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Festival challenges Calgarians to cycle through winter months

By Jason Herring, February 2 2016 —

For many, the thought of riding a bicycle through cold winds and icy streets is an unappealing prospect. But as year-round cycling’s popularity grows in Calgary and the city builds infrastructure to support those who ride through the winter, festivals like Winterpalooza, taking place from Feb. 10–15, are surging in popularity.

Winterpalooza is an offshoot of the summer Cyclepalooza festival. Both are structured with an independent, do-it-yourself attitude and are almost entirely scheduled by community members. Festival coordinator Gerardo Marquez says Winterpalooza was in high demand before it launched three years ago.

“Our purpose is to show people that cycling is fun and it’s something that anyone can do. You don’t need anything except the will to do it and, of course, a bicycle,” Marquez says. “We got a lot of people telling us they had a great time in the summer and asking us if there was anything else going on, so we created Winterpalooza.”

The growing popularity of winter cycling is evident downtown, where it’s easy to spot bundled-up cyclists pedaling down the cycle tracks most mornings. Even more will be riding on the streets for the International Winter Bike to Work Day, which happens on Feb. 12. Marquez offers a few reasons for the spike in popularity.

“It’s great for your body. When you’re cycling, you don’t get cold if you have the appropriate layers, and it’s surprisingly enjoyable,” he says. “And it’s something that connects you to the community. It connects you to the area where you live, the streets you live in, the street you work on.”

One of the main events of the festival is the annual Polar Run, which requires participants to go on a short ride in either a polar bear costume or in their bare essentials.

“Cycling in your underwear for a few blocks is quite an experience,” Marquez laughs. “But it makes people smile, which is one of our objectives in all of Cyclepalooza. In the middle of February, you see a group of cyclists in their underwear, and you smile. It’s unique, it’s uncommon, so they tweet about it and they take a picture and they have a good time.”

Another anticipated event is the Winter Bike Photo Booth, which will be located near the Peace Bridge on Feb. 10. Organizers are giving out free hot cocoa and gift cards to a local cycling store to those who get their photos taken.

“The idea is that we take portraits of people who cycle in winter to demonstrate that there are a lot of people who cycle in winter,” Marquez says. “Our second goal is to showcase the diversity of people who cycle in winter.”

Anyone can schedule their own events on the Cyclepalooza website.

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