Hey cities, steal this idea: Subsidized winter-bike tires

Ski towns have a secret: They also tend to be fantastic bike towns.

They are usually small, so distances are short. They are populated by outdoor-lovers, fit and keen to enjoy the fresh air, which makes the towns partial to cycling. Come summertime, many convert into havens of mountain biking as ski resorts keep their lifts running under the sunshine.

So with that in mind, ski towns also have the potential to be amazing winter-bike towns, too. I mean, why spend 10 minutes warming up your frozen car at the end of a ski day when you can just hop on your bike while your pheremones are already raging, and be enjoying apres-ski cocktails in 5? Especially if you have one of these things.

Yet many mountain towns have been slow to adopt winter cycling. It’s coming, but maybe not as fast as might be expected — building great bike cities takes time and investment, and making great winter-bike cities takes even more investment.

But Banff, Alberta — Canadian Rockies ski-town extraordinaire, and a short drive from my home city — is trying something that may be seen as a shortcut to winter-cycling greatness. And the beauty of it lies in its simplicity: Subsidized studded bike tires.

Ski towns, like Banff, Alberta, also have the potential to make for great bike towns. Photo by Tom Babin

Here’s how it works: If you buy a studded bike tire for winter and bring your receipt to town hall, the town will cut you a cheque for $50. Studded tires can run close to $100 (and studded fat-bike tires can easily jump past $500) so this is a significant subsidy. A news release from the town says the subsidy is intended to help “normalize” winter cycling.

Fear of falling on icy roads is a major barrier to people riding in winter, and a studded tire can combat this. The subsidy reminds me of the simplicity of a program in the winter-bike utopia of Oulu, in which people who committed to ride in winter were given a bike. That’s it. It’s a no-brainer.

Banff has fewer than 8,000 permanent residents, and the town earmarked $5,000 from its budget for this program. If the money is all spent, that’s a significant proportion of the town equipped to happily ride all year long.

It’s a great idea (initated as part of the upcoming Winter Cycling Congress here in Calgary), simple to understand and get behind, and it addresses one of the key barriers to winter cycling. If you’re reading this from a city that isn’t Banff, it’s also an easy idea to steal.

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Tom Babin is the author of Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling. 


Also published on Medium.

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3 Comments

  1. Steve

    I cycle every day, all winter long, and I am opposed to this. We cyclists already save a ton of money. We have better health than the general population. Our lives are already pretty much better in every way. If that’s not enough to make you want to cycle, $50 isn’t going to help much. We need to stop this “cyclist as poor pathetic disadvantaged victim” narrative. Nobody with any gumption wants to be that. Besides, it’s condescending and embarrassing to those of us who already cycle. I plan to cycle all winter long. I’ll use the money I save on gas to buy my own studded snow tires. I don’t need anyone’s charity to do what needs to be done.
    The taxpayer’s money belongs to the taxpayer, not me. Sad.

  2. Bruce

    Really?? This rebate isn’t meant for people like you but people that maybe on the fence about winter riding. All these mountain towns have huge parking issues and this program is meant to help improve this by getting the 2km drivers to ride.

  3. This is a fascinating article by the way. I am going to go ahead and save this article for my brother to read later on tonight. Keep up the fine work.
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