How to choose a winter bike with Winter Bicycles

By Dana Lacey


Fly fisher and pro photographer Rick Gersback uses his specially-made bike -- designed by Winter Bicycles' Eric Estlund -- to haul his gear all year round in his native Chicago.

Eric Estlund tackles every winter on two wheels: he’s the owner of custom bike shop Winter Bicycles in Eugene, Oregon, where the season is relatively mild but extremely icy. He's also clocked plenty of hours on wet Seattle and cold and snowy (and Toronto-like) roads in Salt Lake City and New Hampshire. As Torontonian cyclists braved the first blanket of snow over the holidays, dandyhorse senior editor Dana Lacey sat down with the bespoke bike builder in search of tips for conquering the season in style (and with minimal wipeouts).

We’re publishing the interview this week in two parts. First up: How to choose a winter-friendly bicycle. (Coming up later this week: Winterizing your ride and your wardrobe.) All the bikes pictured are rides Eric built.


Eric in his shop. Photo by Anthony Bareno

dandyhorse: Why bike in the winter?

Eric: Riding in the crisp air when other folks are heading in can be a great experience -- it doesn’t need to feel like punishment. Winter cycling retains all the utility of fair weather cycling, and with a bit of preparation and a few gear upgrades, it can be comfortable and safe. The name “Winter Bicycles” actually comes from this idea -- we build bikes that can work all year round and encourage people to not think of an “off season” from cycling. But don’t feel like it has to be all or nothing -- if it’s just too nasty out don’t be afraid to walk or bus for the day.

When designing a bike for winter use, what features do you consider?

When I’m designing a bike for year round use, I generally focus on the integration of a few specific systems -- room for appropriate tires, solid brakes, fender clearance (with room to pass road gunk) and lighting. When I’m building for a client I can design these elements to work seamlessly together to meet a rider’s specific needs.

These features are equally important as part of an integrated custom bike as they are when retrofitting your existing machine.

The perfect frame


Photo by Rick Gersbach.

While just about any bike can be pressed into service [for winter riding], I generally recommend something other than a strict sport road bike. For a winter specific set up, I really like fixed gear and internally geared bikes. The reduction in cables and external shifting components simplifies maintenance and helps keep snow and slush buildup to a minimum. The bike pictured above is the first one I did with my bilaminate head tube. It is a single/ fixed rando bike with a medium porteur style rack.

The right rubber

Tires are going to vary a bit based on the specific riding conditions, but generally speaking a modest width touring tire with a little lower pressure and a good puncture resistant belt is a safe bet. These tires balance good road grip with the ability to corner in slush. Mountain bike and cross tires can work well in snow, but if they pick up slush the tread can pack tight making them very slick. Similarly, studded tires can provide excellent grip on ice, but are slick on hard pavement. For the casual rider I recommend picking the tire suited for the conditions you are realistically going to ride in. For the more committed daily cyclist, it may make sense to have a couple of sets you can swap based on the day.

Strong stopping power


woman's cross race bike with mini V brakes (with internal routing). Photo by Tina Buescher.

Solid brakes are going to make stopping and modulating speed more precise. Disc brakes are great all-weather stoppers, and generally handle snow and ice well (Plus you don’t get any rim wear from road grime). Good rim brakes also work very well, and are less likely to freeze solid if you have to leave your bike outside. I recommend wet weather brake pads and a professional adjustment.

Fend off road grime


Photo by Rich Gersbach.

Full coverage fenders keep the road grime off of you, but they also help keep it off the mechanical parts of your bike. Make sure there is enough room for some snow build up -- I usually shoot for 10-15mm of clearance between the tires and fenders. If your bike won’t accept full coverage fenders (most will with a little creativity) then the varicose clip-on type will still be helpful in keeping you dry and comfortable. Pictured: This city bike combines the position and good looks of an English step through with the handling and performance of a modern race bike. This bike was built for a woman that loved her road race bike, but couldn't ride with weight on her hands post surgery.

Light 'em up


Photo by Anthony Bareno

Good lighting, front and rear, is essential to safe winter riding. Be it a gray day or just a shorter sunlight period, good lights help you see and be seen. I am a big fan of dynamo hub-based systems: they are proven in all weather conditions, provide ample light (especially when teamed with the newer LED lamps) and don’t have batteries to go dead or freeze. They can also be integrated into the design of the bike providing for a very clean set up (the stainless steel bike pictured above includes a Supernova E3 light. The system is internally wired through the fork, steering column and stem for a clean and low maintenance look). If you are opting for battery-powered lights I recommend the best you can afford. I generally recommend against the “blinky” class of lights -- for only a little more money one can purchase something with much better safety and utility. Don’t forget your tail light, and don’t skimp, either. In heavy rain, fog or just generally dark winter days, a bright tail light will make you visible to other road users.

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Mountain Equipment Co-op member offer

MEC members receive 15% off the regular subscription rate. Plus, we’ll donate 5% of your subscription price to Greenpeace Canada.

This offer is only valid for Mountain Equipment Co-op members who reside in Canada.

Go here now for the MEC member discount offer.

 

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Who was first past the post?

Uncovering the history of Toronto's unique bike rack design

By Tammy Thorne

This article originally appeared in Spacing Issue 7, Fall 2006.

After submitting the story, before publication, bike thieves had begun to crack the famed "lollipops"using two-by-fours -- and an explanatory sentence had to be added. Our dandy advice: always lock your bike so the thief can't ride away on it. Lock the wheel as well as the frame to the ring or post.

......

Who was first past the post?

"It's like taking the cherry off the sundae," says architect and designer David Dennis of Jack Layton's claim that the now federal NDP leader came up with the concept for Toronto's ubiquitous ring-and-post bike stand. Dennis tells me this as he holds a chunk of the original cherry-wood bike-ring pattern. "All I'm saying," says Dennis, "is that the concept, the 'ah-ha moment,' came over a drawing board rather than a bar table."

By now, the story of the sketch on a napkin, or the sweaty beer ring and swizzle stick, is the stuff of local urban legend. Regardless of the various incarnations of the tale, Layton says it was definitely that evening in the pub when the simple design was conceived.

"We had a window seat at Foster's pub, I remember it vividly," says Layton, who was cycling committee chair at the time. He and other cycling types had been discussing a news item about ticketing cyclists who locked their bikes to parking metres. The problem was that the bikes fell down and got in the way of cars. So, they came up with the idea of putting a ring on the metre post so cyclists could weave their chain locks through safely.

"I will give David Dennis full credit for designing it," Layton says. But he is steadfast, if magnanimous. "I have no interest in taking credit for it, but I certainly remember the discussion in the bar about 'how can we make a parking metre into a bike stand' it was a circle or ring or some shape on the metre — that was the concept."

And Dennis, who worked for the City's Urban Design Group from 1981 to 1990, gives credit to Layton when it comes to the popularity of the ring and post. "Jack Layton may have expedited it and can claim credit for its larger use."

The ring and post is, indeed, very popular. A fixture on Toronto streets for over 20 years, there are now over 16,000 ring and post stands on city sidewalks and up to 2,000 more sprout up each year. About $250,000 of the City's $3-million cycling budget goes toward cycling parking programs.

Maintenance of the rings is estimated at about $10,000 a year, which includes replacing entire stands, rings and straightening posts.

They are relatively cheap to make and easy to repair. Rings are about $40 each and are cast aluminum. The ring is attached using a tamper proof nut. (However, the recently exposed method of busting the ring-and-post with a two-by-four has exposed a potential flaw in the design.)

A hole is core-drilled into the sidewalk and the galvanized steel post is grouted in place. A City crew installs roughly half of the posts, and a contractor does the rest. Installation by contractors costs about $70 per stand.

Although the City never bothered to patent the design or keep track of the other cities or institutions it has given the design to since the first ring and post was installed in the Spring of 1985, it is safe to say the design is now used all over the world. (The City doesn't even charge the nominal fee it once did for use of the design.)

Dennis says that patenting the ring and post would have resulted in numerous time-wasting lawsuits. "As public servants, we operate in vacuo and credit is not assigned. It would be like patenting a manhole cover." Layton disagrees. "We should've put a patent on it — that was a big mistake. We could be taking one cent or ten cents for every one used. It was not our wisest move."

We may never know the nitty-gritty of who did what when, but what we do know is that this little piece of street furniture plays a large role in carving out a place for cyclists in the city.


Lock your bike so that thieves can't ride it away if they break the ring.

P.S. We need more bike parking in Toronto now!

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Updated BIXI Toronto map December 2011


The updated BIXI Toronto map shows stations relocated outside of the original service area. PDF

BIXI Toronto can now take you further.

A recent station shuffle, moving on-street stations off-street for snow clearance, has resulted in a service area expansion. This expansion includes stations in Koreatown (Bloor and Euclid), the Annex (Bloor and Brunswick), at Billy Bishop Airport (Queen's Quay and Bathurst), Cabbagetown (Parliament and Gerrard) and in the Distillery (on Trinity south of Front).

BIXI Toronto is available for use 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

For more information on the station relocations go here.

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Bike parking demand up, bike parking spots down


Photo by Tammy Thorne. dandyhorse questions the future of bike parking in Toronto.

Bike parking demand up, bike parking spots down

Roncesvalles the exception

Story by Tyler Wade

In the recent dandyhorse article Coralling business support for bikes by Fred Sztabinski we learned that bike parking is crucial for the success of local shops along major thoroughfares in the city.



Beautiful bike racks at Terrazza on Harbord. Photos by Christopher Kaiser

Then on St. Clair, very few of the bike racks that were uprooted for the TTC construction have been replaced.

Unfortunately, the same thing has happened after the Mink Mile redesign. Many a dandy has walked up and down this tony section of Bloor desperately trying to find a place to lock up their bike, searching in vain until it seems the valet parking at Pusateri’s might be the only option.

The elegant exception to the rule: Roncesvalles.

Lauded in this recent article in the New York Times, the Roncesvalles community made sure to make room for bikes in their beautification project.

After it’s recent re-do, including those made-in-Toronto “bumps-ups” for cyclists in front of TTC stops, and 165 of Toronto's iconic ring-and-post bike racks installed, the Roncesvalles BIA made things even jollier, by painting the ring and posts in bright colours.

Only problem: The new even-more-bike-friendly street is filling up with so many cyclists shopping and dining, the spots are gone too quickly to keep up with demand.

One solution: There’s new street furniture on Ronces where one can lock up their bike; the fancy new tree guards (and of course, the old standards; fences, sign posts, streetlights etc.)

The Roncesvalles BIA is encouraging cyclists to use the new tree guards to lock up to. The guards were installed specifically to ensure the health of the trees. They’re very sturdy, and already well used.


Photo by Tammy Thorne

John Bowker, parking and beautification chair for the Roncesvalles BIA said, “There has been a huge spike in the demand for bike parking in recent years. When we have counted, we have regularly found many more bikes parked along Roncesvalles than cars. Even though the BIA has more than doubled the bike parking capacity along the street, we still have not yet seen a plateau in demand.”

There have been requests for additional bike parking in specific sections of Roncesvalles by business owners and customers alike, but demand for bike parking is high everywhere on Roncesvalles...and in most parts of the city's core for that matter.

In a twist of fate only two-wheeling Torontonians could fully appreciate, our city’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) recently put in place legislation that seems contrary to these good neighbourhood initiatives.

This is the exact wording below from proposed amendments to Municipal Code Chapter 441 and 743 re: use of Streets and Sidewalks:

P. No person shall, without prior authorization from the General Manager, chain, lock or otherwise attach any article or thing to a waste receptacle, streetlight, parking meter, utility pole, transit shelter, fence, tree or any other municipal property or authorized encroachment that is located in a street, and any article or thing that remains attached for more than 24 consecutive hours may be removed by the General Manager and disposed of pursuant to Article XVIII.

Many of the city’s bylaws still exist from before amalgamation and are now in the process of being “harmonized.” The city is apparently now working on a rewording of this harmonized and amended version of the bylaw.

Basically, the purpose of this bylaw amendment is to allow for the removal of “things” like shopping carts, A-frame signs, and yes, derelict bicycles; but not bicycles in “good working order”. It should also be noted that the city is not adding any staff to expand its level of clean up. They typically do a big clean up of derelict bikes in April. The city also takes complaints from people requesting a bike removal and the protocol is to tag the bike, wait a week and if it’s no one’s claimed it, staff will remove it.


Is this "thing" legally locked under the newly amended bylaw? Photo by Tammy Thorne

City staff claim this does not mean there will be a reduction in bike parking spots but the reality is that bike racks aren't being installed apace with the growing number of cyclists in the city, nor are they being replaced after street construction projects. The amended bylaw seems to be adding insult...

Overall, the city is undergoing some big changes in their bylaws in an effort to amalgamate all the different municipalities rules into one.

You can view them all here.

You can order ring and post lock ups for your street here. And remember, if you are driving, don't park in the bike lane.

Photo by Christopher Kaiser.

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