Vancouver has a mild climate and it’s possible to ride comfortably year-round except for a few icy weeks in December or January.
However, rainstorms and southwest winds reaching up to gale strength are common in the off season, beginning as early as September and lasting into June.
Rain is inevitable and discouraging, and yet we’ve been surprised to discover that rainy days can be the best for cycling – if we’re well-dressed. There’s nothing like the feeling of being invincible when you’re fully dressed in a hard rain.
Forget about the lack of sun during the winter – that’s not what’s getting you down – you just need to get out.
In fact, as much as we like cycling on a warm and sunny day, we know we’re not the only ones who regret the end of spring and thoughts of the crowds of the on-coming summer season, or who feels a guilty pang of relief at the end of August.
Despite that, sometimes spring and autumn still has frustrations for cyclists because while there may be fewer people out, they’re not vigilant and having forgotten the lessons of the previous summer, are more inclined to wander aimlessly across and along the bike path. During the worst weather people wander into the bike lane because they figure the weather’s so bad nobody would be out cycling! We well remember an argument with a darkly-clothed mother pushing an infant stroller on the bike path on a dark, blustery and rainy winter’s night….
High winds can make cycling difficult in exposed places – even dangerous if you’re not prepared for a sudden gust of wind.
Vancouver’s history is tied to the southwesterly – such a wind drove forward the 1886 Great Fire of Vancouver fire that destroyed the new Vancouver, and another storm downed a thousand trees in Stanley Park in 2006, but winds can come from other directions and move about during the course of a day. Worst luck is having the wind against you on the way out, only to turn around and blow against you on the way home too!
Route Section Tips
Microclimates abound along Vancouver’s seaside, and they shift around, too, so it’s not easy to predict what’s going to happen.
In winter and spring the Stanley Park portion may be closed due to storm damage, erosion, or repairs such as annual scaling of the cliffs above. It may also be icy in spots because of run-off – especially in shady spots. The sun bears on the rider on the city side in the morning and the ocean side in the afternoon. However you can’t adjust the direction of your ride to take advantage of the sun – the path is one way only, counter-clockwise, from the city to the ocean (English Bay) side. Some spots don’t get a lot of sun at any time.
Generally speaking, when it’s windy, it blows hardest at Stanley Park’s west side and at English Bay beach, and you have to take care not to get blown around by the wind or (in Stanley Park) showered by sea spray. Yaletown and south False Creek, Kitsilano and the Harbour are more protected and also incrementally warmer.
The area east of Leg-in-Boot square in False Creek (Fairview) doesn’t get much sun in the winter and neither does the tip of Spanish Banks. Those areas can be icy in the winter.
31st May 1934.
Major Matthews: What does Sasamat mean? The Spaniards who were here before Captain Vancouver say that the Indians called the place “Sasamat.”
August Jack (Khatsalano): That must be down towards Indian River. Don’t know what it means; don’t think it has anything to do with Tsa-atalum. that’s out Point Grey, means (shrugging shoulders) “Chill place.”
Conversations with Khahtsahlano, 1932-1954
Be careful of cycling on the platform around Science World in winter because it ices over and is smooth and consequently very slippery.
Don’t cycle on the thick rough-cut boards on Granville Island in icy weather because those boards are really slippery. Don’t even test it to see if we’re right. Don’t even touch it with a toe – it’s so slippery your toe will start sliding toward the water – it’s so slippery the rest of your body will be dragged into the ocean at near the speed of light because there is no resistance – it’s that slippery. It’s so slippery, that even as you think about it, you can feel your very thoughts being dragged toward the cold, dark water….
Vanier Park in Kitsilano is an exposed point on the water and also gets hit by the south-westerlies. Either drop into low gear for extra control, or bypass it by taking Whyte Avenue around in front of the museum.
We always expect Yaletown to be a little rainier, but it seems to rain on us around Kitsilano more. Maybe it’s just because by that time we’ve been cycling a while and the weather’s changed.
We enjoy the spots where the temperature suddenly increases (going clockwise): Burrard Bridge on the north side, Bayswater Street in Kits, and coming to the open field above Acadia Beach on the N.W. Marine Drive to UBC.
In winter going down that same hill from UBC to Spanish Banks will freeze your forehead. We have learned to put on our hood for that stretch. Otherwise we spend the whole ride down speculating about what a freeze-dried forehead looks like, and if we will gain superpowers or loose them.
A weather forecast doesn’t have to be right if it’s predictably skewed. We say: pick a weather forecaster and get to know him. We find the Environment Canada web site is usually pessimistic in both the short and long term forecasts and we adjust for it.
For bad weather forecasts any time of year we have adapted these rules based on the Environment Canada weather forecast: If there’s a 30% chance of rain today, it’s not going to rain, but bring a rain jacket with a hood.
If it’s a 60% probability of precipitation (POP) day, you may need the jacket, but bring rain pants too.
Anything higher than that and it’s going to get wet. Those are the odds. Frankly, with room to strap a bag of rain clothes on the back rack, we should carry our rain gear all winter, but it’s bulky.
For the long term forecast we assume that if tomorrow has a 60% chance of rain, it might turn out to be sunny. If the second day forecast is for rain, it might be nice enough to go out and not get wet.
It seems about every second day turns out to be a 60% POP day at worst.
Despite Vancouver’s reputation for rain, it doesn’t rain much in summertime. It’s warm and dry. Summertime is shorts and t-shirt weather. We might bring along a light jacket for the evening, but rarely.
Fall brings rain and wind storms starting around early September, but there can be beautiful sunny days until late October. After that: be prepared for rain. As far as warmth goes, a lined jacket or both a sweatshirt and wind-resistant jacket will do.
Gloves and water-resistant shoes are highly recommended.
It gets cold in winter, and when you cycle, it blows right through you. As much as warmth, one needs to have wind-resistant clothing.
Gloves are a necessity. You’ll want wind-proof and water-resistant gloves, but you don’t need fancy bicycle gloves and we haven’t seen many pairs that are suitable. Mitts may be better, but you have to be able to control your bike with them on.
Don’t stay stationary for too long or you’ll never be able to warm up your fingers and toes again. If you get too cold, the beach concessions and community centres offer refuge, and if you’re lucky, you will be able to find a hot air hand dryer in a washroom. If you’re unlucky, you’ll find a cold environmentally-responsible blower. With environmental sustainability we’ve finally made shivering in the dark trendy – suffering by choice is the privilege of an advanced society.
Footwear hasn’t been a problem for us. We don’t wear runners, just common water-resistant leather shoes and wool socks. We have a pair of shoe covers from Mountain Equipment Coop up on Broadway, but we’ve rarely needed to use them. In a pinch you could use plastic bags if you still have them, and rubber bands.
Dress in layers – we usually wear a t-shirt, medium weight sweater and a wind and water resistant jacket or rain jacket through much of the winter, and a pair of tight-weave slacks. It’s the wind that gets you, so we like jackets that don’t have exposed zippers – a flap over the zipper stops the wind from blowing through.
For a hat we use our rain jacket’s hood or a yarmulke-like cap we bought at MEC.
The warmer weather begins in February and by the end of the month to mid-March trees are flowering. From then until May or June something new is growing every day.
Spring brings warmer weather, but the rains don’t stop and neither do the wind storms. There’s always one last good one in June, and until then, be prepared for rare hailstorms on cold rainy days in spring. They don’t last long and hail hurts and gets in your shoes, so you’d do well to find shelter and just wait it out.
It gets dark early and quickly starting in the fall. You’ll need front and rear lights. While we carry lights (with paper or plastic over the battery contacts to prevent them turning on accidentally) in our bag all year around, we keep them mounted on the bike in the fall and winter.
In wet weather the gravel paths of Vanier Park and the Point Grey beaches will make a mess of your bike. In both cases you can take the road instead.
It’s a good idea to wipe your chain dry at the end of a ride and oil it often. We used to remove and clean our chain as much as several times a week. We don’t remember why – wiping it works well. Over the winter our bike gains a crust of sand and gravel that we don’t bother cleaning. As long as there’s a channel through the dirt that the chain can travel through, we’re happy.