Winter is no wonderland for cyclists. But members of Toronto's bike-share system may not want to buckle and buy a Metropass just yet. For the first time in any Canadian city, the Bixi program will stay in operation all winter this year, and the company will even reward the rider who braves the cold and bikes the farthest distance over the coming cold months.
Bixi launched in Toronto in May of this year, and while the program is also up and running in Montreal and Ottawa, those cities' winters were deemed too harsh to accommodate bike-sharing all year round. Bixi shuts down its operations in both cities on November 15 and restarts them in mid-April.
Toronto on the other hand has had only a handful of significant snowfalls so far, and the company intends to keep its bikes on the street until spring. But even during our comparatively mild winter, Bixi is expecting a significant drop in ridership and so the program is giving its 4,000 members incentives to keep slogging through the slush.
As part of its Winter Warrior contest, Bixi will give the rider who travels the farthest distance on the program's bikes between January 1 and March 31 a free three-year membership, and two one-year memberships to give to friends or family. Cyclists who rank in the top five winter riders will receive shorter free memberships, and every two weeks prizes will be awarded to the member who goes the farthest over that period, as well as the rider who makes the most trips and the one who visits the most Bixi stations.
Riders will be tracked using the trip information Bixi routinely collects.
"In Washington DC they did this last year, and it had a good success so we thought it was a good idea," says Michel Philibert, Bixi's communications director.
Cold temperatures and road salt can be hell on bicycles, but Philibert says that Bixi bikes can handle it.
"We chose aluminum instead of steel to do the bikes because it doesn't rust" when it comes in contact with salt, he explains. "Every part is very sturdy for all-season usage."
Philibert says that out of Bixi's eight locations worldwide, Toronto is the northernmost city so far to keep bike-sharing all winter. And if all goes well here, Montreal's program could soon stay open year round as well. Bixi has distributed a survey to its members there about winter biking, and if feedback is good the company will keep its bikes in la belle province on the road until spring.
Ottawa, where temperatures sunk close to -30 C this week, is not considered a good candidate for all-season bike-sharing.
But is winter biking safe? According to the Toronto Cyclists Union, biking in snowy conditions is no more dangerous than driving in them. "If you can drive it, you can ride it," says the group's website post on cold-weather cycling tips.
The TCU does advise that snowbound cyclists give themselves extra time to get to their destination, ride defensively, keep an eye out for ice, and check the weather forecast before heading out. Protective eyewear is a good idea, as is being mindful of snow banks that can obscure riders from motorists' view.