Quebec Residents “Winter Cycling” Despite Extreme Climate
"It's a bit dangerous, but it's not very complicated," said Valerie Lemieux, stopped on a bicycle path in downtown Montreal.
"You need a good pair of mittens, a hat and warm boots. And you need several layers of clothes," said the student, her face barely discernable beneath a scarf, earmuffs and a cycling helmet.
Some 200,000 Quebecers travel on two-wheelers in winter, including 50,000 in Montreal, according to the latest poll taken in 2005 by Cycling Quebec.
Due to its growing popularity, Montreal city officials have earmarked 70 kilometers (43 miles) of new cycling paths in its urban plan, to be opened by 2014 and added to its snow-clearing schedule.
Already, 30 kilometers (19 miles) of the "white network" - its official name - has been readied for use. It criss-crosses Montreal from its quietest neighborhoods to its hectic downtown.
Whether for a bit of exercise, to ease one's environmental footprint or for an adrenaline rush, the city's "snowbikers" are multiplying fast.
"You have more control over when you leave and when you arrive, it helps to keep you in shape and it's good for the environment," said Valerie Lemieux.
Isabelle Penelope rides her bicycle to bring her young daughter to school, as well as hurtle down winding paths of snowy Mont Royal on weekends. She said she likes the "extreme side" of snow-cycling best.
"I've fallen in a park with my daughter seated on the back. We slid on ice and I was hurt, but we dusted ourselves off and kept going," she laughed.
Mathieu Bomblet, gripping a hockey stick and skates and the handlebars of a mountain bike with busted brakes, chooses to cycle because he says public transit it is too slow and too expensive.
"It wakes you up in the morning," he said. "If you travel on roads, it's okay, but on sidewalks, it's more slippery."
"I have to use my feet to brake ... It's a bit daring, but that's also what makes it exciting," he said.
Not all winter cyclists in this province are as reckless, and most roll with specialized equipment for cycling in this extreme winter climate.
Certain bicycle manufacturers, notably Canada's Louis Garneau or US firm Surly, sell specialized winter bicycles and accessories.
The bikes boast studded tires to reduce skidding or fat tires (9.4 centimeters, or 3.7 inches wide) to cruise on top of snowpacks, and an enclosed gear-box to prevent rust caused by salt sprinkled on roads to melt ice.
"There was a lot of ice at the start of winter, everyone was falling over," said Christian Bisnaire, a Montreal sports equipment retailer.
"We sold out of studded tires, even our supplier ran out," he said.
Patrick Howe, spokesman for Cycle Quebec, praised municipal officials for opening up winter cycling paths. But he laments a snow removal policy that favors cars.
"Just before winter, municipal crews remove almost all street (racks) and we are left with no place to park and lock up our bikes," he explained.