A true Canadian experience: Ottawa’s first-ever winter bike parade!

Hilary Duff is a quirky 21-year-old who loves multimedia journalism, cycling, food blogging, and churning massive amounts of baked goods out of her cramped student kitchen. When she’s not living the chaotically busy life of a Carleton journalism student, she also enjoys winter jogging and exploring the ins and outs of her Ottawa neighbourhood. She’s also a contributing editor for LT Ottawa.

Ottawans love biking and so do I.

For three seasons of the year, I bike absolutely everywhere: to school, to work, to visit friends, to do interviews, etc. etc. As I’ve mentioned on Local Tourist before, I even bike while balancing half a dozen cupcakes on my handlebars. I’m fairly proud of that last one.

Still, on Sunday I went where my roughed up Schwinn bicycle has never been before. I went winter cycling.

As someone who does everything in her power to be more like an action star, winter biking seemed like a natural next step. But motivation was lacking, until I discovered the perfect event to debut my winter transportation plans: Ottawa’s first-ever winter bike parade.

What could be more fantastic than that? The event was organized by the good people at Citizens for Safe Cycling and sounded like the best excuse to garner stares and honks from annoyed and encouraging drivers.

But before I could take part in the parade, I had to get there first. And so, at 11:30 a.m., I carried my intrepid, wheeled friend out of its hibernation cave in the garage and geared up for my first below-freezing bike ride. I made my way downtown without too much huffing and puffing, and turned a few scary skids into a vision where I was drifting like a cast member of Fast and the Furious.

Along the way, my bike ride became less lonely, too, and a handful of cyclists joined me on the commute, donning weathered rain boots and scuffed up backpacks. One woman in front of me was towing a special cycling stroller behind her, and I watched anxiously as the tiny cart bopped roughly as it travelled over speed bumps and into potholes.

Part of the group gathered in the Percy/Laurier Avenue parking lot

We knew we were near our destination when we saw a collection of bikers sitting in the parking lot at the corner of Percy Street and Laurier Avenue. Approaching, someone was playing tunes from a bike radio. People are chitter-chattering and laughter flows freely.

The clock struck noon – it was go time.

To the sound of dozens of chiming bells and boots slamming kickstands, we travel as a group across the street and into the Laurier Avenue bike lane. Up until now I’d been collecting sounds at the scene, my recorder cradled warmly in my mitten as the cord of my microphone grew solid and inflexible with the cold air. In hindsight, I should have MacGyvered a way to strap my microphone onto my handlebars, but I wasn’t that perceptive on a Sunday morning. For anyone who has ever wondered, reporting in the winter while riding a bicycle is a difficult task.

Along the way, a few groups of people lined the street cheering and clapping with their gloved hands. “We looooooove winter biking!” one shouted. The woman on the bike behind me had a line of bells dangling from her handlebars, making me smile and feel as though I’m being followed by Santa’s sleigh. We waved back at the enthusiastic watchers, and I kicked myself for not changing my rusty bike bell in time for the ride.

Eventually, I got off my bike and joined the street-liners, not wanting to miss any more of what was happening around me.

I did a few interviews and recorded some sound from the bike parade – want to get a better idea of how Sunday’s event was? Listen below.

The parade ended at City Hall where we took a big group picture (after good sport Coun. Mathieu Fleury arrived on his brown bicycle) and took over the bike racks in front of the building.

More than 50 riders took part in the parade

The last stop was a heated reception of Bridgehead-donated apple cider and cookies provided by Coun. Katherine Hobbs. It was a satisfying (and more importantly) warm end to a terrific hour out.

CfSC director and parade organizer Risa Sargent says they want to continue the parade in years to come, and I certainly hope they do. A city can never have too many wannabe action stars.

Ottawans love winter biking and now, so do I.

Did any of you attend the bike parade or see it in action? What is your favourite part of winter biking? See you on the streets!