Tuesday, January 31, 2017


It was a sleety sort of day last week, and I was on my way to work. At the corner of Heron and Bank there was a car whose driver had apparently managed to smash into the corner of a payday loan place - the cops were on scene and traffic was a little backed up. I skipped the intersection by ducking through a parking lot. A little further along, as I got to the canal, I saw that all traffic on Colonel By was being redirected up Clegg. The police officer on site said, "Nothing big, there's just an accident further down." I remarked that it was the second one I'd seen that morning. "People don't slow down for the conditions," he said. I remarked that I was glad I wasn't in a car; my studded tires seemed to be working just fine. "You're braver than I am," he said as I crossed to the canal path.

(Apparently, I'm braver than a person whose job involves guns. And angry people.)

Today, as he was bagging up my purchases, a cashier saw my helmet. "Did you bike here?" he asked. (One of these days I'll start thinking of snarky answers to that. "No, my helmet just gets really depressed if I leave it home all day." "No, I'm cosplaying Bruce Banner from the Ang Lee Hulk film." "No, I'm beta testing a prototype pedestrian helmet.")

But I said, like I usually do, "Well... yeah."

"Brave woman," he said. I laughed it off. "It's actually really nice today," I said. "Nice and cold, pavement's dry, no ice."

"Well, you're braver than me," he said. "Have a good night."

I got the bags into my panniers and unlocked my bike and headed for home. I got on the elevator to find a man and an adorable young poodle mix already on it: I squished the bike on with them, and proceeded to let the dog lick my hand, scruffle her ears, and chat with her human for eight floors. As he was getting off, he said, "Have a good night."

"You too," I said.

"And you're really brave," he said, gesturing to the bike, as the doors closed. I laughed, and said "Thanks, I guess?"

This here is Brave.
So I got home and unzipped my gaiters thinking, Am I brave? I certainly don't feel brave. I just get up in the morning and get on my bike because it's faster than the bus, it's nicer than the bus, it's warmer and less frustrating than waiting for the bus, I get fresh air and sunshine and exercise and arrive alert at work and I save money and aggravation. But I keep having this conversation. "You biked here? Good for you! I'm so impressed that you ride in the winter." People who have known me for years still sometimes manage to look surprised when I show up with a bike helmet hanging off my arm in January.

This is brave.
And I'm not going to lie, it is kind of nice to be told, on a near daily basis, that you are brave. Who doesn't want to feel like a badass sometimes? (I even keep it in my back pocket for arguments with anti-bike people who tell me it's "stupid" or "crazy" to ride in the winter: "Well, just because you don't have the stones to do it....") But I also have a problem with the constant "hardcore winter biker" narrative. No one says, "You walked here? In this cold? Wow, you're brave." It's up there with the insistence on helmets, as though biking is somehow far more dangerous and reckless than walking or driving, and therefore requires special safety equipment. That just perpetuates the idea that it's not a thing just anyone can do, it's a "high-risk activity."

And this is brave.
I usually try to walk it back when people start with the courage stuff. "It's not really that much harder than riding in the summer," I say. "It's no big deal. Really, it's actually warmer than walking because you get moving and your temperature goes up. No, I've never seriously wiped out. Yes, I have special tires. No, they're not those big fat tires, you need a whole new very expensive bike for those. Yes, I just have regular size tires. They're fine." It doesn't usually seem to convince them. "But what about ice on the roads? And shitty drivers?" they say.

"You learn what different kinds of ice look like and how to ride on them," I say. "And there are shitty drivers all year, everywhere."

Really, I want to say, if the streets were cleared with bikes in mind, and if roads were built with us in mind, and if people didn't assume that you have to be an Avid Cyclist (TM) to ride in anything but perfect summer weather, riding in the winter would be no different than riding in the summer (with the exception of the toque, scarf and mittens, of course).

And come on, Canada. If you keep framing actually being outside in the winter as bravery, what does that say about most Canadians, who admittedly live in a pretty cold place for several months of the year? It was about 15 below today. That's not really that cold. If you consider it an act of courage to spend longer than a few minutes outside in that, well, you're missing out. You're missing out on the tingly feeling in your cheeks, the sight of your breath, the feel on snowflakes on your cheeks, the experience of ice in your eyelashes, the rush of warmth that moves through your fingers as you start to warm up on a hill, the quiet dark winter nights when the roads are covered in a thin layer of snow and everything's silent, the sense (to quote Moby-Dick, which I do) of feeling "like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal."

(And, if I'm being perfectly honest, you miss out on occasionally having total strangers tell you that you're a badass.)


  1. I live vicariously through you, o brave one!

  2. It's not just winter. About six years ago this "brave thing" started.
    One day a few years ago after biking down a quiet neighbourhood greenway, then on a protected bike lane to another neighbourhood greenway which led to the bar, a friend told me that I was "very brave".