Around Christmas time last month, we had some unseasonably warm weather here in Ottawa. I believe we even reached 5 or 6 degrees at one point (about 43 degrees Fahrenheit). These above average temperatures helped melt away most of the snow and ice that had accumulated in late fall, which meant that we had a pretty “green” Christmas as opposed to the snowy white Christmases that we are used to here in Canada. Even the ground had thawed out and had become soft again, but most importantly, the bike paths were snow-free again.
However, this wonderful weather didn’t last and the cooler air brought back those seasonal temperatures. Let’s fast forward to January 2nd. It hadn’t snowed much since that warm spell and the roads were still clear of snow. I had a few food items to buy that morning and I was debating on which mode of transportation I should use to get to the grocery store as I ate my breakfast. I didn’t have access to a car that particular day so I only had two choices: the bus or the bike. Cycling would usually be out of the question at this time of year. I know there are people in Ottawa who do ride regularly in the winter but not too many. Cycling in Canada during the winter is definitely possible if one is dressed properly and rides carefully, but I usually put the bike away when Jack Frost comes nipping.
Since it was a bright and sunny that day, I decided to take the bike out for a spin despite the fact that the weather channel announced a cooler high of minus 8 for the day (about 17 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s without the wind chill by the way. One of the reasons I chose the bike was because time was on my side. I was still on Christmas break and I didn’t have much else to do that day except see a few friends later on. This meant I could take as much time as I needed. Since there was no rush, I didn’t have to pedal hard and I could just enjoy the ride. If the winds would get too unbearable, I knew I could just slow down. Also, I had never gone for a bike ride in January before, so I thought it would be interesting to try something new.
The ride was quite pleasant, but I did dress warmly. I wore three layers under my jacket, a pair of gloves, some warm socks, a skull-cap under my helmet and a balaclava. I also used a pair of cheap sunglasses to protect my eyes so they wouldn’t tear up. At times, the chilly winds did get to me a little depending on which direction I was going which, but all in all, I really enjoyed the experience.
Riding my bike made me think of a few things that day:
- First of all, if you have the time, the weather is nice and your destination isn’t too far away, why not use to your bicycle to get to where you have to go? I say bicycle, but you might have a skateboard, a pair of inline skates or an electric scooter lying around. Using a mode of transportation that allows you to take in some fresh makes you feel a little happier. We also spend quite a bit of time indoors and we breathe in a lot dust and other particles. The clean air from a bike ride will help clean out all those impurities out of your lungs. Lastly, cycling keeps you lean and increases your stamina. (Obviously, you don’t get that benefit with an electric scooter.)
- Aside from the health benefits, cycling also encourages social interaction which can increase your quality of life. I didn’t bump into someone on that particular day, but I occasionally do see a friend or an acquaintance around while I’m out riding, especially during the summer months. If more people rode their bikes whenever they could instead of always being cooped up in automobiles, we would run into familiar faces more often and maybe even stop and have a chat with them for a few minutes. And if you don’t feel like talking to anyone or if you’re in a rush, you can always just keep pedaling.
- Furthermore, I forgot how accessible bicycling really was. It’s such a simple yet pleasurable activity that many of us did a lot of when we were younger. Why? Because, riding a bike is inexpensive and relatively easy to do.
- Finally, riding your bicycle could potentially change the spaces around you. Hypothetically, if we all started riding our bikes, we would probably not need the huge parking lots that we see today in front and around our shopping malls. Those unused lots could be used to create parks and green spaces, which would in turn also increase our quality of life. I found this far-fetched but intriguing idea in a short documentary made by Vélo iBike, a bicycle shop that has built their own fixed gear community in the city of Montreal.
Admittedly, the car is still very useful and it would be pretty hard to change our mentality, especially here in Canada, where the average household owned 1.47 vehicles in 2009 according to Natural Resources Canada. Personally, I have nothing against driving and I realize that owning a vehicle makes life so much easier. I actually believe that it is absolutely necessary to own a vehicle if you live in the suburbs because everything is so far away, at least in my part of the world. Still, I would like to see society cycling a little more whenever possible because having more people on bikes could help build better communities. Don’t you agree?
In any case, I leave you with a few photos I took on that fine day.