Story by Sarah Deveau
MONTREAL, QUEBEC — Is there any better way to experience Montréal than by bicycle? While in town to take in the Montréal International Jazz Festival, I heard rave reviews about BIXI, a public bicycle-lending system featuring more than 5,000 bikes at 400-plus stations across the city. The BIXI system is a popular means of quick, inexpensive transportation across major cities, and originated in Montréal, Canada’s most bicycle-friendly city.
With a short trip planned to take in a concert, I used a Spotcycle app to find a BIXI dock near my downtown hotel. It took me less than a minute to rent a bike, which I rode for an hour, dropping it off a kilometre away at Parc du Mont Royal at a different dock. Despite time lost by my circuitous route, the ride cost me just $8.75.
It’s impossible not to be impressed by the sight of tens of thousands of recreational and commuter cyclists tooling around Montréal on professional and utility bicycles. Bike lanes are common on the road, though many cyclists choose to take to the sidewalks or bike paths as well. There’s simply no better way to see the city. Riding a bike versus walking or taking the bus allows visitors to cover dozens of kilometres, stopping at their leisure to take in performing artists, enjoy a splash park, and buy an ice cream.
With this in mind, I rented a bike from Montréal on Wheels on the waterfront. With a 30-kilometre ride planned, I knew the heavier BIXI bike wouldn’t cut it, and needed more gear options for the gruelling hill climbs on my planned route. Aided by a map provided by a knowledgeable guide, I spent four gorgeous hours cycling around the city on an all-day rental for just $25. I visited Old Montréal and downtown Montréal on the St. Lawrence River, as well as the islands of Île Notre-Dame and Île Sainte-Hélène. Alongside other cyclists, inline skaters and cars, I cycled the 4.3-kilometre Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, the Formula 1 racetrack that is home to the Grand Prix Montréal each June.
Despite my reservations, like a true Montréaler I didn’t limit myself to riding in the many bike lanes. I jumped onto the sidewalks and into the middle of the road when needed, and at one point ended up walking my bike along the closed-to-traffic rue Sainte-Catherine during the Festival International Montréal en arts.
I was disappointed to turn over my helmet at the end of my ride, and it inspired me to dust off my bike at home and get out cycling, even if my home city isn’t nearly as bicycle friendly as Montréal. The next time you visit this large Canadian city, be sure to do some of your touring on two wheels.
MORE ABOUT MONTREAL ON WHEELS
Location: 27 rue de la Commune Est, Montréal, Quebec (see map)
Contact: Telephone: 514 866-0633, or toll-free: 1 877 866-0633
Rates: Rentals start at $8 per hour, $25 per day, or $120 per week. Rentals include a helmet, lock, bike trail map and repair kit. Four-hour guided tours are available, beginning at $59 per person.
Website: Montréal on Wheels