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Cycling in Vancouver: Downtown Riding in the Winter

Cycling in Vancouver: Downtown Riding in the Winter

Interested in spending more time on your bicycle in 2012? Now that I have a couple of months of winter cycling in Vancouver behind me, here’s an update on my take on essential gear and some tips on surviving the ride.

Winter Cycling in Vancouver: The Gear

As I set out on my first ride in real Vancouver winter weather back in November, I decided not to wear waterproof pants. “How wet can I really get on a ten minute ride?” I wondered, like a fool. The answer is: very wet. Drenched, in fact. I arrived, sodden and freezing, at my destination, vowing to never do that again. When you’re cycling in Vancouver, waterproof pants are a must. I got mine at Mountain Equipment Coop, and now I won’t leave the house without them on a wet day.

I’m frugal, so I held out on getting shoe covers despite having had experienced cyclists tell me they were a must. “So what if my feet get a little wet? I can bring extra socks and shoes and change when I get there,” I thought, again like a fool. While this approach did work, I was pretty miserable with feet that never quite warmed up after my ride, and putting wet shoes on for the return trip was also less than ideal. Worst of all, after a couple of weeks, the running shoes I’d been wearing for cycling started to fall apart from all that moisture. I wasn’t exactly saving money by destroying perfectly good runners, so I caved and bought shoe covers. I’ve also found gloves to be essential to winter cycling in Vancouver, not so much from a drenching-prevention stance as from a so-cold-I-can’t-move-my-fingers perspective.

Make Yourself Visible

When you’re cycling in Vancouver in dark, wet weather, being seen is a huge concern. I’ve already talked about lights and how important they are. My hideous jacket of high visibility is okay for cloudy but dry days, but not waterproof enough for the average downtown Vancouver slog through winter rain. I already had a great rain jacket with vented armpits – a must for long rides where waterproof outerwear can cause unpleasant sweatiness – but it’s dark grey, which does nothing for visibility. To stand out, I picked up one of those obnoxiously bright reflective safety vests they wear on construction sites and road crews. It may not be pretty, but it makes me hard to miss. Or perhaps better stated in this case: easy to miss.

Five Safety Tips for Cycling in Vancouver

Five quick tips to increase your odds of arriving unscathed:

  1. Obey traffic laws. Don’t blow through red lights, don’t dart out in front of cars or pedestrians who aren’t expecting it.
  2. Learn the hand signals for left and right turns and use them. Letting drivers around you know what to expect is basic common sense.
  3. Stay off the sidewalks. For one thing, it’s against the law. For another, it’s rude, and makes the rest of us look bad. If you must go on the sidewalk, walk your bike.
  4. Don’t ride around with earphones in blasting music so loud other cyclists can hear it. You won’t know about the vehicle coming up behind you on your left if you’re too busy getting your groove on to hear it.
  5. Don’t assume drivers will give the cycling lane the right of way. Most do, some don’t. Make eye contact with the driver before making any move that takes you in front of a vehicle.

Most of these tips boil down to don’t be that guy. If you’re interested in cycling in Vancouver but unsure about how to navigate downtown streets, check out the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition and their Streetwise Cycling Courses.

Any essential tips I missed for winter cycling in Vancouver? Please let us know in the comments!

View Comment (1)
  • I work on a main bikeway in Vancouver and can’t count the number of times I’ve nearly been mowed down stepping onto the the sidewalk – so thanks for the reminder NOT to ride on the sidewalk (incidentally, that law varies from municipality to municipality. In Maple Ridge, cyclists are allowed on sidewalks, but must give way to pedestrians. In New West, kids are allowed to ride on sidewalks. Consult the Street and Traffic By-law of each municipality for guidelines).

    One pet peeve I’ve observed (on bikeways around work): people cycling and talking on cel phones (handsfree or otherwise). Come on people. Don’t do that. It’s just another form of distracted driving.

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