Four layers of clothing, a neck warmer up to the ears, large goggles and a helmet: thus decked out, Montrealer Marie-Pierre Savard is ready to face the extreme cold of the Canadian winter on her bike.

In the French-speaking metropolis, more and more of them, like her, travel by bicycle even during the coldest months when the mercury remains well below zero.

“It would be wrong to say that it’s exactly the same as riding a bike in the summer,” says the 38-year-old woman with short hair who believes that “it takes more concentration, better technique” and a way of riding. different.

But even in winter, for her, this means of transport is unbeatable: “Easier, more efficient, more ecological and more economical” than the car and the metro.

Snowstorms and temperatures down to -40 degrees: nothing can stop the winter cyclist. She even confesses “love to ride when it has just snowed several centimeters to make the first track on the fresh snow”.

And on the bike paths of the city, it is not uncommon to come across children in the back in a seat, equipped as if to go skiing, on their way to school or daycare. They are quickly outpacing families who have opted to toboggan on the sidewalk after a storm.

“At the beginning, there were very few of us”, remembers Frédéric Venne, who is in his fifteenth winter on a bike. For two years, the “clear cycle paths” have convinced more neophytes to join those who have long been seen as cranks, he adds, ski goggles hanging from his helmet.

A revelation for Mathieu Lévesque, who has just taken the plunge. This 35-year-old bearded Quebecer “loved cycling during storms” and prides himself on being able to “do it every day”.

In a few years, as in other cities around the world, the kilometers of bike paths have developed in Montreal, making it one of the most welcoming cities in North America for cyclists.

The metropolis now has some 900 kilometers of track, 717 of which are accessible all year round, and promises to build 200 more by 2027. The city’s stated objective: to reach 15% of bicycle trips by this deadline.

Already between 2020 and 2021, cycling trips, summer and winter, have increased by 20%, Mayor Valérie Plante recently pointed out.

And “the practice of winter cycling is exploding” insists Hugo Bourgoin, spokesperson for the city. In 2022, nearly 1.7 million cyclists crossings were recorded on the tracks, during the cold season.

In his Vélo Espresso shop where wheels hang from the ceiling, Olivier Quirion-Deslauriers confirms. The mechanic notes, each year, a 15% increase in customers who come to prepare their winter bike, which is “definitely more popular than before”.

And the winter bike requires little equipment, but all the same adequate tires so as not to slip. “The studded tire will give you the grip you need on the ice,” explains the sporty-looking young man, beanie on his head and his hands black with grease.

In the end, he slips, it seems “intimidating at first, but it’s accessible to everyone”.

02/18/2023 12:00:25 –         Montréal (AFP) –         © 2023 AFP