A Guide to Biking in Vancouver, BC
Written by Sam Cawkell.
Bordered by the Strait of Georgia and the Coast Mountains, Canada’s most populous west coast city has earned a reputation for its striking natural beauty and virtually endless recreational opportunities. Even with its mountainous landscape and winter rain, Vancouver, BC is quickly establishing itself as a world-class cycling destination. The huge increase in bike infrastructure in recent years is largely thanks to the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, a vision to make Vancouver a global leader in urban sustainability. The health conscious and environmentally friendly population certainly doesn’t hurt either. Commuting by bicycle now makes up 10% of all trips to work in Vancouver and, if the packed seaside bike paths are any indication, visitors and residents alike love getting out on two wheels on the weekends as well.
How to Get a Bike
Cycle City Tours are conveniently located on the Burrard Street and Hornby Street cycle tracks (protected bike lanes). They serve as your one stop shop offering a diverse range of guided tours and city bike rentals. Reckless Bike Store offers rentals in the heart of Yaletown near the Seawall, or visit their Hornby Street location where you can rent an electric bike to get around more easily in this hilly city. Conveniently located at the entrance to the world famous Stanley Park is Spokes Bicycle Rentals with a wide selection of cruiser and city bikes. JV Bike on Expo Blvd near BC Place also offers well-maintained standard and electric bikes.
Vancouver also recently launched a public bike share system called Mobi with pick-up/ drop-off stations all around the downtown core. While you will see plenty of riders without a helmet, Vancouver does have a cycling helmet law so consider yourself warned. Fines are $29 CAD if you do get caught, although they’re infrequently handed out.
Where to Go
With 168 miles (270 km) of bike lanes (over 20% of which are allages- and-abilities) and the lowest crash rate involving cyclists in Canada, visitors can feel confident exploring the historic and distinctly different neighborhoods of Vancouver on two wheels. Lock your bike up on the cobblestone streets of Gastown, the city’s oldest neighborhood and now the epicentre of food, fashion, design, and single-origin coffee. Pedal under the China Gate into one of North America’s largest historic Chinatowns where dried fish and medicinal herbs are in abundance. Pop in for a pint at the unassuming Brickhouse, a dive bar where you can lock your bike inside and have a long conversation with Leo the owner. Gear down for the uphill ride to Mount Pleasant, home of craft beer tasting rooms, boutique shops, and some great venues. Then head east along the 10th Ave bike route to Commercial Drive, arguably the most diverse and colorful neighborhood in the city and a great place to meet and hang out with locals.
Closer to downtown, Granville Island, at one time an industrial wasteland, was reinvented in the 1970s as a walkable man-made island for shopping, eating, drinking, and people-watching. An absolute must is a visit to Stanley Park, a densely-forested 1,001-acre (405-hectare) park nestled betweem Vancouver Harbor, English Bay, and the downtown core. It’s a National Historic Site of Canada. The seawall, with mostly separated walking and bicycling/ skating paths, wraps around Stanley Park for 6 miles (10 kilometers) and makes up a section of the Seaside Greenway, which at 17 miles (28 kilometers) in total is the world’s longest, uninterrupted, waterfront biking and walking path. The Seaside Greenway extends from Granville Island to Olympic Village to the Vancouver Convention Centre around Stanley Park to Sunset Beach, across to Kitsilano Beach and out to Jericho and Locarno beaches, past unparalleled ocean and mountain views to Spanish Banks Beach.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of hotels in Vancouver that have bicycles for hire but here are a few to consider. In the heart of downtown is Burrard Hotel, a retro-chic boutique hotel that offers free use of Brodie cruiser bikes. The Loden has free Electra Townie cruisers to explore on. The Fairmont offers free complimentary BMW bikes at both their Pacific Rim and Hotel Vancouver locations through a Bike Butler. If that sounds fancy it’s because it is. The more casual Hampton and Best Western Plus Downtown offer free 3-hour bike rentals with each night’s stay.
What to do
While the laid back lifestyle of Vancouver will inspire you to lay a blanket down on one of the city’s many beaches and simply take in the view, you will have to pull yourself away from the scenery at some point. Thankfully Vancouver’s legendary food and drink scene makes this pretty easy to do. For grub, check out Bao Down, Ask for Luigi, Crowbar, Le Wagon Rouge, The Naam, Cabrito, Slickity Jim’s, and Mamie Taylor’s, to name only a few. For a micro-brew, head to Brassneck, Off the Rail, Main St. Brewing, 33 Acres, Bomber, Strange Fellows, and Storm, or over to Odd Society Spirits for a locally-distilled cocktail. If none of that suits you: Vancouver is known for its sushi. Sushi is ubiquitous, delicious, and affordable in this coastal city – not to be missed.
If you prefer to look at the ocean and not eat from it, a ride around Stanley Park’s Seawall puts you between the waves of the Pacific Ocean and the century old evergreen trees in one of the worlds’ largest, wildest city parks. Carry on from the Seawall and complete the Seaside Greenway, stopping for a drink on the patio at the Jericho Sailing Centre, the best place in the city to watch the sun go down. When you’re back in the downtown core and in need of a nightcap, check out Vancouver’s most cherished cocktail bar, Bayside Lounge, where you can gaze at anchored ships in English Bay while you peruse their impressive menu.
Take yourself on an art tour, checking out the laughing statues (A-maze-ing Laughter), painted concrete silos (Giants), and many other public art installations dotted around the city thanks to the Vancouver Biennale. Then head over to the Rennie Collection at Wing Sang, a by-appointment gallery showcasing one of the largest private collections of contemporary art in Canada. A visit to the Museum of Anthropology at University of British Columbia (also architecturally stunning) showcases thousands of archaeological and ethnographic objects from around the globe, with a particular focus on First Nations/ Indigenous communities. Or simply ride around Vancouver’s bike routes, many of which are marked by historical landmarks, heritage homes, and a distinctly west coast neighborhood feel.
If your legs aren’t tired from all that pedaling, take yourself for a hike up the Grouse Grind, nicknamed “mother nature’s stairmaster.” The Grind is a legendary (and steep) 1.8 mile (2.9 kilometer) trail to the peak of Grouse Mountain, where you can reward yourself with a cold beer and a visit to the grizzly bear habitat. Don’t let the older person jogging past you on the steps up bother you; you’re on vacation. If you find yourself here in winter, skiing Grouse Mountain while the lights of the city and harbor twinkle far below is a once in a lifetime experience. Whatever the season, the great food, enviable bike culture, and the combination of trees, mountains, and oceans will leave you energized and inspired.
Sam is the marketing specialist at Momentum Mag. When not riding his bicycle to the top of a hill he can be found with permanent marker in his hand. While not one to view the world in black and white his art is just that. IG: @vancouver.goods