Storm Imogen is currently slamming the south-east of the UK and if another brews it’ll be called Jake. Such stormy conditions might not seem conducive to cycling but skin’s waterproof, there’s no such as bad weather just the wrong clothing, and even a wet and windy cycle commute is still often quicker than a warm, dry car commute.
Such positive thinking is the reasoning behind the Winter Bike to Work Day set for this coming Friday. The promotional event was started in Canada but is now global (of course, it’s currently summer in the southern hemisphere). This is the fourth year for the event and new for this year is a Winter Bike to School Day, also set for February 12th.
Both events are promoted via social media, and can be hooked up to by any organisations as well as individual cyclists. Participants pledge to ride to work or school on Friday no matter what the weather, and can leave messages or advice to others thinking of doing the same. A cyclist in Lincoln wrote: “My cycle to school was hilly. I did it year round as it was the easiest way to get there. It was tough when I started but as I kept going it got easier and the sense of achievement I felt each time I rode was great. I was able to say to myself, ‘I did that’.”
To date there are just a handful of cyclists who have so far pledged from the UK with London in the lead with 23 pledges. Zagreb in Croatia is leading the pledges with 382 of the city’s cyclists signed up so far.
The event was created by Anders Swanson. He’s no stranger to cycling in winter weather – he lives in Winnipeg, Canada.
BikeBiz contacted Swanson and asked him about his motivations for creating the event.
BIKEBIZ: Why did you create Winter Bike to Work Day?
SWANSON: It was the result of passionate people around the globe. I certainly didn’t create it on my own. While I have run the technical side of things (and now with a lot of help from my younger brother), I don’t take credit for making it work. For instance, there were a few cities in the US that had been having a "Winter Bike to Work Day" of their own for some time. I just took the general idea of a winter event, and since we had to make a website for Winnipeg anyway, decided to make it easy for the world to join us, so that we could all talk about it.
The actual events that happen in cities around the globe are all planned on the ground. We get to find out about it and learn what others are up to. Everyone is encouraged to share their plans widely and take lots of pictures. Some of the best ideas start to travel really fast. People who make their posters, buttons, animated short films, fashion shoots, creative ideas. Those are the event’s real creators. There is some amazing awareness-raising and promotional work coming out of places like Finland, Croatia, Montreal, Calgary. We’re just trying to make everyone’s job a little easier in the winter. Cycling advocates don’t normally function on the budget that, say, Ford Motor Company does, so we need to work together.
People got tired of hearing that cycling in the winter was somehow inherently hard or abnormal or some reason not to create connected cycling networks everywhere. We knew that it was extremely common in a number of places, and perfectly normal in principle. What we saw was happening was simply that not every city "gets it". We needed to dispel some myths and focus on doing the actual simple work of building year-round bike-friendly cities.
Even in the UK for example, I am sure you will hear that the rain is some sort of barrier to cycling as transportation. But look at the Netherlands – a few kilometres across the Channel – and you have clear evidence that cycling year round is no big deal.
BIKEBIZ: What are stats for participants in year one compared to year 3 and for this year coming up, too?
SWANSON: The very first year, we had a few hundred people saying they would ride in a handful of cities and we thought that was wonderful. Winnipeg won, of course. By the third year, we were at 10,000 people and more than 100 cities, and Winnipeg got deservedly trounced by a smaller city in Finland where 12 percent of all trips in the winter are done by people on bikes of all ages.
This year, we have people committing in more than 400 cities, each one acting as an ambassador to others nearby. We are nearing 5000 for 2016 as I answer this.
Every year, the results changes by the minute right up until the final hour. The event tends to explode in the last week. Once the day nears and people really start to talk about it, commitments skyrocketing and our server starts to feel it. This event will never reflect the actual number of people riding in the winter.
With schools involved this year, anything can happen. There are more kids under 16 riding to school in Finland this morning than the total of adults that have ever signed up to our little event over the years. Think about that for a second.
We are collecting really important data. And even schools without kids biking should sign up just to start collecting data. What is measured gets managed.
BIKEBIZ: It’s winter in the northern hemisphere, but not the southern. Are there any plans to do two days to take account of this?
SWANSON: Ha! Good point. We’ll see. Its already gotten to be a lot to handle. Copy-pasting the Cyrillic alphabet without missing pieces and translating the site into all kinds of Nordic languages is tricky enough as it is. I feel like I haven’t slept since December.
It depends on the demand, I guess. I am not sure that winter cycling it is such a pressing point of discussion in the south. Maybe for the myths about cycling in the rain? I don’t know. And season aren’t the same every where.
I do know that for us northern people determined to talk about cycling as transportation, we needed to talk about winter, so we are. Australia and Africa may even have other myths to dispel. Maybe Australia needs to work on getting rid of their mandatory helmet law first?
Each snowflake on the map contains a little story. This year, we are asked for a little advice one might give to a young person to inspire them to ride to school in the winter. The results are amazing. Absolutely amazing. Opening up snowflakes is very addictive. There are some beautiful and downright poetic stories full of human emotion and respect and wonder for winter and the chance to be outside. That’s what this is all about. So yeah, maybe we will eventually have to do one in June, or places like Brazil, South Africa and Australia.
We will have more news from the Winter Bike to Work Day later in the week.