The trick is to smile.
Not too much, just the sides of the mouth pulled up ever-so-slightly,as Naomi Campbell says, “smize”.
The road is curved ahead and our bikes whirr around a corner flanked by old trees.
The constant pumping of your legs and those of a girl with a nice round bum in front of you are all you can think of at this moment – and the trees – in Niagara, Ontario, they are everywhere and they smell like a fairy tale forest – especially now, as you soar past them at 30 kilometres an hour, using exactly zero gasoline and 100% personal energy, expended in one of the best possible ways; cycling in Niagara with friends.
“Okay, Queenston is up ahead,” says Shannon as she pulls her bike beside mine. “Just press the little thingy on your right down until it feels right.”
Queenston Hill must have been part of what Sir. Winston Churchill was talking about when he famously said the Niagara Parkway was “the prettiest Sunday drive in the world.”
There it is ahead now. The hill looks pretty, sure, but it also looks steep.
“Loosen your hands,” says Mike, a seasoned cyclist who drops back to chat, “don’t grip the handle bars too tight and breathe.”
The clicks of the gears switching down and the beating of your heart in your ears is all you focus on as you ascend Queenston for the first time. The slender 185 foot high monument to Major General Sir Isaac Brock, one of Canada’s heroes of the War of 1812, stands watching you and your friends as you pump relentlessly up, up, up. As you reach the midway point, your heart rate evens out and you relax enough to look around. To the one side is a verdant Canadian forest where deer, wild turkeys, owls, foxes and more dwell. On the other, is a view to fall in love with. The Niagara River curves and widens between a green tapestry and is at its most romantic at the midway point of Queenston Hill. There is a spot to pull over, kiss your lover or hug your child, but today you are riding this hill. Your heart pumps beautifully and your body thanks you.
Getting on a bike, any sort will do – maybe it comes with a wicker basket between the handlebars, handy for buying a dozen fresh peaches or local honey from the roadside Mennonite stands or a carbon fibre feather light fit for the Tour De France, will be just fine; the landscape of the Niagara Region is fit for the bike ride of your life no matter your speed or your style.
Even if you haven’t owned a bicycle since it had tassels on the bars or those plastic clickers on the wheels, not a problem, Steve from Zoom Leisure Bikes will help you out.
“Zoom is open year round but most people prefer to use our services during the ‘nice’ weather here which is April through November, but if you want a bike on New Year’s Eve or Christmas Day, we make it happen,” says Steve deBoer, owner of Zoom Bikes. Steve and his wife Rebecca, run the business out of their Niagara-On-The-Lake shop (431 Mississauga St.) but you can rent their bikes at the 12 Zoom Leisure bike share self-serve locations throughout the Region where all you need is a credit card, a smart-phone and a free app.
Cycling in Niagara has become increasingly popular drawing celebrities the likes of Clive Owen and Adam Sandler who have both rented bikes at Zoom in recent years.
“The motion of the wheels, just the momentum, the freedom, the personal power you can choose to put into it through training. It’s the best exercise you can do, there’s no pollution and yet you see so much of your own community or experience a new community,” says Steve.
“Try to keep your goals reasonable. You don’t become a pro at balancing or clipping in or climbing a hill right away. It takes work, so take baby steps and set simple goals.”
“It can get very addictive,” he chuckles.
The top of Queenston is in sight now and the roundabout which takes you down roads leading to bustling Niagara Falls, the village of St. David’s or endless rows of vineyards, fields of peach trees and protected forests of the Greenbelt open up before us.
“How was it?” asks Shannon as we turn o for a quick water break by a oral display and a park filled with picnickers.
Your eyes are a little blurry from the sunscreen which has bled into them, but your limbs are tingling in strange and new ways and you begin to understand how the endorphins flooding every vein could be “addictive.”
“You’re almost ready for the circle loop,” says Mike with a wide smile. The loop Mike is talking about is referred to officially by the Niagara Region tourist board as the ‘Greater Niagara Circle Route’, a 140 kilometre adventure past the Welland Canal, the Niagara River, the Friendship trail along the north shore of Lake Erie and finally Niagara-On-The-Lake.
The Circle route takes a good six hours and is for intermediate cyclists or you can simply relax and just try part of the loop. The Welland Canals Parkway Trail makes up 45 km of the loop and is worth the journey if simply to make it a reason to stop at the best coffee shop in Welland; The Black Sheep Lounge. When we stopped for a cup of joe, 40 kilometres into the ride, it may be that distance cycling makes everything taste better, or it may be that owner, Lucas Spinosa really knows his coffee. Covered in tattoos and more than a few piercings, Lucas is rumoured to run for city council in Welland, although when we met him at the Black Sheep, he was on his way to a Marilyn Manson concert.
The Friendship Trail sounds corny, only it’s not. This well-maintained trail was once a rail line and is now a 24 kilometre trail through lush forest and singing birds past sleepy towns leading to sandy beaches along Lake Erie; ideal spots to strip o your sweaty spandex and jump into the lake.
Cycling along the Parkway, the majestic power of the famous Horseshoe Falls pounds endlessly, as the fine mist from the world’s most visited waterfall caresses and cools you down as you whiz along the road past the hordes of tourists.
Queenston Hill is before you again now, only this time you fly down, past the killer view point, past General Brock who would love to jump off his high podium to join you and down-down-down to the recently dubbed, “friendliest town in Canada” Niagara-On-the-Lake where freshly shucked oysters or a glass of Ontario Chardonnay is awaiting you.
If the trick is to smile, you smile wide, because who knew a hill, a bike and some friends could be one of the best days of your life.
The roads are meant to be shared and so riders should do their best to stay single le and as close to the right side of the road as possible.
If you want to chat on the road, make sure there are no cars behind you, talk brie y and get back in line.
Helmets are legally required under the age of 16 in Ontario but it is highly recommended all cyclists wear helmets.
You can ride on most roads, except:
• controlled access highways, such as Ontario’s 400-series highways
• across a road within a pedestrian cross-over – you must walk your bike to the other side
Slow down when you approach riders and give them at least one meter of space when passing.
A motorist may cross the centre line of a roadway in order to pass a cyclist. If this cannot be done, he or she must slow down behind the cyclist until it is safe to pass.
If a group of cyclists are hogging the road, feel free to use your horn, they should be single file.
TO RENT BIKES IN NIAGARA:
Zoom Leisure Bikes: zoomleisure.com 1-866-811-6993