I’m really not your average cyclist. I have spent a lot of my life on two wheels. You see, my passion for cycling started at the age of seven while watching a stage of the Tour de France on TV. I remember it well and it was the first time I felt motivated to climb aboard my super cycle and head for the open road. At the tender age of seven, the distance covered was negligible. I’m sure I had only gone a few short kilometers but in my head I was halfway around the world.
Fast forward and it’s a feeling I still get today while riding roads, paths and killer single track trails. I’ve spent a significant amount of my time riding in Europe, South America, South Africa, and the United States, yet my absolute favorite places to ride are still right here in Canada.
Growing Up on the Shield
I grew up in Sudbury, Ontario and had access to some pretty amazing riding right in the heart of the city. Located on the Canadian Shield, it was an extremely tough spot to learn the ropes of mountain biking especially during black fly season. The local trails, the bike shops, paths and the cycling culture of the city really got me cycling for the long haul. My favorite riding locations in Sudbury are all in the vicinity of the Laurentian University Campus and Ramsey Lake, where you can find basic double track mountain bike trails covered in wood chips for soft landings and more technical hilly single track called the Simics trail system for the more advanced riders. Lower traffic volume in the summer, when university is out, makes the roads around the lake a great option for road cycling and sightseeing. Insider’s tip: the parking lot at the world-renowned Science North Science Centre gives access to the multi-use path that circumnavigates Ramsey Lake Park – a popular swimming and picnic destination for families.
The Blueberry Trail in Northern Quebec
Having French Canadian roots, I’ve spent plenty of time in the beautiful province of Quebec and one trail that is an absolute must is the Blueberry Trail. Located in the Lac-St-Jean area, this trail system is 256km in length and is very user friendly, but some good fitness is recommended. Despite being a mix of bike paths, secondary roads and the odd highway segment, the route is well marked and drivers are made aware of cyclists through additional signage. Known also as part of the Green Route, this multi-use trail system is full of old country buildings and landmarks. From countryside views that will take your breath away, to the majestic blue waters of Lac-St Jean itself, these trails are stunning so be sure to bring your camera. The most popular location to start a half-day or longer multi-day trip is from the small town of Alma. There you will find the Blueberry route information center offering advice and maps to make your ride more enjoyable.
Biking in Nova Scotia
A little farther east in Nova Scotia, more great cycling destinations can be found. I love the multi-day guided rides of the 320 km loop through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park (again, good fitness recommended), which can be planned and booked with the fine folks at Freewheeling Adventures in Hubbards, NS. But if you’re looking to keep it short, half-day casual family tours are also available in the area. These guided rides tour the local fisheries, so you can ride and learn about local fishing techniques. Top off the day with a serious maritime dining experience at one of the local of seafood restaurants.
Discover the High Rockies Trail
One of the best bike trails in Canada has yet to be truly discovered by the masses. As part of the Canada 150 celebrations in July, the final segments that link the Great Trail (formerly the Trans Canada Trail) from east to west will officially be complete. One of the most majestic parts of the Great Trail is a segment found west of Calgary in Kananaskis Country called the High Rockies Trail. A masterpiece in its own right, it is a narrow two-way trail designated for moderately skilled mountain bikers, hikers, walkers and trail runners. It’s almost 80 km in length, has stunning views of the Spray River Valley, and was designed around the contours of the landscape. It was built to accommodate all types, with bridges and lower gradient climbs allowing for a relatively easy mountain trail experience on foot.
The best place to start your adventure is the mountain town of Canmore, Alberta where you can get all your supplies and even rent bikes from several rental outfitters. Accessing the trail is easy enough with multiple access points but I recommend starting at the Driftwood parking lot and picnic area. Insider’s tip: you’re in the mountains here, so make sure to bring food, water, spare clothing and even bear spray, in the off chance you spot a black or grizzly bear. Also note that there is no cell coverage in the area.
Riding the Wild West
I am a mountain biker at heart, so I feel obligated to give you my essential road trip advice for mountain biking in the Rockies. Hands down, the line from Calgary to Vancouver on the Trans- Canada Highway will give you the biggest single-track bang for your buck. Many cities along the way are worth a weeklong adventure, but I think the town of Whistler has it all. Originally known as a world class downhill ski destination, Whistler has become a cycling mecca in less than a decade. Not only does it have the epic downhill mountain Bike Park but it also has the casual gravel Lost Lake loop, the extensive, paved multi-use Valley Trail path system and maze of trails suited for all types of family fun. Another big bonus with Whistler if you’re travelling with kids: you can drop your daredevils off for a lesson at the hill or enroll them in bike camp and enjoy some casual adult riding.
The Best Biking App
My favorite resource for bike travelling is the Trail Forks app which is dedicated to bike trails and maps all over the globe. Wherever you end up, local bike shops are also a great resource for information, wildlife sightings or even the best pit-stops. Each destination is unique and will have cycling experiences for riders of all abilities. In the summer months, all of these destinations are hotspots for cycling so take the time to plan ahead. Happy cycling!
top image: Whister Blackcomb