Twin Cities will host Winter Cycling Congress next year

The Winter Cycling Federation announced Thursday that it has chosen the Twin Cities to host the Winter Cycling Congress early next year. The Twin Cities will be the first cities in the country to host the annual winter biking conference.

Now in its third year, the Winter Cycling Congress has traveled to cold-weather cities in Finland, Canada and the Netherlands. While it’s no Winter Olympics–attendance is expected to be about a few hundred–it is something to #MplsBrag about, especially to the country’s other big bike cities.

“Our region is the perfect spot to host the 2016 International Winter Cycling Congress,” said Mayor Betsy Hodges in a statement. “Minneapolis has long been recognized as one of the best bicycling cities in the country, and we have consistently been praised for our winter bicycling culture… I look forward to showcasing our great winter cycling city to the whole world.”

The conference got its start in 2013 in Oulu, Finland, which has the country’s highest ratio of bike pathways to residents. The goal of the Winter Cycling Congress is to raise awareness for winter biking and propel it into mainstream culture by hosting bike events and connecting cyclists to communities around the world. “It’s not for freaks only. It wont’ kill ya,” reads the Federation’s website.

The three-day event is billed as a professional development opportunity for planners, engineers and bike advocates to share information on bike infrastructure, gear and more. Annie Van Cleve said spreading information on winter biking, from ridership date to barriers to cold-weather cycling, was the impetus for those who started the event. Because many people assume no one bikes when it’s freezing outside, some information on winter cycling isn’t tracked, she said.

“We don’t know too much about it,” she said. “We still need to be talking to each other.”

Van Cleve is leading a local committee with representatives from each city, along with advocacy groups and bike industry organizations. Van Cleve, a Twin Cities resident who works for a company that organized this year’s conference, said the recent effort to put together the host proposal was an easy sell.

“This is a perfect opportunity to… show that the Twin Cities are a vibrant place and winter cycling is a part of that,” she said, speaking from Leeuwarden, Netherlands where this year’s conference just ended.

She said Minnesota has had strong showings in past conferences, including most recently in Winnipeg, Canada, which hosted attendees from the City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition and other local groups in 2014.

Twin Cities residents also come out to ride in the wintertime. One in five summer cyclists continue to ride in winter, even in cold and snow, according to survey data from Bike Walk Twin Cities, a nonprofit advocacy group. 

The Federation also notes: “The Twin Cities were chosen because of their strong winter cycling culture, ambitious plans to make year-round cycling even better and innovative approach to winter cycling, especially as it relates to fat biking.”

The Twin Cities also host a similar event, the annual Winter Bike Expo, and internationally recognized races like the Stupor Bowl, the largest and coldest alleycat race in the world. Just this week, the Twin Cities also lead the country on Winter Bike to Work Day on Feb. 13. Hodges also declared Jan. 3 Winter Biking Day in Minneapolis. 

There’s no word yet on venues or events, but the committee is meeting in early March to begin the planning work, said Lowell Huesers, a volunteer with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition and host committee member. He said he’s excited for the conference–organizers expected the conference to return to Canada, following its European-North American pattern.

For organizers and bike enthusiasts alike, this is a chance to lead efforts to promote winter cycling.

“This is a pivotal moment for the Twin Cities,” Van Cleve said. “We’re becoming America’s… winter biking wonderland.”