Is biking in the winter possible in Saskatoon?

By in Opinions
A swarm of bicycles at the Hike, Bike and Roll event.

One year ago, when I first moved to Saskatoon, I was told to look into buying a bike. This intention didn’t last for long. As an Ecuadorian — who is used to temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius — the first signs of fall were enough for me to abandon all plans to ever bike in this city.

I didn’t go to this year’s Hike, Bike and Roll event expecting to change my opinion. The annual event “encourages active transportation — using your human power — to get around,” and past experience  had led me to think that my “human power” did not extend to me being able to pedal around in a Canadian winter. However, I learned I might have been wrong about my limitations.

I met John Mainhart, owner of Bike Universe, at the event. We had a lovely chat about the possibility of biking in less than ideal climates, and he validated my concerns without abandoning his pro-bike stance.

“I think Saskatoon is one of the coldest places in the world where people bike — when bikes are being designed in northern California, those guys aren’t thinking, ‘Oh, we gotta think of Saskatchewan,’” Mainhart said. “So there are some challenges, but we have a good biking community and everything you need to get started.”

For people who, like me, are new to the logistics of living in cold climates, Mainhart suggests getting in touch with more experienced cyclists.

“You can use Facebook to ask people who’ve biked in the winter before for suggestions, [and] you can also come by the shop, and we’ll give you some tips,” Mainhart said. “You have to have some money saved to [ride in winter], but Saskatoon has always been known as a winter biking community.”

On the topic of money, I asked Mainhart about the start-up cost of biking in the winter. Like most undergraduates at the U of S, I have a U-Pass and can use the bus unlimitedly after paying my student fees. Mainhart agreed that the bus would be the best financial option for students, but we discussed that buying a bike can be an investment for those with travel needs that the bus can’t satisfy.

“There’s obvious health benefits, but it’s also cheaper than [most] forms of transportation. We have bikes starting at $500, and winter tires are about $80 per tire,” Mainhart said. “If you are here for four years, it’s an investment.”

There’s nothing more common for university students than staying up late at the library or hanging out with friends, and this has led to me missing the last bus home a few times now that I’m living off-campus. Walking alone at night doesn’t feel like the safest option, and taking a taxi is too expensive to make it a habit.

My conversation with Mainhart made me think that biking may be the answer I’ve been looking for. If there’s other people who do it and there’s resources to help me get started, how bad can it be? I’ll stick to the warm comfort of the bus when I can, but in the meantime, I’ll put buying a bike back on my to-do list.