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Large urban group bike rides introduce you to people, places, and experiences in a whole new way.
A nocturnal ride along the quiet streets of Montreal, with thousands of other happy people, was a better than expected birthday celebration for me. Given how much cycling advocacy I am involved with, I’m almost ashamed to admit how long it had been since my last, large group ride: after my experience in Montreal last spring, I can honestly say that I am kicking myself for having missed so many great tours these past 20 years!
One of the reasons I had put off doing these rides, besides the standard “too busy” excuse, was that I had told myself I didn’t have the right kind of bike. This, of course, is a terrible excuse. Urban group rides – like the Tour la Nuit and Tour de l’Ile de Montreal – can be completed on any bike in good working order, including an upright, city bike. For added comfort, bike gloves and padded bike shorts are worth wearing (I preferred to hide the shorts under a skirt), and a water bottle is essential. There were snacks and water at the refresh stations along the way and ever-essential rows of portable restrooms, bike mechanics, and entertainment to keep things fun while taking a little breather on the 15.5 mile (25 kilometer) and 31 mile (50 kilometer) routes.
Tour la Nuit (Tour at night) is a unique urban escapade and the perfect way to get comfortable on a long ride in the saddle. Flashing bike lights as far as the eye could see – occasionally outdone by the over-the-top LED bike decorations of some of the regulars – and tons of fun was found in the warm air of early summer, made even more memorable thanks to the residents gathered in front of their houses to cheer us along.
The shorter night ride was great preparation for the longer Tour de l’Ile de Montreal (Tour of the island of Montreal) during the day. I was most grateful for my Cleverhood rain poncho as the ride started in a downpour. I was thrilled that despite the weather, there was a massive turnout of people eagerly waiting to support us. As the sun came out and smiles were exchanged, it became clear that this type of long, well-coordinated, and car-free ride is a wonderfully unique opportunity to see and experience a city. While Tour la Nuit had 16-17,000 participating, Tour de l’Ile de Montreal welcomed nearly 30,000 people from far and wide. This time, we rode right through downtown Montreal, over the cobbles of the Old Port, out alongside the St. Lawrence River, past fascinating industrial sites and buildings, through urban and suburban residential neighborhoods, past dozens of beautiful churches with bells ringing, under old bridges large and small, through parks, and always with well-wishers along the way to cheer us on to the finish line. I was reminded along the way that the strength, determination, and camaraderie of a large, group ride is both palpable and compelling. The unforgettable sense of accomplishment that comes with crossing the finish line still lingers even now.
Vélo Québec, Quebec’s main cycling advocacy organization, is exceptionally good at putting these events together. 2014 marks their 30th annual ride so I can just imagine how special this year’s Tours will be. Now that I’ve been bitten by the urban bike touring bug, and enjoyed many of Montreal’s other unique and delicious charms, I can definitely see this becoming an annual birthday tradition for me.
WHAT TO BRING ON YOUR NEXT GROUP RIDE
LIGHTS Flashy and distinctive is best for standing out in the crowd.
WATER BOTTLE Stay hydrated between rest stations.
CLOTHING An extra layer of clothing, padded bike shorts, and gloves will make your ride more comfortable and keep you smiling. Bring sunglasses on brighter days so you can enjoy the views.
PANNIER Stuff it with a picnic blanket, rain gear, and sunscreen – you’ll be prepared for anything and have a comfy place to take a break.
TUNED-UP BIKE Pumped up tires and a freshly tuned bike to help avoid mechanical issues.
Montreal Bike Fest – Tour de l’Ile and Tour la Nuit 2014
Montreal, Quebec May 30 and June 1, 2014
Yvonne Bambrick is an urban cycling advocate and consultant, event and portrait photographer, and the Coordinator of the Forest Hill Village Business Improvement Area.