Bike riding in Montreal in the summer months is truly a great way to see as much of the city as possible with a smile and sun on your face. Our Montreal Buzz Bike Guide outlines good rides and bike rental shops, but I decided to get into specifics – and see if I could learn anything about Montreal I didn’t already know – with a bike tour from Ça Roule Montreal on Wheels…
With tours starting in the morning or the afternoon, Ça Roule, located in Old Montreal right across the way from the Old Port, appeals to up-and-at-’em morning people as much as to the late-night crowd (hey, everyone knows bike rides are one of the best hangover cures). For some reason I went in the morning. But with coffee on site, a quick orientation and energetic guides, plus the instant boost of a sunny day, I was soon ready to roll.
As an avid city cyclist, I feel pretty at one with my own old 10-speed bike, but in the interest of getting the full Ça Roule experience, I hopped on one of their hybrid road-trail bikes – I even donned a helmet and a safety vest, which feels much less dorky – and much more safe! – when in a group of people sporting the same. Safety first! I have to say that some of my love for my own bike died that day as I floated along on this brand new bike, fully won over by its comfy seat and shock absorbers. Seriously, I’m even toying with buying one of their bikes at the end of the season when they sell them off and get a new batch.
Two professional, licenced tour guides lead the pack – never more than 15 riders on any tour – through city streets and pastoral bike trails, pointing out details that won’t be found in every guide book. I chose the new City of Contrasts tour, Ça Roule’s newest ride, winding from Old Montreal, through Place des Arts and downtown, west into Westmount, up to see the great view from King George Park (near where Leonard Cohen grew up), and then south into St-Henri. And I did indeed learn a few things! With several stops along the way, the guides drop some great cultural and historical knowledge, but you don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy City of Contrasts, which wends through historical neighbourhoods, upper class and working class, as well as through parks and along the Lachine Canal.
Ça Roule’s other two tours – also a good, yet gentle, four hours each – are the City Classic, covering the urban core of the city, from the Old-Port to La Fontaine Park, the Plateau neighbourhood and Mount Royal Park, and Vista Architecture, a history-rich ride along and over the Saint-Lawrence River, past Habitat 67 and Alexander Calder’s Man sculpture and more. Each tour includes a snack break at a local joint like St-Viateur Bagels or the Atwater Market.
Another bonus of going on a tour is that you can keep your bike for the rest of day, lock and custom map of the city included, and ride up Mount Royal, to the Lachine Rapids or wherever your heart desires. Ça Roule rents bikes of all shapes and sizes, from hybrid city riders to fast-as-the-wind road bikes, for however long you need, making biking one of the most economic options for summer transport in Montreal. For younger kids, trailers and tagalongs can be fitted to almost any bike. After 17 years of running Ça Roule, founder and owner André Giroux says his business is still built on good quality, with 150 bikes swapped out for new ones every year and a full repair shop on location that is frequented by locals too.
Staying on top of local events is also part of the job: for instance, Ça Roule offers a $30 rental special for Tour de l’Île, a cross-city bike ride that happens on June 3, part of Vélo Québec’s annual bike festival, Féria du vélo de Montréal. And whatever’s happening in Montreal is easily accessible by bike, whether it’s the Jazz Fest, taking the kids to swim at Parc Jean-Drapeau or staying out later than late – that 4 a.m. bike ride back to the hotel can be a glorious experience in itself.
Ça Roule Montreal on Wheels, 27 de la Commune Est, (514) 866-0633