It has been said that there is no better way to experience a new travel destination than by bike. The intimacy with the environment afforded to the cyclist by the lack of walls and the slower pace of travel are beyond compare. Imagine priming your senses with the smell of grapes as you ride through the vineyard of the next winery you visit. Ahhh… and because Niagara is so full of natural beauty, from green spaces to epic waterfalls, it has also become one of the premier cycling destinations in Canada.
When people hear the word “Niagara,” the next word that often comes to mind is “Falls”; but Niagara is far more than the Falls, especially to the visiting cyclist. Niagara has endless, quiet country roads strewn with vineyards and orchards just waiting for the leisurely cyclist. Challenging climbs up the Niagara Escarpment and breath-taking views for the road cyclist, and sweet, flowing single-track for the cyclist that prefers the fatter tires of the mountain bike. For every kind of cyclist, Niagara has it all.
For the wine-drinking cyclist, Niagara is heaven on earth. The wineries are conveniently located close enough to each other that you won’t get too thirsty riding from one to the next, and just far enough apart to justify the wine with a decent bike ride. All you will need to enjoy the day is a bike, a helmet, and a map of the local wineries (available at the LCBO). And don’t despair if you are reading this from your hotel room and realize your bike is at home in the garage. Zoom Leisure Bikes on Mississauga St. in Niagara-on-the-Lake has plenty of bikes for rent. They also offer a wide range of bike tours, from leisurely wine tours to challenging road rides.
If local history is more your cup of tea, the Greater Niagara Circle Route is for you. The route offers approximately 140km of paved trails that travel alongside the Welland Canal, through historic Fort Erie and past Fort George. It is comprised of five separate trails that link to form a circle. Most people enjoy the Route by riding these smaller sections, but riding the entire Circle in one day presents a tempting challenge to some as well. If the entire Route isn’t on your agenda, a “must ride” section is the Welland Canal Trail. It is definitely one of the most scenic parts of the Route, and with a 12-foot-wide paved path to ride on, the only thing you will have to be on the lookout for is the odd pedestrian or dog walker. The easiest place to access the Trail is from the top of Lock 3, at the Visitor’s Centre in Thorold. Canal City Bikes in downtown Thorold also offers bikes for rent, so check them out if you need one. The Trail offers a quiet paved path along the canal from Thorold to Port Colborne. You may never have a better chance to ride right beside ships from all over the world!
For the more serious road cyclist, Niagara has you covered. There are endless stretches of quiet roads and plenty of routes up the escarpment to challenge your legs. It’s certainly no mistake that Niagara is the stomping grounds of arguably the best cyclist Canada has ever produced, Steve Bauer. Steve started his career here, and still lives and rides in Niagara. The Niagara scenery is so spectacular, the first GranFondo Niagara Falls will premier here in the summer of 2013. Great loops can be found in almost any city or town in Niagara. Maps of the local bike routes can be found here: http://www.niagararegion.ca/exploring/cycle/default.aspx. The Region of Niagara even has an app for smartphones that allows you to pull up the map of the cycling routes in Niagara, and uses GPS to show your location on the map. If challenge is what you’re after, check out the Niagara Classic Road Race route (http://www.stcatharinescc.com/?page_id=456); it is a 12.3km loop that includes a climb up the infamous Saylor’s Hill. The pros will tackle this loop ten times!
For the mountain biker, Niagara’s best kept secret may be its miles and miles of smooth, fluid single-track. Hidden from sight and buried in almost green space throughout St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Pelham have enough trails to keep any mountain biker happy for hours. Built and maintained by local cyclists and cycling clubs, Niagara has a little bit of everything. Along the Twelve Mile Creek trails in St. Catharines are plenty of tight and twisty trails with enough bridges thrown in to keep you on your toes. Short Hills Provincial Park offers multi-use trails with plenty of climbs, single and double-track. Even Port Colborne offers a fun, condensed mix of trails known as the “Hood.” To access these trails, contact a local bike shop or the Short Hills Cycling Club (www.shorthillscyclingclub.com). Your best bet may be to inquire about hiring a local guide to take you out. If you’re the type that likes to figure this stuff out on your own, then head to the small parking area under the Burgoyne Bridge in downtown St. Catharines. Liberty Bicycles hosts a summer Wednesday night race series starting from the bridge and the 15km race route is permanently marked.
Regardless of the bike you prefer or the terrain you prefer to ride on, you will find it here in Niagara. And because there is almost nothing more satisfying than finishing an epic ride with a great glass of wine…relax…because now you know you’ve come to the right place.
Louise Blais BSc | MA Candidate, Managing Editor of White Oaks Magazine