Defining what makes a city “bike friendly” is a difficult task, even for me — and I’ve visited many of them on two wheels. Cycling is an amazing way to see a new place, find hidden gems, access places that cars can’t reach and explore the lesser-known local hot spots.
When wanting to explore a city by bike I look for a few key criteria including well-marked and easy to navigate bike routes. These should also be safe, preferably scenic, properly maintained and for those who don’t bring their own along, the city should have a good bike rental shop. Here then are my top five bike friendly cites:
Moving from west to east on the map I have found Vancouver to have the most widespread dedication to cycling infrastructure. The city has dedicated time and money to cycling even in its more urban areas. From wide open multi use paths to the expansive lengths of commuter bike paths that run all the way up to the North Shore — it’s simply incredible. Vancouver leads the way in Canada mainly due to the mild climate and the fact that you can commute or explore the city by bike year-round (as long as you’ve got some good rain gear).
My favourite cycling spots include Stanley Park for a fitness pedal, then over to Granville Island to explore the flavours and smells of the market. After that, a short ride to Gastown for a late afternoon beverage at one of the many fine restaurants that overlook the Vancouver Harbour makes for a full day. Other great bike destinations include Kitsilano and English Bay beach as well as the Museum of Vancouver and Canada Place.
Moving over a few mountain ranges and into the Prairies is the beautiful city of Saskatoon. With the South Saskatchewan River running right through the heart of the city, it’s a picturesque — and flat — place to ride. There has been a big push in cycling infrastructure to help university students and staff get to campus with ease. In fact, the city of Saskatoon is so proud of their commitment to cycling that its website includes a section to help you understand the rules and designated cycling routes.
Riding the river paths will offer great views. The Kiwanis memorial park, located adjacent to the business district along the river, is a natural animal habitat of many bird species and has some mountain bike trails for more adventurous cyclists. User friendly trails and loops range from just a few kilometers in length to well over 20 kilometers.
For in depth information on the trail system, there’s an app that can help with that! If you’re more into discovering the city, cycling lanes were installed in the downtown core in 2016. Access all types of local businesses on two wheels and finish off your ride with an ice cream from a local landmark, the Homestead Ice Cream shop, that’s been around since 1978.
In “Queen City”, you’ll find a system great for both travellers and locals. For only $7/day grab a bike-share bike and park it at any designated station or lock it up using the integrated lock provided. But like most bike shares, they don’t come with a helmet, so be sure to bring your own.
My favorite riding destination in Toronto is the lakeshore bike path. In summer, an early morning ride is ideal, but it is equally beautiful in the fall when the leaves are changing and temperatures are more comfortable. After a ride along the lakefront I like to stop in at Sugar Beach before heading into the historical Distillery district where cool shops, cafes and restaurants line the no-car cobblestone paths and take your mind away from the urban sprawl.
For thrill seekers the Don River Valley mountain bike trail system is easily accessible off the paved path system and has some extensive single track trails. Just be sure you’ve rented the right bike to tackle the terrain.
During the spring, summer and into the fall, Montreal is by far the easiest city to navigate and has embraced cycling to the highest level. With over 540 stations to pick up and drop off your “Bixi” bike-share bike Montreal leads the way in inner city bike accessibility. The city’s huge network of marked paths and designated lanes makes it one of my favorite cities to visit.
If you’re at all apprehensive about planning your vacation around bike travel in the city, don’t be. My experiences have been great using all types of paths and lanes but be aware: the road surfaces can get a bit rough in some areas, and there are a few hills. If you prefer a flat and smooth ride, follow the path along Lachine Canal all the way to the Old Port where you’ll bike through many of the city’s waterside neighbourhoods. Take a break at Montreal’s own Terrasse St-Ambroise, located right on the bike path.
The east coast in winter can be tough, but summertime is complete bliss. With the smell of the salty ocean air and the cool breeze you can’t help but want to explore cities like Halifax. The coastal city is home to multiple universities, so the need for accessibility by bike is huge. But be warned: biking in Halifax isn’t for the faint of heart. The coastal terrain can dish out some pretty steep pitches, so it’s important to have some cycling experience and stamina.
I Heart Bikes is a local organization that promotes cycling and encourages locals and tourists to discover the city. On my last trip to I made it my goal to visit all the local microbreweries over the course of my visit. I started off with the famous Alexander Keiths brewery tour (which was a blast), and then it was off to Garrisons, Spindrift, Nine Locks and Oland. If you’re tight on time Stillwell Beer Garden is a great one-stop-shop to sample a little of everything on the up and coming Halifax microbrew scene.
Exploration is always fun – but taking the time to plan a trip without a windshield between you and your surroundings is even better. So the next time you’re planning a getaway or you happen to be away on business, consider looking into what the city has to offer for bike accessible amenities and enjoy the wind in your hair.
For more information about cycling, check out Ryan’s other great blog: Best Bike Trails in Canada. Also, take advantage of our free checked bike promotion this summer along the Montreal-Jonquiere route.
Top image: Eastern Shore (©Discover Halifax)