Cycling in Winter: can pedal power be a year-round travel option?

black and white photo of a bike in a Manchester underground car parkGreater Manchester, like most cities, is looking to get more people cycling and walking. That’s “active travel” in the jargon. There are many benefits to getting us out of our cars and onto bikes: cutting congestion, reducing pollution and improving health and fitness. It’s also much cheaper to provide the infrastructure for a cyclist compared to a car driver.

But, critics argue, cycling is a fair-weather activity. Sure, people cycle in the summer, but what’s the point if they all jump back in their cars in the winter?

Is it true?

Cycling counters

Manchester might not have a pile of cycle super-highways like London, but it does have the Oxford Road route, which I use for my daily commute. The bike counters positioned near the MRI tell us how many cyclists have passed in each direction on any given day.

When I came through just before 8am today – 7th February – the temperature was showing as a nippy -4 degrees Celcius. Over 170 cyclists had already passed ahead of me. That’s not a lot down on warmer days.

Going home in the evenings is a similar story. In the warm autumn days – when the students were back in town – between 1,800 and 2,000 cyclists had typically headed out of the city along that route by the time I got there. At the moment that’s down to around 1,400-1,500.

That’s a drop of around 25-30% – significant, but hardly the cyclist-free paths that sceptics were predicting for mid-winter. Well over two thirds of the summer cyclists are still there in sub-zero temperatures.

Made to Move

Chris Boardman’s Made to Move strategy¬†was released just before Christmas. The desire is clearly there for a big cycle route expansion. Mayor Andy Burnham is positive that the funding can be found too.

The evidence from the Oxford Road scheme so far is that the strategy is right. Good cycle facilities will succeed in getting people on their bikes not just in the summer but all year round. As Greater Manchester has been revealed as the most congested British city outside London, that’s good news for pollution, health, congestion and productivity.

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It’s hard to find a downside to promoting the use of bicycles. Environment, Health, Lifestyle, Karma (sic), Road maintenance, aesthetics of the city, so why can they not be used in conjunction with trams?

By grant fairlie

Agree wholeheartedly with this blog. In truth there is still a massive amount to do in terms of perception regarding cycling. Whilst in London it is increasingly the norm, people in Manchester are often in incredulous when I tell them I got to a meeting on my bike. In addition better facilities in town would be good, even if it’s just more places to lock your bike. And as mentioned by Grant, who no provision on trams?

By Gisajob

Could we create cycle routes alongside the tram routes? Is there room?

By I wanna cycle

I find it much easier to cycle on dry, winter days than I do on warm/hot summer days. I can cycle for miles and miles in winter without breaking a sweat whereas come spring through to autumn I start to sweat after just a mile and am a sweaty mess if I have to cycle further than that. I’d say between 2C and 5C degrees and dry are the optimum weather conditions for cycling. You quickly warm up!

By Anonymous

In my opinion the main constraint to winter cycling is less the weather and more the lack of daylight.
Sensible all weather kit keeps cyclists warm and dry, and it doesn’t take long to warm up. Cycling after dark is more challenging, even though many cyclists have excellent highly visible lamps and kit. Safe well lit routes which take cyclists away from heavy traffic need to be considered carefully and perhaps promoted as winter options. Finally as a cyclist who’s recently skidded on ice and fallen off and fractured my wrist, we need to consider if cycle routes should be gritted or whether cyclists should make their own judgement about whether its safe to cycle, I concede its probably the latter.

By Penny Price