Slush Puppies

Tanya takes on a wintery Queen Street West. Photo courtesy of Spacing.

** In anticipation of our Winter Web Issue we're looking back at past winter cycling articles by our dandy team.

Slush Puppies

by Tammy Thorne

Originally published in the National Post on February 16, 2008

Torontonians are reputed to be whiners when it comes to weather. But, as Canadians, we are better known for our innate drive to conquer the elements. It is in our bones, part of our history. A robust people who embrace our northern landscape in all its inclement glory, we refuse to be kept inside by a simple snow squall.

A typical Torontonian is more likely to be injured teetering along in a pair of fashionable boots on an icy sidewalk than riding a bike to work. Yet winter cyclists in the city are met with mixed reactions that range from amusement to disbelief to hostility. Studded tires cost about the same as a pair of cute boots, but you don't need them for winter city cycling. So then if not studded tires -- and besides a kind of rugged and patriotic disposition -- what do you need to become a winter cyclist?

Derek Chadbourne, bike mechanic and owner of the reputable shop The Bike Joint, has been a winter cyclist for 21 years. He says the three most common misconceptions about winter cycling are: "It's too cold, too dangerous and you need big studded tires. Untrue!" All you really need are good gloves, warm layers and fenders, he says, emphasizing the latter. "Do not skimp on coverage, because there is nothing more unattractive than a big brown stripe up your backside."

Long-time winter cyclists Tanya Quinn and Brandon Zagorski swear by their wind and waterproof gear. Quinn, an IT manager, says her rain pants do the trick to keep slush off "Staying fit, having fun and efficient travel" are the main reasons why she bikes in winter, plus, she says, "It's easy to find a spot on the bike rack." But she laments the city's dismal snow clearing attempts. "Snow accumulates at the sides of the road so you have to take space in the middle. Some drivers don't respect that. Few bike lanes are usable -- that is, cleared -- during winter. Instead, they are used as snow repositories by the ploughs."

Tanya's wind and waterproof gear keeps the wet out. Photo courtesy of Spacing.

Zagorski also cites a shrinking share of the road as the biggest challenge. Side streets narrowed by snow accumulation create situations that are "too close for comfort" when he is towing his child in a bike trailer behind him. On the upside, he notes that motorists drive slowly during winter.

Lack of road space can be even more dismaying for new winter cyclists. Keegan Barker and Deborah Adams say that snow in bike lanes does make an otherwise exhilarating commute more challenging. As to how she got started, Barker points to unreliable public transit as a factor in her decision to switch a few years ago. "Transit took about one hour in the winter. Biking took 20 minutes. The bus was smelly, while the air was crisp. The bus was soggy, while with the right gear, I was dry and warm," she says.

Adams, a mother of two, started this year because it was the most logical choice. "I changed jobs and am now so close it just makes sense. Even in bad weather, I get to work more quickly than I would on the streetcar or in my car. And, when I ride to work, I inevitably arrive in a much better mood than I would have if I had taken the TTC."

Besides the obvious timesaving and mood-enhancing effects of biking, winter cyclists can also feel good about doing their part for the environment. This is especially relevant for short trips since a large amount of a car's pollutants are emitted as it starts up. This big slug of dirty exhaust is inevitable during "cold starts," therefore cars have a much greater relative emission amount per kilometre for short trips.

If winter cycling conditions are going to improve (weather aside), a change in social attitudes may be what is needed most. Doug Manuel, senior scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and associate professor in the department of public health at the University of Toronto, is a 12-year winter biking veteran and presents evidence that change is possible.

"Social attitudes, or norms, toward bike transportation can change -- no question. Look no further than what recently happened in Paris with smoke-free restaurants -- not to mention that huge bike-share program. In our report, we would say they have incredible leadership, but also note the changing attitude of populations." Manuel refers to a report by the ICES studying how leading jurisdictions encourage healthy behaviour in their populations.

There's no getting around snow as a physical barrier for cyclists, but other than clearing bike lanes, the feasibility of winter biking may come down to a change in attitudes. Luckily for Toronto, we really only have to adjust our attitude for about three months of the year.

If you've been stuck in traffic in recent weeks, you've probably noticed the only people getting anywhere fast are cyclists. Keen to give up the four-door for two wheels? Here are some tips for giving winter biking a go.



Lights: Lots of lights, front and back. LEDs are bright and long-lasting.

Fenders: May need to adjust them to make room for snow build up on tires.

Gloves: Most popular are Lobster Mitts (available at Mountain Equipment Co-op.) Anything warm will work!

Windproof outer layers: Jacket should be a windproof and breathable outer layer that preserves heat. The ideal bottoms are wind and waterproof rain pants ($30 to $50 at MEC).

Head and ear coverage: Thin balaclava or earmuffs work well with a helmet, or the classic Canadian toque.

Boots: "Overbooties" slip over shoes like a dream and may even work better than wool socks at keeping your feet warm. (PS Wear wool socks!)

Plastic bags: Good for seat cover, waterproofing panniers or substandard footwear.

Clean or alternate bike: Clean your bike after winter rides or buy a cheap "beater" bike for winter use.


Ice: Do not brake. Pedal and/or steer straight. Be aware that there may be ice under snow or black ice anywhere on uneven pavement. Lower tire pressure helps on bumpy road conditions, such as frozen snow ruts, and also increases traction. Studded tires are useful if you do a lot of ice biking.

Wet pants: Fenders are a must, and in combination with rain pants, you'll be dry as a whistle.

Frozen lock: Buy lock de-icer or try adding a drop of oil to prevent freezing. (Some pour boiling hot water over frozen lock but if it's really cold, that water will just freeze again.)

Impatient motorists: Stay calm and confident. Be aware that all traffic must use caution due to winter road conditions. Ride in a straight predictable line. Take the lane. Be visible. Be aware.

Frozen eyelashes: Use goggles or glasses, and perhaps waterproof mascara.



Note from Tammy: I began my "research" for this story by talking with other winter cyclists back when I was a blogger for Spacing and I Bike TO. During the winter of 2007/8 I posted a series of profiles on the wonderful creatures known as winter cyclists… the photos in this blog post are from this Spacing post with my pal Tanya Quinn: aka Crazy Biker Chick. Brandon was also an inspiration for winter cyclists and this National Post story. The original photos of Tanya and Brandon that appeared in the National Post can be seen here.

The City of Toronto has a winter cycling tips page too.

dandyhorse will launch our first winter web issue this February with cross-Canada winter cyclist profiles that focus on gear.

We'll be posting lots of winter cycling stories and photos on our site from now until then too. Next up on our dandyBLOG: winter cycling tips for first timers.

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dandy winter web issue

dandyhorse magazine is pleased to announce our first ever winter web issue!


We’re focusing on gear – what to wear, how to wear it and why winter cycling is fun for everyone.

And we mean EVERYONE!

We’ve gone across Canada and beyond to create a great collection for our Bike Spotting files, where we’ve asked cyclists cities across the country what they wear to get around during the drearier months. Cycling makes you feel better – the exercise, the breeze on your knees, the money still in your pocket book for that after work beer (which you’ll be enjoying sooner than those who drive home in gridlock) Well, there are just so many reasons to keep it on two wheels all winter long and we wanted to show you how many different people are able to do it with ease.

We’re kicking it all off with an Ice Race photo essay from senior dandy Dana Lacey.

We also have:

- photos by Rebecca Baran of rookie courier Ian “Ginger” Christianson about what it’s like to work outside on your bike all winter long
- Photo fashion feature by John Lee with Thieves boutique and art bike by Mark Charlebois
- a feature on global warming and cycling by new dandy contributor Todd Aalgaard with a fresh illo by super dandy Dave Murray
- a feature on best practices in bike lane snow clearance by another fresh dandy, Tyler Wade with photos by Tino Ries and more!
- Plus; the original “Sweater Bike” by Toronto artist Janet Morton

We also have the regular dandy features you’ve grown to love: Heels on Wheels (with Laurie Featherstone) and the Doctor’s Note (with Dr. Chris Cavacuiti, as always) AND MUCH MORE!

Thanks to ALL of our sponsors and supporters for helping us promote our first winter issue by hanging our winter web poster in their shops – and for helping make’s first year online a great success! Thank you to Featherstone 2 Wheels Green Delivery for local deliveries.

dandyhorse magazine is available free to customers of these sponsor shops:

The Big Carrot 348 Danforth Ave
The Toronto Cyclists Union Centre for Social Innovation - Annex
720 Bathurst Street, Suite 300
The Cycle Shoppe 630A Queen St. West
Cyclemotive 156 Bathurst Street
Hoopdriver Bicycles 1073 College Street
Mountain Equipment Co-op 400 King St. West
Steamwhistle Brewery 255 Bremner Blvd.
Sweet Pete's 1204 Bloor St. West
517 Bloor St. West
Urbane Cyclist 180 John St.
Liberty Cyclery 171 East Liberty St., Toronto
Curbside Cycle 412 Bloor Street West, Toronto

Purchase the latest issue of dandyhorse at these fantastic retailers:

All Book City locations in Toronto! 501 Bloor Street West, (416) 961-4496
348 Danforth Ave., (416) 469-9997
1950 Queen Street East, (416) 698-1444
1430 Yonge Street, (416) 926-0749
Another Story 315 Roncesvalles Ave.
Art History* 1080 Queen St. West
Good Catch* 1556 Queen Street West
The River Trading Company 1418 Queen St West
(416) 452-6727
She Said Boom* 393 Roncesvalles Ave.
Merchants of Green Coffee
2 Matilda Street
Also find Merchants with copies of dandyhorse
at Evergreen Brick Works Farmers' Market Saturdays from 8am - 1pm.
Method Lab* 148 Augusta Ave.
Swipe Books On Advertising and Design* 401 Richmond Street West
Toronto Women's Bookstore 73 Harbord Street
Type Books 883 Queen Street West
427 Spadina Road
Sweetpea's 163 Roncesvalles Avenue
BikeSauce* 235 Broadview Avenue

* These retailers have a limited selection of back issues available for purchase. Order back issues online here.

Share this poster! Print off the full-size version (PDF) and hang it in your shop, office, or anywhere!Our beautiful poster art was created by new dandy Jody Hocs. He's had his current bike for 5 years now and that's a long time for a bike in Toronto because of theft and vandalism, so he keeps his bike looking gritty but in good working order. Jody chooses riding a bike most of the time because I makes him feel good, and it's cheap and simple to maintain.

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dandyARCHIVE: Ramped Up

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Bike Spotting Special

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From the days of the dandyhorse: the skirt lifter

A Victorian Velo-loving lady’s best friend: the skirt lifter

Item 2 in the series:

How we got here: from the days of the dandyhorse

Since 1967, Lorne Shields has developed a detailed knowledge of bicycle history and his collection is now considered a national treasure. In the 1980s, he donated a portion of his collection, including 42 world-class bicycles, to the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, Ontario. Item 1 from this series - the Big Jug - can be found here.

Some of the items that remain in Lorne’s possession will be shared here in our series: How we got here…

Item 2: The Skirt Lifter

Skirt LiftersThree skirt lifters from the collection of Lorne Shields. Details below.

What is it?


One of the dandiest cycling accessories ever invented for the wheel woman: The skirt lifter.

All of the skirt lifters featured here are made in England and were commonly used by female cyclists during the 1890s -- the days of the dandyhorse. There were literally hundreds if not thousands of various designs on the market.


What does it do?

Women’s everyday long skirts proved disastrous when they tangled in the bike chains. Soon special fashions for the bicycling lady were introduced which not only included the "divided skirt" but also the "bloomer costume." (The latter was considered extreme.)

The divided skirt was made possible by - or, perhaps, preceded by - the skirt lifter. The device could be used to create an ad hoc pant-like garment for riding.

The skirt lifter could also be simply used in the front to lift the skirt out of the way when climbing stairs or mounting a wheel or horse. It was also used towards the back of the skirt for picking up long trains that were fashionable of the period, keeping them dirt free.

How is it used?

The skirt lifter was hooked onto the skirt waistband or chatelaine - a belt hook from which dangled by chains many useful items such as scissors or keys. Chatelaines were used at first by housekeepers to hook cleaning accessories and necessities to and later became a decorative object indicative of class. Chatelaine is also commonly defined as 'mistress of a castle' which connotes that it was wealthy homeowners - not housekeepers - who donned the dangling keys in style. (Chatelaine’s Latin derivative is castle. The word made famous in popular culture by both the prominent Canadian women’s magazine by that name as well as the fabulous K.D. Lang song Miss Chatelaine.)

The working of this lifter above was to lower the oval ring down the arms close to the tabs which forced the tabs tight against the cloth. Brass wire with white rubber buttons inside the tabs hold the cloth firmly in place when closed. The ring rested on ribs etched into the arms so the mechanism held in place. Once the cloth was held at the back of a dress it was pulled forward and then upwards. It was then attached to a chatelaine or buckle attachment. They formed a pant like function for the lady of the day.

This skirt lifter above has a plunger mechanism with decorative “butterfly” style cover.  The cover opens at the hinge on the front panel and exposes two ball ends at rear. When the ball ends are manually pressed together the tabs open. The back of the dress was inserted within the open tabs. The tabs closed automatically when released with the aid of a spring-loaded plunger. The wings were folded back.  The skirt lifter was pulled forward and up. The clip and chain attached to a chatelaine.

This skirt lifter above is a hinged style with embossed decorative covers illustrated with a swan in a marsh. The cover slides up and down the legs either allowing the opening or forcing the closing of the tabs. One side of the tab has a rubber pad catching the cloth within the tab with a concave tab. Total manual operation.

The dandy details:

This skirt lifter is the earliest design. Patent date March 19, 1877 to C. McDonald. Length when closed: 11 cm.

Skirt lifter with figural pierced decorative cover made of nickel-plated steel. This model is identified as "SURPRISE" in patent information. Length: 10 cm. Length of chain to end of clip is 20 cm. Widest point is 4.3 cm.

Brass skirt lifter with figural shields artistically designed.  Length: 13 cm. Widest point is 4 cm.

Who used it?

It was very popular among women cyclists of the late 1800s and earlier 1900s: Victorian ladies who were required to remain fashionable and demure while getting exercise in public.

As illustrated in this quote from “Bicycling for Women - The puzzling question of costume by R.L. Dickinson M.D.” in Wheelwoman & Society Cycling News; a journal for lady cyclists (an English publication from the late 1800s), women were expected to be neither heard nor seen while exerting themselves in public, so the bicycle – and the skirt lifter – provided the best solution to this dilemma of remaining a respectable cyclist and more critically, “womanly at all times.”

“There are four types of bicycling costume for women -- the full knickerbocker, resembling the regulation wheelman's suit; the fuller, longer bloomer; the short skirt with leggings; and the skirt to the top of the shoe. The last is the one decreed by fashion. …for the leisurely rider of levee roads in fair weather, and for the woman shy of comment, it gives a suitable garb, together with that comfort which conformity brings. Its convenience at present is that the cyclist can step off her wheel into the shop or house and be clad as her uniformed sisters are.

Even though the skirts measure no more that two and one-half to three yards at the bottom, there is some danger of catching on the rear sprocket; there is always the discomfort of the knee that must tug to lift [the garment] forward and upward… All of these difficulties are overcome in some measure by the cut of the skirt...

Many devices are pictured in the cycling columns of the papers and “The Wheelwoman” for chaining the long into the short skirt and for converting the skirt into bloomers by means of tapes or cords…”

Why we love it?

It is often said that the bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world.

Susan B. Anthony wrote it most famously in 1896 – indeed, in the days of the dandyhorse – when suffragettes around the globe were taking to the wheel and causing a stir wearing pantaloons, demanding equality for women.

The skirt lifter surely played a part in the natural development of bloomers  (essentially baggy trousers cinched at the knee) in women’s fashion. Of course, women were ridiculed and even treated like prostitutes by local authorities for wearing them …at first.

But, soon women came together to take a stand. Some formed The Rational Dress Society, which protested against any fashion that either deformed the figure, impeded movement, or in any way injured the health. It included items such as tightly fitted corsets, high-heeled or narrow-toed boots and shoes; heavily weighted skirts and under-clothing (without shoes) that exceeded the weight of seven pounds – all of which rendered healthy exercise like riding a bicycle almost impossible on its no-wear list.

As Bicycling for Ladies author Maria Ward bluntly noted at the time: “Riding the wheel, our powers are revealed to us...”

And as evidenced more recently by things like this flash mob in Leicester celebrating the bicycle and women’s emancipation and the cycling suffragette Alice Hawkins it seems cycling still has a great affect on women living life to the fullest by "taking to the wheel" today too.

All hail the mighty skirt lifter!

Item 1 - the Big Jug - from the series How we got here: from the days of the dandyhorse (from the collection of Lorne Shields) can be found here.


How do you avoid getting your skirts tangled in the back wheel, chain or sprocket? Send us your dandy (or not-so-dandy) tips and tales and we'll post them on our dandyBLOG. Email info @ or leave a comment here.

UPCOMING: Accessories and top-notch cycling gear will be the focus of our first winter web issue of dandyhorse coming in February

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