For most cyclists in Canada, the sight of a minus 15 thermometer reading means a one-way trip back to bed or to warmer climates if they’re that keen on riding. But for the hardy riders of Fort St. John’s aptly-named Blizzard Bike Club (the name comes from a former soccer team in Toronto), temperatures of minus 15 or even colder are the norm as they line up to start their new season in March with the first of three Roubaix-style races.
The club, in its 29th year, continues its original goal of inviting locals to try bike riding and racing. They take advantage of the seemingly-endless supply of wide and mostly newly-paved roads with very little traffic that criss-cross the scenic Peace River region of northeast B.C. The club started with about a dozen riders who each paid five dollars to join, but membership is now closing in on 100.
“Most people think the world ends after Hope – that the world kind of disappears into this snowy abyss with sled dogs and cabins. So a lot of people don’t know,” said club co-founder and Vice-president Pat Ferris, who also owns the local bike shop in Fort St. John. “Generally, it’s a pretty good place to ride. We have daylight here until 11 p.m. (in the summer), which is something you don’t have in many other places. We’ve got excellent, wide, newly-paved roads with big shoulders. You can ride in any direction until you get sick of it. We have roads everyone just dreams about and we have low traffic.”
The club organizes a series of races over eight months, starting with the aforementioned Roubaix Cup races in March, weekly time trials and road races in the summer. Mountain bike races are added to the calendar in the summer before the season finishes with regular cyclocross races in the fall. But, for the toughest of the club, there’s no better start to the season than those three races in March where ice, wind and snow toughen up the riders for the finer weather to come. The rider with the best results over the three races in March wins the Roubaix Cup, which was first handed out in 1995.
“It’s a piece of cake after March,” said Ferris with a laugh. “It’s over three weekends. Usually one race is really cold: minus 15 is not unheard of. It’s kind of nasty. We just want to get out and ride. Then one is kind of mediocre like zero then one is maybe plus five or plus six. The coldest we had was minus 27.”
Those just getting started in cycling tend to give the Roubaix races a pass, deciding instead to get out on the road in more agreeable conditions, but Ferris runs weekly Turbo Trainer sessions in the winter to get riders primed for the season. From there, they have weekly coached rides where group-riding techniques are taught. The learning continues in the races. While the road races reach 50 to 60 km in length, there are also shorter races held for those still learning.
“We have some neutral races where there are no attacks allowed until about the halfway mark. It’s just to get people used to riding with a group,” Ferris said.
He estimates that about a quarter of the club’s membership are serious racers. Some race in events such as B.C. Superweek or the Alberta Cup races and others have raced in elite and masters Canadian Championships.