Note from Cyclin' Missy: Today, I welcome another guest post from Missi Hathaway about urban cycling, particularly in Montreal! While I've visited Canada many times, I've only been to Ontario. As a francophone, it's a little sad that I've never spent time in the province of Quebec. The hubby has traveled around Quebec and has visited Montreal, of which I am very jealous!
Chic Fitness: How Cycling is Shaping Urban Culture
Serious cyclists are usually the geared-up gurus hitting some broken-down trail, right? The sleek, aerodynamic athlete who can swoop up a hill-climb losing barely a pearl of sweat, or the rugged backpacker who escapes into forested climes or a beach ride along the coast. At least, this is the theory – cycling is both professional sport and pleasurable pastime, for the sake of itself.
The Urban Jungle
Fair enough – the very best of cycling is to be found in the wilderness, but things are changing, especially in North America. Cities across the continent are following in the footsteps of Amsterdam and introducing a network of bicycle paths, which are quickly shaping themselves into the character of their locale and fast becoming inseparable from its identity. This isn’t just because cycling is a quick, easy, and cheap means of commuting from home to workplace, but because it has come to represent the diversity of a thriving, cosmopolitan society.
Take a look over the border at Montreal, Canada’s cultural capital. Rated as one of the top ten cities in the world for its cycling infrastructure, it hosts one of the newest networks of single, double-laned routes and it continues to grow. It’s transformed the city into a safer, more accessible place. And it’s drawn out of the woodwork a rich tapestry of urban joie de vivre, which was always there but needed the right kind of pulse to flow through it. Now, there is everything from Bixi-bike rentals across the island to fixie (fixed-gear) bike groups to bike cafes and even a full-fledged bicycle festival, not to mention Urban Bike Week in mid-May. Specifically focusing on “safety, regulations, mobilization, adaptation and maintenance of equipment… local initiatives, female/feminist perspectives, art and activism” it is representative of what cycling means to modern society.
Art and activism – whoa, heavy terms. But marvelously exciting ones, too – clearly showing how cycling has become so integral to an urban landscape. Certain roads have their distinct “class” of character, and pretty much anything goes in Montreal and other contemporary hubs. Rue Maisonneuve is a commuter’s trail, whereas Rue Rachel stretches across the Plateau (think of New Orleans; trendy cafes, bars, clubs and terraces glowing with relics from the old world and new) traversing several districts and parks, including the Jardin Botanique (Botanical Gardens) and the futuristic Stade Olympique. Don’t be surprised if you see a hipster fly by with a bare guitar strapped to his or her back or a crazily-tattooed guy with neons and a boombox fixed to his ride of choice. For the athlete, journey to the Old Port, turn onto the Lachine Canal – gorgeous old industrial buildings here – and ride on to the seaside-like peninsula or detour for a spin on the Formula 1 Gilles Villeneuve race track on one of the neighboring islands. Choose your time wisely, though – these contain a hefty combo of family days out and avid athletes, although you are more likely to see the latter beaming up the trails on Mont Royal itself.
So where there is demand there is also supply, and Montreal isn’t the only city to recognize this. It’s not just the big superstores who do sales and repairs nowadays, but non-franchised, locally-run businesses are popping up all over the place and making a profit. In a place like Montreal which has a lot of competition, keeping it authentic but throwing a little uniqueness into the mix is essential. There is Révolution Montreal, a bike repair shop/hair salon in the Gay District for example. There is Allo Vélo Boutique, which can grease your chains while you sip on a soothing latte and listen to some indie tunes. More and more cafes are opening their patios to bike racks and playing on the theme of this hip, clean mode of transportation – even changing their cuisine to healthier, organic foods in keeping with the “feel” or the lifestyle.
Fitness is In
This is because cycling culture wheeled in with its trusty counterpart, fitness culture. This has been around for quite a while, with joggers hitting the pavement on early morning runs and late night gyms popping up. But now, there are huge cycling studios for year-round practice (although hardcores will still brave sleet and snow to wear down their treads in midwinter) and several communities on the net and in the downtown offering great tips and venues on keeping fit and eating right. Taking off particularly well in the student community, there are more university groups, programs, and stores - especially bicycle shops – setting up to provide the best in goods from biking boots to protein powders that are organically sound. With this culture also comes an ethical side too – as highly active cyclists tend to have a green side, they also want their products to be sourced from natural, fair trade origins. There is such a huge, thriving movement of bicycle fitness that is inspiring even those with gym phobia to get out the house and onto a seat for a vigorous ride.
The Best of All Worlds
This is the new face of North America – clean, friendly, accessible. Sure, East Asia’s been onto the bicycle phenomenon for years, but urban America and Canada have a lot of offer in the way of city cycling. Wide streets and modern infrastructure make customization for cyclists simple and feasible, and the many communities which cities house in their boroughs allow for new and innovative businesses to function competitively. This means that a cyclist never has to go far to grab a quick snack or chill out under the stars to one of the many festivals or events that their region has to offer. There is often excellent access to expansive recreational parks and several programs to take advantage of. Experiencing the city through the eyes a cyclist means uncovering some of the best hidden gems as well as finding a quick route to the famous landmarks for which a town can become so distinctively enticing. It is a pulse which flows through everything from gritty grid-lock to the smell of bakeries in early-morning alleys to the sound of evening bird song by the lake. From mountain bikes to city bikes to hybrids, from the chilled-out hipster to the hectic white-collar to the average Joe, cycling means freedom, expression, and is at the core of every booming city. So don’t just turn to the great outdoors for a taste of two-wheeled wonder – there is a vibrant, eclectic, and animated track awaiting your tread in the downtown too.