Tour of Montreal 2011

By Sarah Ripplinger

During my trip to the Montreal Bike Fest this June, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how many bicyclists there were on the streets. I had heard that Montreal’s cycling culture was alive and well, but what I witnessed was far beyond my expectations.

Montreal has over 300 miles (500 kilometers) of bikeways, 22 miles (35 kilometers) of which are plowed in the winter to enable year-round city riding. And, if a pilot project launched this year proves successful, city buses may soon be equipped with bike racks.

The design of the bikeway network makes it even easier to travel around this relatively flat city. Drivers were courteous, perhaps because about 94 percent of Quebecers aged 18-74 say they have cycled in the past, about 54 percent of them cycled at least once in 2010, according to a Velo Quebec report. “In 2010, 2.0 million adults aged 18 to 74 biked at least once a week,” the report states, up from 1.8 million in 2005 and 1.6 million in 2000.

The popularity of cycling was exemplified on the streets of Montreal. Bike lanes were full of cyclists and the bike share system, BIXI, was almost too popular for its own good. Locals use BIXI for short trips around the city – the first 45 minutes of use are free and there are presently over 5,000 bikes at over 400 stations spread out across the city. Visitors also take advantage of the mobility and ease of use that BIXI offers its patrons.

Trips of five kilometers or less on the island of Montreal are reportedly faster by bike than by car. And traveling along Montreal’s separated bike lanes, including Maisonneuve Boulevard and the Saint Laurent River, you do feel like you’re on bicycle superhighways. Even off of these routes, there is a sense that you’re surrounded by allies. I was almost always near another cyclist or two, if not waiting in a long lineup of bikers at a traffic light, and drivers were cautious when passing and often yielded to me at unmarked intersections.

I had a chance to see the enthusiasm for cycling first-hand at the two central staples of city cycling in Montreal: Un Tour la Nuit and Tour de l’Ile. These two rides bring together thousands of cyclists who travel through the city on roads closed off to motor vehicle traffic in a mass display of velo enthusiasm. They also both ended at a fair ground this year where there was a large Ferris wheel, live music, free food and lots of opportunities to mingle with like-minded individuals and enjoy the nice weather, which we were lucky enough to have this year.

The pace of life is a bit slower in Montreal than it is in other parts of eastern Canada. Here you won’t see people walking down the street with coffee cups or food in their hands. Meals and beverages are savored and locals take the time to enjoy the experience – ideally on a sunny patio in a stylish outfit accented by a relaxed smile.

Cycling is part of the Montreal lifestyle. As far as I could tell, it’s a pursuit undertaken by those who want to get around the city while enjoying the fresh air and company of other cyclists. It’s also something that seems to make life in this culturally rich city even sweeter.

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