The Bike in Winter: Observations and Inspirations from the Winter Cycling Congress

By Steven Bercu (@bicycleurbanist) & Becca Wolfson

In winter, much of the world’s ornamentation, its foliage, its riot of color, falls away.  We are faced with things in their essential nature: the bare branches of trees, the traces of our breath, gratitude for closest friends and loved ones, and the basic challenge of moving from Point A to Point B.

The fifth annual Winter Cycling Congress, held earlier this month in Montreal, had no official theme.  But the theme could have been Paring Away: the search for what is most essential during the still, cold, dark season.  Here we present some highlights and meditations from our time among others who ponder and practice winter bicycle use in its various forms.


Riders en route to the Winter Cycling Congress in Montreal. Photo credit: @wintercyclingcongress



A warm conference welcome, on a cold day, from Jean-Francois Pronovost of Velo Quebec. Photo credit: @wintercyclingcongress



Conference goers setting out on a guided infrastructure tour, on Bixi [bike share] bikes, with layers to protect them from the -1 degree weather! Photo credit: @wintercyclingcongress



On the first morning of the conference, we met Pekka Tahkola, Vice President and a founder of the young Winter Cycling Federation.  Pekka hails from Oulu, a city in northern Finland that hosted the first Winter Cycling Congress in February 2013.  Oulu, where 42% of the populace bicycles during winter at least to some extent, is in some sense the spiritual home of winter bicycling.  Pekka told the story of bumping into a 91-year-old man at an Oulu bike shop who rides through the winter with his 86-year-old ladyfriend: “The gentleman is well preserved due to spending half his life in a freezer.”

Truly, the people of Oulu (Ouluians?) have turned their cold climate into a virtue.  To keep its estimable network of multi-use paths (a network that crisscrosses the downtown) operational during the cold season, Oulu has pioneered an unorthodox approach.  Completely eschewing the use of salt, the city instead allows paths to remain covered with a thin layer of hard-packed snow, which crews keep groomed using a toothed plow blade that leaves grooved ridges.  This surface offers sufficient traction for bicycles, and the system apparently works quite well provided that temperatures remain consistently cold—historically this was never an issue during the long Oulu winter.  Cycles of thawing and freezing, leading to ice conditions, work against the Oulu method, and Pekka noted that climate change is leading Oulu to begin rethinking its approach.

Continue reading The Bike in Winter: Observations and Inspirations from the Winter Cycling Congress

Internships at the Bike Union!

Are you passionate about biking as a means of transportation? Do you want to make a difference in peoples’ lives through improving the built environment and increasing safety on our streets? Do you want to learn or teach others how to repair bikes? Apply for an internship with the Boston Cyclists Union!

Interning at the Bike Union is a great way to gain experience in urban planning and active transportation, or non-profit management, while having a direct impact in the neighborhoods we serve. Every intern learns a wide variety of skills, from how to run large-scale campaigns for better biking, to managing data and communications. The Union also offers opportunities to meet new people and connect with the bike culture at events that happen every week, or as much as six times a week in the summer time, and of course, you can also learn everything you ever wanted to know about bikes and how to fix them.

The Bike Union is looking for candidates with skills and interests in the following fields:

  • Urban Planning/GIS/Research and Data Analysis
  • Non-Profit Development/Graphic Design/Communications
  • Bike Repair and Program Management

All interns at the Bike Union share some responsibilities (for example: data entry) but an intern’s specific area of interest and skills determine the primary focus of their work. Click here to read the descriptions of each position.

Come to the LMA Bike Summit tomorrow!


Help us get this massive Vision Zero safety bill passed by the state legislature!

The Bike Union, along with our partners in the Massachusetts Vision Zero Coalition including MassBike, Livable Streets Alliance and WalkBoston, have been working with State Legislators, led by Senator Brownsberger and others, to file a road safety omnibus bill!

The bill, An Act to Reduce Traffic Fatalities, would take a number of steps to improve safety for people biking, walking and driving.  We’re thrilled that two policies that the Bike Union championed at the local level that have been adopted by the City of Boston – side guards and truck safety measures as well as improved bicycle crash reporting – have been elevated to be adopted state-wide in this legislation.
The bill also includes, among other provisions,
  • Lowering default speed limit on state highways and parkways in thickly settled areas from 30mph to 25mph
  • Allowing municipalities to install limited traffic safety cameras exclusively for speeding and red light & right turn violations
  • A statewide biking & pedestrian safety curriculum for elementary school students, and more!
This bill could be the most impactful step towards bike safety since the last Bike Safety Omnibus Bill was passed in 2008!
In order for this bill to move forward it needs co-sponsors! Our friends at MassBike have a list of current co-sponsors that you can see here. You can click here to generate a letter that you can send to your State Legislators! The linked form will also allow you to figure out who your Legislators are by entering your address.
It only takes a few minutes! Help us make our streets safer for everyone!