Believe it or not, there are benefits to biking in the winter. Yes, it’s cold, windy and the lack of sunlight is depressing at the best of times. Even though old man winter makes it tempting to close the blinds and turn up the heat, I encourage you step outside, mount your bike and ride off into the 3:30 p.m. sunset.
This year will be my third winter on two wheels. I started out as a fair-weather cyclist but when the snow rolled around, I was encouraged by some friends to give winter biking a try. I haven’t looked back since.
Sure, there have been difficult moments — like wading through three-foot high snow drifts, wiping out in front of dozens of people and uncontrollable helmet hair, but I assure you that the advantages of winter cycling outweigh all of these minor challenges. While it may seem like there are more reasons to send your bike into hibernation for the winter, consider these five benefits to braving the cold and cycling year-round.
1. Exercise is the easiest selling-feature of winter cycling. For me, biking at a speed of 20 kilometers per hour for 20 minutes burns 163 calories, according to bicycling.com. While this doesn’t seem like much, keep in mind that this calculator does not take into account many of the factors that come into play when good old winter is involved.
For example, wind resistance, increased air density caused by cold temperatures, tire resistance on snow and ice and the weight of your bike and possible cargo — such as a backpack full of textbooks — all affect the amount of energy required to pedal from point A to point B. All of these elements make for a more physically demanding, but rewarding, commute.
2. This increased energy output has one major benefit: energy input. With the holiday season just around the corner, winter cyclists can eat two, maybe three helpings of their favourite dish without worrying about when they’re going to find time between dinner parties and shopping to hit the gym. Why yes, I would love another sugar cookie, thank you.
3. Biking in the winter is a great way to combine your 20-minute cardio routine with your 20-minute commute. Not only are you saving workout time, you can save on travel time, too. Many people who bike in the winter will agree that it takes more time to wait for the bus, ride the bus and walk to your destination from the bus stop than it does to hop on your bike. Let’s not forget that your bike is always ready to go. There is no need to worry about scheduling for the last departure from Place Riel when you have your trusty bike to take you home.
4. Winter biking is also a great way to save money. When biking replaces driving, you save money on parking costs on campus and throughout the city. Not surprisingly, you also save gas money when you don’t use your car! For those who decide to go all-out and sell their cars in favour of year-round biking, they save on the initial purchasing costs, insurance, oil changes and general maintenance. As anyone who owns a car will tell you, these expenses can add up.
5. And finally, biking is good for your mental health! When winter infiltrates our lives and the lack of light gets me down, biking is the number one way to lift my spirits. Staying active is the best medicine when stress and sadness start to creep in. When the strain of assignments and exams hits, it is especially important to focus on self-esteem. When I bike to school in the winter, I feel a sense of accomplishment when I reach my destination. The day has barely begun, but I’ve already crossed something challenging off my list. It’s a great feeling.
Now that I’m in the habit of biking during the winter, it doesn’t feel like a chore. I look forward to my 20-minute commute as a time when I can prepare for the day ahead or unwind after a busy day of classes and work.
So get out there and give it a try. Even if you ride your bike once this winter, that is something to be proud of. Be warned, once you get a taste of the benefits of cycling year round — you won’t want to stop!
Photo: Caitlin Taylor / Photo Editor