For many of us, the idea of cycling at this time of the year seems out of the question. Indeed, four wheels are often better than two, with Ottawa’s unpredictable weather and icy roads.
But for some, like Pat Dicaire, cycling in the winter is nothing new; it’s just another day at work.
Dicaire is a bike courier for Accuro, a service that delivers medical and corporate supplies to various businesses and
medical clinics in the Centretown area, such as the Appletree
medical clinic on Bank Street.
On a nice summer day, this job would be quite refreshing for a bike enthusiast like Dicaire. He has been a courier for six years, and has loved cycling for as long as he can remember.
But when temperatures dip below zero and the snow kicks in, the refreshing element can be lost pretty quickly.
“There are ugly days,” Dicaire says, “when it is raining or snowing – or when you get a bus driver who isn’t having a nice day.”
He estimates a confrontation with a bus driver occurs once a month.
Some tell him to get off the sidewalk, while others have literally tried to run him off the road.
But that is just a small bump in the road compare to the job’s benefits.
“For the most part, I enjoy the fact that I can be outdoors doing something I love – and get paid for it,” he says. “There is a degree of flexibility that comes with being a courier.”
Some days, Dicaire might only have a handful of deliveries to make. On others, especially when bad weather delays the delivery process, Dicaire, may come to the rescue of delivery drivers stuck in traffic.
He meets them to collect their packages, and then sets off, usually able to bypass much of the traffic congestion.
Steve Michaud is a dispatcher with Speedy Messenger Services, another Ottawa courier company which employs 10 bike couriers. He says these couriers are a
valuable part of the business,
because they can make deliveries in downtown quickly.
“We definitely need couriers at this time of the year,” he says. “The delivery business doesn’t stop in the winter, but we just won’t send them on long trips if it is very cold.”
But the cold weather can cause dangerous road conditions, as Dicaire knows, so taking precautions is crucial to his safety. He has had two accidents, neither of which occurred in the winter. Ensuring his bike is prepared for the rigors of the season, is key to preventing any accidents.
He uses studded tires, which provide extra traction on icy roads and puts a mudguard on his back wheel.
This helps to keep any mud and slush from splashing on the rider and on other parts of the bike. Dicaire says these two additions have made his job much easier – and drier.
Dicaire, like many other couriers, does his own bike repairs. After six years on the job, these repairs and winter preparation have become almost routine. But they are essential for a safe journey, says Mike Leach.
Leach is a bike repair specialist at the Cyclery, a bike shop on Bank Street. He says that preparing a bike properly for the winter makes for a better cycling experience.
“For anyone, certain adjustments – like using studded tires and putting mudguards on your bike – can really help increase safety on the road, and make the ride more comfortable.”
Dicaire agrees, adding that being a bike courier comes down to taking precautions, which makes what could be a dangerous job, one that he loves.
“Once you learn the techniques, you start to enjoy it even more,” he says, “and even in the winter time, I can’t think of any other job that I would rather do.”