than gasoline. A good windbreaker or a good thick windcutter fleece, ski gloves, tights under shorts or rain pants (jeans pull at my knees). I dont even feel the cold even down to -30 with windchill.

Some bad news: I've just been doing some budgeting and I don't know if the studded tires are going to get a go this winter. Maybe in February or March.

Some general thoughts: I was riding to work the other day. It was a nice, still day. I was having a great time - exercise and transport all in one low cost activity. It takes me 15 min. to ride to work. I was watching people leave for work the whole time. A lot of people spent 15 min. just scraping and shovelling for their drive. A long distance, exurban commuter probably spends almost as much time outside on windy corners pumping gas than I do riding. Sucks to be them.

I love riding in the winter! You can go all out and barely break a sweat. No smog. No allergies. No sunburn.

Oh well. It'll catch on in time. The advantages of bicycle commuting are too obvious to succumb to cultural bias. Plus the economic structure - Fordism - that created that culture is a thing of the past. Plus peak oil is gonna bite.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 06, 2010 at 23:26:24

KennethMoyle wrote:

Ryan ... why the solid-red tail light?

I'm damned if I can find it anywhere online now, but I could have sworn I'd read that by law, the taillight must be solid red rather than flashing red. Anyway, the Highway Traffic Act reads:

When on a highway at any time from one-half hour before sunset to one-half hour after sunrise and at any other time when, due to insufficient light or unfavourable atmospheric conditions, persons and vehicles on the highway are not clearly discernible at a distance of 150 metres or less, every motor-assisted bicycle and bicycle (other than a unicycle) shall carry a lighted lamp displaying a white or amber light on its front and a lighted lamp displaying a red light or a reflector approved by the Ministry on its rear, and in addition white reflective material shall be placed on its front forks, and red reflective material covering a surface of not less than 250 millimetres in length and 25 millimetres in width shall be place on its rear. 2009, c. 5, s. 28 (1).

Like most traffic laws related to cycling, it doesn't specify much about the lights. On reflection I can't imagine any but the most belligerent, bloodyminded police officer on earth actually giving someone a hard time because their taillight flashes.

I'll have to look into winter chain grease

I just go into Pierik's in Westdale and ask for their winter chain lubricant.

I'm still working on warm head gear - hat doesn't stay on when I'm hunched over the handle bars and a touque doesn't keep my ears warm.

My tuque nicely covers my ears and my helmet holds it down. As for LL's comment:

I'm telling you: nylon balaclava ("ninjaclava") underneath the helmet (or toque).

Seconded. When it gets really cold, I wear my tuque and the nylon hood from my coat under my helmet, with a scarf wrapped around to stop cold creeping in under the collar.

By the way: some fecker just stole my brand-new white LED headlight today. (It actually makes a good flashlight.) Looks like another trip down to Bike Hounds to pick up a replacement. Fortunately they're not that expensive.

[Comment edited by Ryan on 2010-01-06 22:32:05]

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 06, 2010 at 23:34:01

LL wrote:

You can get them at crappy tire or mountain equipment capitalists.

Or McMaster Sports if you want to support a local independent.

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By RSK (anonymous) | Posted January 07, 2010 at 12:11:21

McMaster Sports sucks crap.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 07, 2010 at 13:44:07

They're not the greatest, but I got the impression from LL that they might be the lesser of 3 evils.

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By frank (registered) | Posted January 07, 2010 at 15:26:07

How about those bikes being ridden? They're parked aren't they? I loved riding in the snow. Best way to learn how to control a skid! :)

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