Monday, July 29, 2019

Biking in Canada: Part Trois

At this point, our family trip into Canada is done and we're back home. But our last visit was to the City of Quebec, several hours drive northeast of Montreal. I had mentioned in the previous post that the older parts of Montreal give a person the impression of a European city - and Quebec is a lot like that, but even more so. The "Old City" is reportedly the only fortified or "walled" city in North America (at least north of Mexico), and some parts of it date back to the 1600s. Our lodging was in rented house in the borough of Beauport, a short drive away from downtown. We spent about three days there - a lot of it exploring the "Old City" as a family, though I did get to do some riding on my own.

I had been warned that Quebec was not as "bike friendly" of a city as Montreal, but I wouldn't totally agree with that. There were numerous bike lanes, both on-street and separated, and there is a very nice bike path along the riverside. But the "Old City" is very compact -- conjested with cars and huge tour buses,  the streets are narrow (which apparently is not a deterrent to the buses), and crowded with tourists, and overall it seems really better suited to exploring on foot. However, having said that, because it is such a fight to find parking around the "Old City," I would at least suggest getting there by bike if at all possible, bring (or wear) walking shoes, find a good place to lock your bike, and then go walking.

This was on the steps leading from the "Upper Town" (or Haut-Ville) to the "Lower Town" (or  Basse-Ville). You can get a sense here of why getting around on a bike would be a bit tricky.
It's easy to forget you're not actually in Paris.
As I said - lots of narrow streets and alleyways - bustling with people. This alley was brimming with artists selling their work to tourists.
There are so many little cafes with tables on the sidewalk or on the street - and tons of interesting shops.
So, all of that was fantastic to see, but trying to get through much of it with a bike would be a pain. So for a much more peaceful ride, I decided to head over to the Ile d'Orleans, which sits right in the middle of the Saint Lawrence River, just to the east of the city.

The bridge to the isle was only about a 15-20 minute ride from the house where we were staying.
But first I rode over to Montmorency Falls, which was just a short detour from my route to the bridge. It was early so I got to enjoy seeing the falls pretty much by myself. The falls are reportedly 272 feet high, which is actually 99 feet higher than Niagara Falls.

Those cables going across the falls are a zipline. Not for me. Merci, NO!

From up on the observation deck by the falls, I could get a good view of the bridge and the Ile d'Orleans. I'd have a nice, fast downhill ride to the bridge.
(Gratuitous bicycle shot)
Approaching the bridge, which is a fairly delicate-looking suspension bridge.

I was up early so there was very little traffic on the bridge. But it's a very narrow roadway, and the walking/biking "lane" on the side is also very narrow. You wouldn't want to encounter someone coming the opposite direction.
At the mid-way part of the span. Did I mention that I really do not like high places? What's worse is that a truck would drive by and I could feel the whole roadway bounce. Oh, my stomach.
Nice view, though.
Once onto the Ile d'Orleans, there is one main road, Route 368, which encircles the perimeter of the whole island. It's about 42 miles all the way around. Orleans is sparsely populated, and primarily agricultural. There is not much in the way of development - and it's really peaceful as a result.

(Shadow "selfie")
I'm told that the island can get pretty busy with tourists this time of year, but again, I was out there pretty early. One of the big draws of the island is the produce. I saw farms of all kinds - fruits and vegetables, poultry and eggs, dairy, and there are produce markets and lots of little roadside fruit stands all along the 368. There are also vineyards and some small wineries, little cafes here and there, and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns.

I spotted this beautiful little cottage overlooking the river. There were lots of others like it.
One of many strawberry farms. OK, just for a frame of reference, try to imagine the powerful perfume of strawberries filling your nostrils. It was so strong I just had to stop. The downside of being out so early was that the markets and roadside stands weren't open yet. I was sorely tempted to run down there and pick a handful, but couldn't bring myself to do it.
Another farm with a great view.
After a great ride around the island, it was time to make my way back to the bridge.
There's Montmorency Falls, as seen from the bridge. The house where we were staying was at a similar elevation as at the top of the falls, so you can see I'd have some climbing ahead of me.
Before making the climb back up to the house (and the climb was a doozy) I enjoyed a leisurely ride for a few miles on the bike path that follows the Saint Lawrence, then started climbing. Did I mention that before leaving for Canada, I had put a different freewheel on the Mercian? I found an Ultra (narrow) 6-speed to replace my 5-speed. My low gear went from 24 to 28 teeth, with a 42-tooth chainring. That was helpful. And my smallest cog went from 14 to 13 - while picking up an extra gear ratio in the middle. Nice.

The following morning, we got the car packed up and started making the drive back home. All told, we had an excellent week in Canada, and it was nice to be able to experience at least some of it on two wheels. I hope the readers enjoyed it too.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Biking in Canada - Part Deux

As I mentioned in the previous post, my family and I have been enjoying a week with our neighbors to the north in Canada, and I brought one of my vintage Mercian bikes to do some two-wheeled exploring during our stay. Our first stop had been in the Niagara region, and then we headed around Lake Ontario and up to the Province of Quebec to spend a couple of days in Montreal.

Now, I've been to Canada many times - mostly in Ontario, but also a visit to British Columbia some years back. One of the things that's pretty obvious when visiting Canada is that almost all signs (road signs, etc.) are in both English and French. I had assumed that this would still be the case in Quebec -- I mean, I thought maybe French would be first, with English second -- but I assumed signs would still be "bi-lingual." Turned out I was wrong. Quebec is pretty much "full-immersion" French. I should also mention that currently about half of Montreal seems to be under construction, with road and lane closures at just about every turn, and lots of detours. Believe me, it was an exciting (and nerve-wracking) experience trying to navigate the city while struggling to understand the road signs.

Let me back up a moment. So, in high school and college I had taken a little bit of Spanish, and a little bit of French. Not enough of either one to become even remotely proficient. And that was about 35 years ago. When reading in either language, especially if I have some context, I can usually get a decent gist of what something means, albeit slowly. But when someone actually speaks to me it's really difficult for me to process what they're saying. Hell, I can't even identify most of the words they're saying. So all over Montreal, every time someone would speak to me in French, I'd have this panic-stricken moment of indecision, kind of like a squirrel in the middle of the road with a car bearing down on it, then a confused verbal mess would pour forth from my mouth in a tangled combination of English, French, and Spanish. "Excuse me, parlez vous English, por favor?" Yeah - it's embarrassing. (However, one of our nights in town we had dinner in a great little Mexican restaurant where my unique SpaFraEnglish dialect worked out really well - just saying). Thankfully, most people we encountered were incredibly pleasant, patient, understanding - and bi-lingual. Friendly and pleasant - Canadians, this is why the world loves you.

Anyhow, Montreal has a reputation for being a very bike-friendly city, with miles and miles of bike lanes, paths, and other bike infrastructure all around the city. Unfortunately, a lot the previously mentioned construction is currently affecting the cycling infrastructure almost as much as for drivers, but I couldn't help but notice there are still bicycles and riders just about everywhere you look. It's clearly not stopping any riders.

My family and I were staying in a hotel near McGill University and just a few blocks from one of the most significant landmarks in the city - Mont Royal. On my first opportunity to get out on my bike, I did some exploring in the area near the hotel and the district known as "Le Plateau-Mont-Royal" which is a pretty laid-back, funky neighborhood. I managed to find a couple of bike shops that got my attention.

One was called Bikurious . . .

. . . Where I spotted some terrific eye-candy hanging around inside . . .

. . . Like this Gardin track bike hanging from the ceiling . . .
. . . And this gorgeous old Gios track bike.
Later, riding along a bike route on Rue Cherrier, I came across Le Grand Cycle which practically begs a cyclist to stop in.

"Halte Cycliste" - Yes, I recommend you do.
Just inside, hanging over the door was this nice vintage Campagnolo-equipped Marinoni. . .

Marinoni cycles are built not too far from Montreal in the town of Terrebonne, Quebec.
There were also vintage jerseys, and some fun retro-grouchy items on display in one of the glass cases.
When I walked into Le Grand Cycle with my vintage red Mercian, I immediately got compliments from several people inside. One of the associates was having his lunch when I walked in (poutine, of course) but was eager to take time out to talk bikes. I told him a little about my Mercian - he wasn't familiar with the marque - as he was admiring the details of the lugwork, vintage components, and its original paint. We had a nice chat, then he gave me a detailed map of Montreal and its network of bike routes, and gave some recommendations for places to see. What a great little shop! I was really glad I had stopped in.

One of the places he recommended I ride was the aforementioned Mont Royal.

Mont Royal, as seen from the roof of our hotel. You might notice that cross at the top. More about that later.
There is a network of trails all over the mountain, and it's a popular spot for hikers and cyclists alike. 
One cool bit of cycling-related history is that Mont Royal was a significant feature of the 1976 Montreal Olympic bicycle road race. The race course circuit had the racers climbing Mont Royal 14 times. And American rider George Mount finished in 6th place overall -- one of the first hints that American cycling was finally starting to come of age. You can watch a few highlights from that race here:

The video quality isn't great - but notice near the beginning of the coverage that the commentator points out George Mount and then says "he's not expected to do much." Nice to know he had to eat those words. From watching the video, it seems that when it was raced in the '76 Olympics, the main route up to the summit was probably paved. Today, the route is a mostly firm-packed gravel (if someone knows more about that, feel free to leave a comment).

It's nice and wide, and mostly firm, but there are plenty of loose patches to be careful of. The main route winds its way up to the summit in such a way that the grade is fairly mild, but steady - probably somewhere between 5 - 10% and it works out to around 8 miles of steady climbing. I climbed it like a beast. Twice. But descended it more cautiously because it was really easy to lose traction in the curves. I could feel my relatively narrow road tires breaking loose at times on the descent, and I did not want to wash out and end up spending the next couple of weeks digging gravel and cinders out of my legs.
The area all around Mont Royal is a scenic park, with a lovely lake . . .
. . . and a little more than half-way up there is a nice chalet where drinks and snacks are available - and an observation deck offering excellent views of the city skyline.

(Had to get a bike picture in here somewhere)
Right near the summit of the mountain is this cross (you could see it in one of the photos above, looming over the city). The path takes you right up to it.

You might not be able to see him, but when I snapped this photo, there was a workman climbing up the inside of the cross, presumably to change lightbulbs. Yes, the cross is lit up at night.
Another place I got to explore was the Old Port area, where Montreal might easily remind one of a European city. Cobblestones and narrow streets and alleyways. Lots of sidewalk cafes, with artists and performers at every corner, interesting shops, and lots of "people watching" opportunities. It was also packed with tourists. It was, I regret, an area perhaps better explored on foot than on wheels.

After a couple days and nights in Montreal, we made the drive up the Saint Lawrence River to the city of Quebec.

More to come. . .

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Biking in Canada

It's been a little while since I've had any new posts, but I'm just wrapping up a family vacation in Canada. I brought a bike with me on the trip, so I've been able to do some riding while we're on our visit. Let me share a little from my first Canadian stop.

We made the drive from Ohio up to Buffalo, New York - about 4 hours - and crossed into Canada at the Peace Bridge connecting Buffalo to Fort Erie, Ontario. After sitting for a good half-hour at the customs checkpoint on the Canadian side, I unloaded my vintage red Mercian from the car and headed straight for the Niagara Parkway which follows the Niagara River from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, with Niagara Falls being roughly half-way between. My family continued on in the car to drive to the Falls and then on to the picturesque town of Niagara-on-the-Lake where we'd be lodging for the night.

The Niagara Parkway is a great bike ride - a little over 30 miles from Fort Erie to Niagara-on-the-Lake, and mostly flat. I've done it a few times in the past and I always stick to the road almost the entire ride - but if someone is not happy sharing the road with cars, there is a separate walking/biking path that follows beside the parkway for most of the distance. 

Of course, the day I made the ride was probably the hottest day of the year - breaking records in many places. It was easily in the upper 90s with ghastly humidity. But I'd been planning and looking forward to the ride for long enough that I wasn't about to let that stop me.

A few miles north of Fort Erie, I got my first glimpse of the city of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Way off there in the distance, you can see some of the skyline and towers. Still got a ways to go!
A couple miles before you get to the falls, the river starts getting a lot rougher. Up to this point, traffic on the parkway is surprisingly sparse. I guess most people driving to the Falls take the Queen Elizabeth Highway (the QEW) though I cannot imagine why. But once you get near the Falls, traffic picks up tremendously - and suddenly there must be half a million people milling around trying to get photos. However, I have to point out that a bicycle here is at least as fast as any car - if not faster.
Yes, I stopped and snapped a couple of pictures.
There's the American side - and a rainbow.
My family and I had planned to meet up at the Falls, but finding each other would have been nearly impossible with the massive crowds. Worse still, parking the car was going to be a nightmare - so they just drove on by. They'd all seen the Falls before.

I suppose everyone should experience the madness of Clifton Hill in the city of Niagara Falls at least once in their lifetime, but . . .
. . . So we all skipped it.
Once I got past the Falls and the major tourist trap, I was making some great speed. At one point I came up behind a very British-looking double decker tour bus making the trek from the Falls to the botanical gardens a few miles to the north. I tucked in behind and drafted it at somewhere around 25 miles per hour. Some people in the back of the bus looked out the back window, saw me, and did a big "double-take." I'm sure they were thinking "Holy crap, this guy's nuts."

Not so "pretty" but still impressive - a little ways north of the Falls is a massive hydro electric plant.  When it was built, it was the largest hydro electric plant in the world. This one replaced the original hydro plant in Niagara Falls which had been designed by Nikola Tesla and built by Westinghouse in 1895 - that one was the first such plant ever built.
When you start getting closer to Niagara-on-the-Lake, you start seeing lots of vineyards and wineries. That has become a huge business in the region. When I first started visiting the area about 25 years ago, there were a couple of wineries and the farms were more "diverse" with things like apples, cherries, etc. Now it's almost all grapes. And there are more wineries every time I visit. Even hockey legend Wayne Gretzky has a winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
There are some gorgeous homes in the region - which was mostly built up in the early 1800s. Most of the architecture would be described as "Victorian" - but occasionally one will find some impressive "Colonial" and "Colonial Revival" - like this example from the 1830s. This historic home, called "Willowbank," is just a little off the beaten path in the town of Queenston. It was built for Alexander Hamilton - but not THAT Alexander Hamilton - this one was a prominent official in the Niagara region in the early 1800s, years after that "other" Hamilton was killed in a famous duel.
The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is almost impossibly quaint. 
Everywhere you look, you'll see a burst of colors from all the flowers.

A couple pictures by the famous Prince of Wales hotel. Great hotel, I'm sure, but way out of our price range.
Greaves on the main drag has some of the best jams and jellies around. Definitely worth a stop.
Is this the only bike pic I got? Oh well. The red Mercian was a fantastic choice for the ride - light, smooth, and fast. For the non-English-majors reading this, that's a statue of George Bernard Shaw - whom many consider the greatest British playwright since Shakespeare. Niagara-on-the-Lake is famous for their Shaw theater festival. We didn't take in a play for this visit, but it's usually part of our itinerary.
We spent the night in town and got breakfast in a nice bakery on the main drag in the morning before heading off to our next stop - Montreal. Got to brush up on our French.

More to come. . .