One recent summer, when I was in Montreal I biked the city like mad. It’s a great place to ride, with lots of bike lanes, and the world’s first ever bike share program. But I didn’t think much of venturing out of town.
Now all that has changed, as I just learned that Canada has the longest multi-use trail in the world. You can literally bike from from the Atlantic to the Pacific and all the way up into the Yukon.
Now I realize I could have headed out of Montreal, and just kept going.
The Trans Canada Trail has rocketed high up onto my list for a trip I’m dying to do. But the trail is so massive how do you take something like this on?
Here’s how I’d do it:
1. Think About Your Style of Bike Trip
On a trip like this, I’d be after long, quiet days on the trail. Beautiful scenery, and few hassles. That suggests not camping, but staying in local accommodations. I’m dreaming of small, welcoming inns and hot meals that explode in technicolor, because I’ve earned them.
To have the most enjoyable journey possible, I suggest you ask yourself:
- How far do you want to ride? Keeping in mind that how many miles you can ride, and how many you want to ride are two different things.
- What kind of terrain are you up for? The Rockies provide incredible views, but also mountain-sized hills.
- Can your timeframe accommodate wiggle room, so you can enjoy a place for an extra day if you’re tired, or don't want to ride in the rain?
- What makes you the most happy on a trip? Spectacular views? Empty roads? Interesting culture? Or the opportunity to explore off the trail? The vibe matters.
I’ll admit that most of my trips have been loosely planned, at best. But if you have specific parameters — or are doing something like bringing a family — then planning will make a big difference in how pleasant the journey turns out to be.
2. Pick a Section of Trail
Once you know your style, you can consider the best section to ride.
The website Canada By Bicycle offers suggested day-by-day itineraries for the entire route from Vancouver to Newfoundland. Wow.
The east has historic Quebec city, small villages, beautiful towns on the water, and Quebecois language and culture to enjoy.
Saskatchewan gets you prairie. Rolling hills and solitude. Sometimes the simpler, less on-the-map choice can be the best if you're looking to really get away.
Then the west provides the Rockies of Alberta, and coast of BC.
The whole entire width of North America, all accessible.
To make a decision, you'll have to dive into the details.
When planning, I especially love picking up the phone and calling someplace on the ground, like a bike shop, for local knowledge. Who ever does that anymore? For me, speaking with someone who lives there is an advance part of the fun. Do it, and you’ll be glad you did.
3. Make the Bike Match Your Goals
Picking a bike is a big deal.
Once upon a time, I bought a folding bike while traveling in New Zealand. It was the first one I had ever seen, and it was expensive (as things can be down there.)
When I got home, I found out it was the most basic model Dahon made. But you know what? I happily rode that thing all over New Zealand, out of the back of our camper van. The moral of the story is, a simple bike can do the job. If I was in a shop with a wide selection of folding bikes, I would have spent a lot more. But, I didn’t need to.
I’ve noticed, the faster the bike I have, the harder I push. And then the less chill and connected with where I'm riding do I become. We’re probably talking about a week long trip here. My advice is to find a basic bike, and enjoy the ride.
Bring a folding bike, like a Dahon or Tern. You can check it on the plane, and then bring it on other types of transportation, like busses and trains. The drawbacks are: the schlep to get the bike there, potentially the cost of buying one, and that many (but not all) folding bikes only have 20” wheels. (This can be an issue as smaller wheels are harder on the bumps and require more effort to ride.)
If I didn't own a folder, I’d probably buy a used one on ebay. But look out for the extra expense of a tuneup, and risk of a dud bike. All in all, this is my least favorite option, unless you really love folders (which I do.) The upside is you’d have it for your next adventure.
- Buy a used bike in a bike shop at your starting point. The best part about this is that the bike will be reliable. Tuneups are expensive, but here a properly functioning machine is built into the price. At the end of the ride, you can donate it — and when I’ve done this, I’ve felt great.
- Sign on for an adventure. Did I ever tell you about the bike I bought in a junkyard in Panama, which I rode for three long ridiculously hilly days? It’s another story... The point is, building your own rack out of bungee cords and cardboard is part of the adventure. Don’t forget, you’re sleeping in inns and eating in restaurants. All you have to do is make it down the road.
You can do it! It’s the wilds of Canada, for god’s sake! How bad could it be? I say just go for it.
P.S. I almost forgot. My super secret on-the-road treat is a local municipal swimming pools. They're cheap and refreshing. Do pools in Canada require you to wear a Speedo, like in France? That’s yet another story...