It’s minus 30 degrees. Not the ideal temperature to cycle to work, is it? The enthusiasm to get on a bike while it is freezing cold or insufferably hot might, understandably so, be rather low. So how can we activate more people to cycle regardless of the weather conditions?
Whether you live close to the equator or high up in the North: the climate is always contributing to whether people decide to take the car or the bicycle. The unwillingness to cycle when it is too hot or too cold is a mindset that many experts are trying to get rid of. But what is it like to cycle in Singapore with an average temperature of over 28 degrees? And what can we learn from Oulu, Finland, with up to minus 30 degrees in Winter?
It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Lack of Infrastructure
Singapore is a tropical city 1.5° degrees north of the equator. Throughout the year, the climate is dominated by high levels of rainfall, high relative humidity, and high average temperatures which leads to two monsoon seasons as well. Cycling already sounds incredibly appealing, doesn’t it?
Indeed, Singapore is not yet a cycling city, as only 2% of daily commutes are done by bike. A study containing several interviews with cycling experts in Singapore however, concluded that tropical rains are not the crucial components in the decision to cycle. A more severe factor is the safety risk caused by heavy rains. Slippery roads are pretty dangerous for cyclists in the city.
In addition to the rain, the heat is keeping citizens from cycling. Nevertheless, experts argue the Singapore weather is conducive for commuting to work cycling as the early morning and late evening, the time where everyone is going to and leaving from work, are the cooler parts of the day.
Yet the heat is not the main problem, the lack of support for cyclists is. Especially employees might be resisting commuting to work with a bike as they fear the heat and hence, the sweat. Employees, especially women, fear the stigma of not looking fresh and professional. The lack of trip facilities, such as showers and changing rooms in workplaces for employees to change into their professional clothes and freshen up, is the main problem.
The mindset that it is too hot is a matter of conditioning and expectation. This is especially affecting non-cyclists. Due to their lack of cycling experience, they tend to perceive the Singaporean weather as inclement.
If There Is Snow, Plough It Away
Timo Perälä, the President of the Winter Cycling Federation, is an expert when it comes to cycling in the cold. In Oulu, Finland the temperature can go down to minus 30 degrees. Hearing that, you might think none of the inhabitants would ever get on a bike. How wrong you are!
The cycling culture in Oulu goes back to the 70s due to a bike-friendly traffic engineer who insisted on planning roads with pedestrians and cyclists in mind. The results are obvious: Out of 200.000 inhabitants 50.000 cycle regularly throughout the whole year.
Similar to the study about Singapore, Timo does not view the climate as the problem but the maintenance and infrastructure.
Having a winter-proof infrastructure is the most important factor to motivate cyclists and to secure their safety. This has to be taken into account as soon as you start planning. Building a bad infrastructure from the start makes it hard to maintain it and immediately causes people to stop cycling (or to not start at all).
Timo jokes about other people asking him what they are doing with all the snow:
“If there’s a lot of snow, well, we plough it away.”
If needed, that happens several times a day, with no questions asked. It is also important to see that bikes need a different service level than cars. Ploughing bike lanes must be a higher priority than ploughing snow on the highways: five centimetres of snow do not hurt a car, but the majority of cyclists would see that as a big obstacle.
In Oulu, people of all ages are cycling throughout the whole year no matter the weather. It is the perfect example for showing how a good cycling infrastructure results in a change of mindset about the perfect cycling temperature.
How to Improve Cycling Infrastructure for Extreme Conditions
1) Ensure Road Safety
Urban areas heat up much more than rural environments as buildings and roads absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat more than natural landscapes. This is called the Heat Island Effect and can get quite dangerous: A street without plants in Mexico was measured 66°C while an avenue with large trees was only 30°C warm.
This is why the roads need to be resistant to the heat. If the material of the pavement is not heat resistant, you have to make sure to shade the path with trees and shrubs. This is especially important at intersections, where cyclists are exposed to the heat while waiting.
Ideally, bike lanes should be next to naturalized waterways to offer a cool breeze as well. Take a look at our article “Emissions to Eden” to see how Seoul included the river Cheonggyecheon in their urban planning.
As the monsoon seasons can cause floods in tropical cities, that are damaging the streets, it is important to check out alternatives. The company Plastic Roads for example, is creating sustainable bike lanes out of recycled plastic. You can check out our portrait on its inventor here.
2) Get Rid Of the Stigma
This step is a lot trickier. There is a stigma around workplace appearance and specifically, sweat. To prevent insecurities, as an employer or a work colleague encourage your staff and friends to commute to work cycling and support their efforts.
3) Create an Infrastructure to Make Cycling More Comfortable
As an employer, it is your job to make cycling to work comfortable no matter the climate. Offer changing rooms and showers at the workplace to give everyone the possibility to freshen up.
Cities need to include more Bike Parking Stations in their urban planning. These stations should not only include parking spots but changing rooms, air conditioning, drinking fountains, and food shops.
1) Road Safety
Ensuring road safety is indeed the most important thing. As cold temperature and rain can cause serious damage to the pavements, the maintenance of the lanes is incredibly important. Prioritise bike lanes over highways! Plough the snow away as often as needed, and ensure that the lanes are sufficiently illuminated to guarantee the cyclist’s safety.
Thinking ahead, solar-powered bike lanes are worth a look as the lanes can heat up and melt snow, ice, and water.
2) Serve the People
As Timo put it wonderfully: “You have to appreciate the effort that people made to go by bike”. It can be hard to motivate people and change their behaviour towards cycling in winter, but as stated in step 1), prioritizing bikes over cars can be the first step to show cyclists that they are valued.
In Oulu, the super maintenance class contractor is required to arrange services as a quality promise at least twice a year. For example, one contractor offered people a hot chocolate along the way to keep them warm and thank them for their efforts.
In both extremes, the similarity is clear: We need to provide comfortable and safe infrastructure for cyclists in each climate to get people on their bikes. We are conditioned to believe that there is an ideal temperature for cycling, but this is simply not true.
How to In a Nutshell…
Ensure road safety no matter the climate, whether it is ploughing snow several times a day, illuminating the streets, making bike lanes in tropical cities next to naturalized waterways, and paving them with trees. Prioritise bikes over cars! Encourage friends and employees to commute to work cycling and make the workplace as well as bike parking stations a comfortable place for cyclists to reset.
Interested in reading more on the topic? Check out this guide for tips on cycling in the cold, and find out more on the Winter Cycling Federation’s website. For more information on cycling in the heat, we recommend reading this article.