Cycling paradise found in Quebec

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Where to go for our next cycling vacation?  I pondered this question with my sister Jeannine.

Every summer, we enjoy some kind of cycling excursion.  Cycling  is a great way to discover a new region.  Because of the speed of bike travel, you can  visit a new city, town or the countryside at a relaxed pace.  It is faster than walking, but slower than car travel that is too speedy to really get to know a place. So far, we’ve cycled on Pelee Island, in Ottawa, and in the Netherlands. I’ve also cycled the Waterfront Trail, and Montreal.

I am a fairly competent cyclist, but also a somewhat lazy one. I don’t like fast speeds or super long distances…nothing too strenuous..

With that criteria in mind, Jeannine and I decided to take “Le P’tit Train du Nord”, a scenic cycling trail in the Laurentian mountains in Quebec.  The trail is 200 km long, and goes from Mont Laurier to St. Jerome, just north of Montreal.The trail is on an old rail bed that once  transported tourists to ski destinations along the route.  Because it is a rail trail, there is not much change in elevation, making it easier to cycle. To get there, you park the car in St. Jerome, and a bus takes you and your baggage to Mont Laurier. Over a period of a few days (depending on how many kilometres you want to cycle each day,) you cycle back to St. Jerome, staying at various Inns, or camping, along the way.

Over the years, Quebec has put the infrastructure in place to make the Laurentians  a cycling destination, which gives a much needed economic boost to small communities along the way. According to the bus driver, 85% of the cyclists that head up on the bus to Mont Laurier are from out of  province.

Jeannine and I decided to take the 3 nights, 4 days package called CycloRives .This package allows participants to cycle approximately 50 km each day, and spend the night in comfy bicycle friendly inns along the way..

Our first Inn was called  “Auberge Chez Ignace” in Nominingue. Owners Ignace and Yolande organize the Cyclorives and other cycle tour packages.  Here we discover what “cycle heaven” is. Our hosts immediately show where we can safely store our bikes inside.  Since it had been raining, they offer to dry our clothes if needed.  There  is a hot tub, as well as a dock by the lake. The hosts treated us like family (maybe better!) Ignace and Yolande certainly set us off on the right foot at their auberge with their delicious dinner, specializing in Belgian cuisine,  and then breakfast the following morning.

IMG_20150814_085553At Auberge Chez Ignace, we were introduced to  several of our fellow cycle tourists.  We met Denis and Suzanne, who came in on a tandem bicycle, ready to continue the 200km ride.  It turns out that Denis is blind, and that he and his wife travel quite regularly on their tandem bike as part of a group called the Quebec Blind Sports Association. The couple had a great sense of humour and optimism that made them awesome travelling companions. The off road cycle trail and flat surface made their bike ride a pleasure.

 

 

IMG_20150814_102339The following day, after a pleasant ride with beautiful scenery on the paved portion of the trail, we stayed at the Auberge La Porte Rouge  in Mont Tremblant. Here, we had a gorgeous view of Lake Mercier and safe storage for our bikes.  A delicious dinner and breakfast were again included in our package.  At least we cycled away the calories!  Mont Tremblant was preparing for an Ironman Triathlon so there were a lot of cyclists around, and even cafés devoted to cyclists.

The trail  stretching  from Mont Tremblant to Val David was the most challenging, as it had a slight uphill grade. This section consists of mainly hard packed gravel. Here, we enjoyed  the traditional beautiful mountain scenery, along with some pasture land complete with cows and horses. Along the way,  we met a family from Toronto with two children, ages 12 and 10. They were cycling the whole 200km  as well. This family confirmed my belief that if the infrastructure is there (safe cycling, places to rest) that a variety of people can enjoy cycling trips, including children.

IMG_20150814_112544On the final stretch of the picturesque trail  from Val David to St. Jerome, we came across yet another converted train station.  These train stations are dotted every 10-20km along “Le P’tit Train du Nord”. They are now cafes, art studios and/or information centres. Here, we found a cafe called “Espresso Sports”,that also sells and rents bicycles. Ok, so there is further evidence about just how important cycling is to the economy of this region.

Finally, we arrived back in St. Jerome,  where our car was parked.  Here, we were reacquainted with  2 cycling couples from Oshawa, our tandem riders Suzanne and Denis, and even the aforementioned family of four. We all completed the 200kms.  I wanted to go up and high five them all.  I felt like we were all in it together.


Next year…where will we go for a great  cycling experience?  Back to Ontario? I hear our province is wants to encourage  more cycle tourism! I hear they are even taking some lessons from Quebec.

Interview with Marcia Santen, Guelph Mom and Commuter Cyclist

IMG_20150817_112743How did you come to use your bicycle for transportation?

I didn’t own a car until I was 44. I only really need it to bring my family places.

How has it changed you life?

It hasn’t changed my life. I still cycle most places like I always have, from day one! When I am on my bicycle I get everything I need: meditation, exercise, fresh air and a workout.

How has it changed your relationship with your community?

When on my bike, I see people. When I am in my car, it is so impersonal you almost forget there is a mother or a son in that car. The others become objectified. On my bike I feel more connected, I say “Hi” more often.

How has it affected your relationship with your kids?

They used to be part of it, there was no question.  They were either in the seat or in the trailer or on their own bike. Now they want to be driven places – like their friends.

Where do you go on the bike?

To work, to the stores, everything that is within city boundaries.  My next goal is to cycle to Kitchener before the summer is over.

When do you use the car?

Only to drive my children around, sadly.

What are the factors involved in deciding which to use?

Distance and lack of public transportation. Some of their activities are too far out. Sometimes it is a time constraint, too. Our lives have become so much busier that we now expect to do more in less time, because of the car.

What is the hardest thing about using the bike for transportation?

Dealing with cars and disrespectful drivers. Also being a minority in the midst of cars. And winter.

Do you find yourself trying to convert non-cyclists  or recreational cyclists to cycle for transportation?

I am very cautious with that. But yes, actually.  I want let others in on my secret!

What factors do you see determining whether these folks remain committed drivers or give bikes try?

Safety. I always get from people;  “I’m not going to cycle, I’m going to die!”  “I’m not going to let my children on a bike, they’ll die!”

How did you come to your current bike set-up? How does it work?

I ride a touring bike and a mountain bike and a road bike soon. It changed a bit over time. Before kids it was hybrid and road bike. Now it is “Mother bike” and “winter bike”, both suitable for commuting.

How would you respond to people who feel a car is just safer?

I’ve ridden all of Guelph and I discovered safe routes South-North. Not as many East-West yet. On occasion I will revert to the sidewalk when I cannot avoid the scare of traffic.

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What needs to happen in Canada to make the culture, and eventually the roads, more bike friendly?

Education.  First we have to change people’s minds, then change the infrastructure… But the reverse has also been shown to work. It’s a chicken-egg question. I keep thinking education though.

Name the most important benefits that  you think people get out of utilitarian cycling?

Mental and physical health.  A good mood. I just want to emphasize a huge difference between those who consider the bike and those who don’t.  People are happier and in better shape. They are also better socially connected.

What about the kids?

If they are able to go places by bicycle, children get more freedom at an age where they want/need more freedom.  It’s hard to get them to cycle when their peers always get driven around. But imagine how it is to always have your parents taxi you around. That has got to be embarrassing, too.

Describe your commute.

It starts with a light that doesn’t detect bicycles. It’s downhill on the way to work and uphill on the way home.  In the winter I go by car and I arrive not really mentally ready for the day.

What is the best part of your commute?

The fresh air and the wind in my hair.

What is the worst part of your commute?


Cars that cut me off.

What infrastructure change would make your commute better?


Priority crossing for bicycles.  In some places, pedestrians always have priority (I think here in Ontario, actually), in other places, such as Holland and Denmark, bicycles and pedestrians have right of way. That would show us some respect.

What bit of advice would you like to share with new bike commuters?

Cycle defensively. Make yourself visible. Don’t be shy.

How did you come to transport your kid(s) by bike?

It started at 5 months with front seat and trailer.  I got everything before the baby was born: a trailer, front seat and toddler helmet (which was way too big for the first 2 years). I am not sure how good it was for his little back, being strapped in and not able to sit up yet, slipping down every ten minutes…

What is challenging about riding with kids?

It gets heavy on hills and at the age they are now it is very hard to motivate them. It’s almost always a bribe.  It is no longer a fun thing.

Tell a story  about a special moment related to riding with your kids.

We often to go to Guelph Lake by bike and I let my son lead the way.  We found a nice spot for picnicking.  It is a bonding experience. He becomes very chatty and cute.  For him nature is a very important part, but even when we ride on the road he is in his element.

Have you ever felt judged by those who think you are irresponsible for transporting your kids by bike?

All the time. I have gotten the middle finger many times. I have people shaking a finger at me as if I am a bad mom.  People cutting me off even with the baby trailer.

What do you suppose your kids have learned from this part of your lifestyle?

Maybe to stand up for your rights, to open your minds to other options and to not shy away from a challenge.

Interview with Luke Porter, Coordinator, University Bike Centre

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Can you tell me a bit about the University Bike Centre?

The CSA Bike Centre is a Do it Yourself Learning Centre where people can come to fix their bikes, on their own if they know how, or with help from one of our volunteers. At the Bike Center, there are parts and sometimes whole bikes that are free to take (Donations are appreciated). People who don’t have a bike can come in, fix one up so that it is rideable and ride away with it. We have a wide selection of used parts, and we also have new parts that are available at a discounted rate.

The Bike Centre is open year round, but check the Facebook page for hours as they change seasonally.

We run workshops periodically every semester and also do them by request. They are open to everyone and cover a wide range of skills. People can bring their own bike or they can practice on ours. Our workshops run the gambit from basic bike maintenance to bottom bracket disassembly.

The Bike Centre is part of the University of Guelph Central Student Association. It is funded through undergraduate student fees and donations from users. Our mandate is to get more people (especially students) riding their bikes as a main form of transportation.

How did you get interested in fixing bikes?

I got interested in fixing bikes when I started working at a summer camp called Camp Adventureland. As a leader in training, I loved helping the mountain biking staff with bike rides and bike fixes, I really looked up to them. Over time I became a camp councillor in training, and continued to move up the ranks until I became the camp’s Mountain Biking Director. In college, I studied Outdoor Adventure and tourism.  We had a course dedicated to learning to fix bikes and lead bike tours; this cemented in me my love of cycling and bike mechanics.

 

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Why is riding a bike important to you?

It’s important to me, both for environment and fitness reasons. When I was younger, it was the only way I got around to the school and trails.  Now, even though I can drive, cycling is always the preferred method for getting around.

Where do you go on the bike?

When I was younger, I lived on the Gorba trails. I went up and down and back and forth on those trails. These days I stick mainly to the hidden trails that snake through the south end of Guelph. Even though they’re in suburbs, I feel like I’m lost in nature. I’ve since transitioned to road biking. Back and forth from school, downtown or to the Guelph Grotto are common trips for me.

When do you use the car?

I use the car when I need to haul around extra people, or when I need to go farther distances. In the dead of winter too I opt for the car or bus.

Do you find yourself trying to convert non-cyclists or recreationalists to this life?

Not directly, but indirectly, yes.  Just talking about my beliefs usually isn’t effective, be it politics or cycling or anything else, I don’t think direct conversion is very effective. I share my passion, instead of pushing it on my friends, I find just telling people why I like something (instead of why they should) gets people interested. I had two friends last semester and neither of them had bikes.  I said, “Let me just show you the bike centre.” They ended up getting bike and now they cycle all the time.

What factors do you see determining whether these folks remain committed drivers or give bikes a try?

If they have access to the car, it’s easier to go by car, and sometimes that’s all it takes. Others don’t become cyclists because it’s scary on the road. They need access to consistent bike lanes.  The ones that are on Stone Road are the best ones by far because the raised area that is so obviously for bikes.

How did you come to your current bike set-up? How does it work?

The two that I ride consistently are a converted mountain bike and a road bike. The converted mountain bike is Trek that has been fitted with bald tires, a pannier rack and has had its shocks locked out – it’s my trusty pack mule. My other bike is an Eclipse road bike that I bought last fall. It’s my first true road bike and I was amazed at the difference it makes.

What needs to happen in Canada to make the culture, and eventually the roads, more bike friendly?

I think there needs to be efforts by both politicians and advocacy groups. There needs to be increased attention to climate change and the positive effects cycling can have. A more constructive dialogue between cyclists and driver is also a key component. The last key is more bike lanes (preferably the ones like we have on Stone Road)