This summer I had the pleasure of cycling all over Ottawa. I do mean ALL over. On top of my daily commute, recreational rides and standard errands, I embarked on an ambitious plan (more so than I had bargained) to tackle all 15 of the cycling routes recently developed by the City of Ottawa as suggested bike tourism excursions. My goal was to make a Canada 150 project out of riding each route, and to invite friends and family to join me on occasion, then write and post photos chronicling my two-wheeled travels.
I did it. I completed all 15 rides, totalling close to 700 km and taking a bit longer than planned. Although I originally wanted to complete all the rides by the end of August, I had to do the last four in September, with my final ride on September 15. My excuse is that it was not the best year for riding, as the wet and windy spring weather carried on for much of the summer. Still, with a bit of flexibility in scheduling, I was able to stay dry most of the time.
None of the rides felt like a chore, even when weather was not being friendly. In fact, I enjoyed the venture so much that I feel compelled to share some of what I saw and learned in this column.
First, let me point out that these rides are not designed for expert cyclists. While MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra!) will enjoy most of them, only a few are at the upper end of endurance and technical difficulty. Most of these itineraries are either very gentle and exclusively on paths, or moderately challenging, with some on-road riding mostly confined to quiet urban, suburban or rural roads.
Which brings me to the second point. These Capital Rides are almost an equal blend of urban, suburban and country, and some cover two or all three of these lanscapes — as they should in a city as vast and as geographically diverse as Ottawa.
Here’s what I learned:
- Ottawa is big. Very big. On numerous occasions, such as while I was sitting at a picnic bench on the Ottawa River at Fitzroy Harbour, I would think, “Really, this is still the City of Ottawa?” It’s a quirk of amalgamation, but hey, make the best of it. And there is a lot to make the best of. We have scenery.
- Ottawa has great bakeries, cafés and (cover your ears) pubs in unexpected places.
- The cycling infrastructure has improved enormously in the years since I was a young and fit distance rider. There are now so many more routes you can take where you never, or almost never, have to ride on the edge of a road with traffic zooming past you. Until 10 years ago, balancing on that thin white line was the norm. Granted, there are practical, geographical or scheduling reasons that cyclists can’t always choose the quietest routes, and there’s still a lot of room for improvement, and but there are far more options now.
- Ottawa has vineyards. Blame it on the changing climate, or credit the skills and entrepreneurial spirit of the wine lovers who pioneered winemaking in the region.
- You can carry four bottles of wine in a single pannier, packed carefully. But I recommend bringing two panniers — not so much to carry eight bottles, of course, but to help you keep your balance.
- We have great trails along former rail lines. Until taking on this project, I had only heard about the Osgoode Trail in the south, the Prescott-Russell Trail in the east, and the Trans-Canada Trail west to Stittsville and beyond to Ashton. Now I can say that, even on fairly skinny tires, these non-paved paths are a pleasure to ride. That’s true even when riding with young children, like my eight-year-old daughter.
- Some Ottawa roads have a lot of potholes, and a few are literally falling apart. Beware the Thomas A. Dolan Parkway in rural Kanata.
- The Black Walnut Bakery in Cumberland has an amazing pear spice pie. Trust me.
- Anyone can get out and enjoy this city on a bicycle. There really is a route for everyone.
Find out more about the routes and my rides at capitalward.ca/15rides. It may be getting too cold for fair-weather cyclists by the time you read this, but now is the time to start planning for next year!