Grease up that chain! Cycling isn't just a means to an end, but the journey itself.
By Christopher Mitchell | June 09, 2021
There’s a rush that you get from cycling that’s hard to replicate. Your whole body is moving in synchronous fashion as you push full throttle across a landscape, the wind howling in your ears. There’s an intimacy in how you relate to your surroundings while you’re cycling that can never be experienced in a car. It’s like rolling through a painting from the inside out. It’s a road trip, redefined.
I wasn’t always a cycler—in fact, far from it. However, a few years back I bought a vintage five-speed Raleigh from a local Toronto bike shop. Before long, I was riding it every day and averaging more than 100 kilometres a week. Unwittingly, I had birthed a new, life-changing passion.
Cycling as a Means of Exploration
In the beginning, my attachment to cycling was pragmatic. I enjoyed cycling, but, primarily, it was a means to get me from point A to B. All of that changed in 2019, when I had the opportunity to cycle several hundred kilometres in the Czech Republic. I realized that cycling wasn’t just a means to an end; it wasn’t a tool to get me to the starting line of my next journey or location, but rather a journey unto itself.
Before long, I had unwittingly birthed a new, life-changing passion.
Beginning to Explore Ontario via Bike
In Ontario, it turns out that we have some of the best trail and road cycling on the planet. There are innumerable routes that are well suited for both new and expert cyclists.
To get started, you don’t need to go out and buy a flashy new bike. Use what you have lying around and aim to build a habit around riding it. Instead of driving to that store that’s 15 minutes away, try cycling there.
Once you get comfortable, you can then look at upgrading. For example, I bought an old Bianchi racing bike secondhand from a man in Little Italy once I was sure I’d be tackling longer trips.
Instead of mapping out a trip that will breed anxiety, start small. If you’re based in Toronto, try cycling along the protected Queens Quay path, in the Beaches neighbourhood by the water, or along the lakeshore. If you’re in Ottawa, start with a cycle-friendly jaunt along the Rideau Canal. If you’re in Kingston, start with the Waterfront Pathway. Wherever you are in Ontario, start by focusing on the opportunities right in front of you.
Taking Advantage of This Cycling Mecca
For Ontarians who want to do more than just the extended routes around their homes, I recommend exploring the province’s network of rail trails. They’re often surrounded by pristine nature, decidedly removed from the hustle and bustle of traffic, and were very much constructed with bikers and hikers in mind.
If you’re able to get your hands on one, a gravel bike is ideal for these sorts of trips. Gravel bikes offer quickness on roads, but they have wider tires than road bikes, which means they’re ideal for dirt and gravel.
The Uxbridge Kawarthas Rail Trail is approximately 40 kilometres long, connecting Uxbridge to Lindsay. You can grab breakfast in Uxbridge, hop on the saddle, and then cap off the day with a late lunch in Lindsay. The rail trail from Goderich to Guelph, often called the G2G Rail Trail, comes in at just over 125 kilometres and is arguably the most famous in the province. Since it sweeps through small townships, this can be easily turned into a multi-day trip.
One of the crown jewels of the Ontario cycling network is the Greenbelt Route. It’s a nearly 500-kilometre stretch from Northumberland to Niagara that most cyclists try to tackle in about a week. It’s a mixture of rail trails, country rides and a bit of off-roading.
The true behemoth is the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail, which is more than 3,500 kilometres long, stretching from Sault Ste. Marie all the way to the Quebec border. The stats are staggering—this trail connects more than 150 communities, 40 provincial parks, 500 waterfront parks and 20 national historic sites.
A Passion Worth Investing In
Cycling in Ontario will afford you a new appreciation for the province. Even at full speed, you’ll notice things that will change the way you conceptualize what makes Ontario unique and special. An excuse to get some quality exercise doesn’t hurt either, but in the end it’s all about the intimate moments afforded by riding on two wheels, when you’re truly focused on what can be seen with two open eyes.