On a Friday evening in early June, I’m pedaling in a sea of cyclists – scrambling to cross a highway entrance now blocked to bewildered motorists who’ve missed the memo re opening night of the Go Bike Montreal Festival. Blaring horns voice their frustration. For a moment, I’m afraid but take comfort in our sizable group, laughing and chatting in French and English.
This is our night. Hundreds of us clad in colorful and sparkly cycling wear – some in costumes with decorated bikes, riding triumphantly into the sunset – bike bells ringing and lights twinkling, like a swarm of fireflies. The Tour La Nuit crosses six city boroughs in east Montreal through quiet, leafy streets, wide boulevards, highways, industrial areas and neighborhood parks on the 24-kilometer (15-mile), car-free night ride.
On Saturday, the Tour de l’ile expands to 47 kilometers (29 miles) on the Regular ride to include more parks and the famed Olympic Stadium or a 50 – 100 kilometer (31- 62 mile) Discovery ride including more landmarks further east, though routes vary yearly.
Along the way spectators yell, “T’es Capable” – a slang encouragement for “You’ve got this”. Bands, acrobatic performers and enthusiastic flag-waving volunteers fire up the cyclists at the start and kick off the victory celebrations at the finish in Parc Maisonneuve. Pre-booked timed departures ensure smooth cycling while bike mechanics, first aid stations, washrooms and snacks are always available.
Velo Quebec and La Route Verte
Velo Quebec, the powerful cyclist organization spearheading the festival also created the Route Verte, a collection of clearly-signed cycling paths (gravel and paved) and wide lanes along existing roadways. At 5300 kilometers (3293 miles), it’s the longest cycling route in North America – connecting Quebec with neighboring provinces and the United States.
In Montreal, cyclists love the flat and scenic 14-kilometer (8.7-mile) Lachine Canal Bike Path hugging the greenspace along the historic waterway from the Old Port southwest to Lachine.
A lunch stop at the indoor/outdoor Atwater Public Market set in an impressive Art Deco building, for tasty pizza, sandwiches and the best ice cream in the city is a must. Park benches provide rest stops and canal views for cyclists, hikers and skateboarders.
Heading north of Montreal to Mont Tremblant, the P’tit Train du Nord route – named for the abandoned train line that long ago transported skiers to the popular resort area offers 232 kilometers (144 miles) of car-free cycling . Today, the region welcomes visitors year round to explore its mountains, woodlands, lakes, rivers, beaches and nature parks.
The mostly paved route with some elevated sections, passes through attractive small towns providing good rest stop services. The area around Ste. Adele is particularly peaceful as it meanders through the woods. On weekdays, the only sounds you’ll hear are birdsong and chipmunks rustling in the forest undergrowth.
Just 25 miles north of Richford, Vermont in the heart of Quebec’s Eastern townships, cyclists can explore more recommended Route Verte trails.
My favorite, the 56-kilometer (35-mile) Artria Cultural Loop named for the 60 giant sculptures displayed along the route is perfect for leisure cycling and can be accessed from Grandy, Bromont or Waterloo. Must-do stops include Yamaska Parc National for swimming, kayaking and fishing along its beaches and the nature interpretation center at Lac Boivin for birdwatching and wildlife education. In Waterloo check out the Railway museum and the Pumphouse BMX bike track suitable for all levels.
As might be expected in Canada’s premier foodie province, there’s a gourmet cycling trail focusing on Quebec specialities: cheese, craft beer, wine, cider, maple syrup, lavender, chocolate and meat pies to name a few. The southern portion of the Artria Cultural Loop forms part of Quebec’s 235-kilometer (146 mile) Veloroute Gourmand trail stretching east from Montreal across the Eastern Townships to Sherbrooke.
Previously Published in Seven Days Magazine