All photographs courtesy of Jennifer Merrick.
Over 25,000 cyclists took over Montreal’s streets and neighbourhoods for the Go Bike Montreal Festival (May 27 – June 3), and it was a thrill to be one of them.
As a weekend leisure biker, whose kids speed by me within minutes of a family ride, I was apprehensive about doing a cycling tour, imagining hard-core-calves-of-steel bikers and myself huffing and puffing way behind. I needn’t have worried. It turned out the festival had everything to do with having fun on two wheels and was more of a celebration than a race.
Tour La Nuit
“This is better than New Year’s Eve,” I overheard a fellow cyclist say during the Tour La Nuit, a 25km bike tour held the Friday night of the festival.
And it did feel like a party, a giant neighbourhood gathering, with families and bikers of all ages rolling their lit-up bikes through residential streets. Some cyclists had costumes, and all seemed to be smiling on this warm summer evening (a warm-soft-breeze-sort-of-night we’ve dreamt about all winter). Montrealers were out on their balconies, porches and streets to cheer us on.
“Allez, allez, let’s go!” kids chanted, and there were noisemakers, clapping, songs and words of encouragement all along the route.
Time flew faster than we pedalled, and in no time, we were back at the starting point, Jeanne-Mance Park, where the festivities continued with food trucks, a lit-up Ferris wheel and live music.
Tour de L’ile de Montreal
The 50km Sunday morning tour through car-free streets and neighbourhoods first took place in 1985 and is the festival’s signature event. Participants have the choice of shortening the route to 25km, and for more avid cyclists, there are express 50k, 60k and 100k options as well.
Though not quite the same party energy as the Tour La Nuit, spirits were high as friends and families, locals and tourists cycled through Montreal’s streets and parks to the cheers of spectators. Biking through beautiful Olympic Park with a view of Montreal’s leaning tower was a highlight as was seeing so many young people out on their bikes.
“We intentionally reduced prices to encourage children and families,” said Suzanne Lareau, president and director general of Velo Quebec, the association which organizes the annual bike festival and promotes biking throughout the province. Children under 12 ride free, and teens 13-17 are charged only $10.
“We want to get them interested in biking when they’re young,” said Lareau.
The festival has been very effective in encouraging biking in Montreal, and those who participate in the tours are more likely to use their bikes in the future.
Personally, after having such a blast biking in the Go Bike Montreal Festival, I’ve been inspired to ride my bike more at home, too. Calves of steel here I come!
Bike Montreal Anytime
“The city is made for cyclists,” said Jean-Francois Tourangeau, guide at Fitz and Follwell Co., a bike rental and city tour company. “There are 800km of bike lanes and more is added each year.” He explained that half of Montreal’s population of two million cycle, and more than half a million use their bikes as a mode of transport.
We joined Tourangeau on a bike tour of North Montreal, which took us beyond downtown and Old Montreal though communities, parks and hidden alleyways. Stops included the trendy Mile End neighbourhood, bagel tasting at the famous St-Viateur Bagel and Jean-Talon, the city’s favourite market. Throughout the rolling tour, our passionate guide fed us tidbits about the history and local life of this much-loved district of Montreal.
And why the best way to truly see the city is on two wheels.
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