Cyclo Tourist Ottawa: Part I

Laura Allardyce is a cultural observer with an overactive imagination, who is always insisting the glass is half full. She has lived in Ottawa her whole life and says she will only leave once she has smelled all the roses. She is currently training for the ride of her life.

Cycling in Ottawa. What comes to mind? Poorly planned bike lanes with concrete barriers on Laurier? Uncertainty about cycling road rules? The stress of dodging cars? Getting tickets for cycling on the sidewalk? If so, I’m here to help.

Cycling in Ottawa is not the giant headache that recent news reports would have you believe. Yes, people do run into accidents. Yes, cyclists have been ticketed. Yes, there are concrete barriers along the Laurier bike lane (it’s a pilot project; give it a shot and feedback to the City if you don’t like it).

The Ottawa-Gatineau region has more than 220 kilometres of bike paths, and living in the valley means they are relatively flat routes – so it’s easy for anyone to explore the National Capital Region on a bike. And now that Ottawa is equipped with Bixi bike stands in 10 locations, there are no excuses.

Over the coming weeks I’m going take you riding with me and help you discover Ottawa by what I believe is the best way to travel – two wheels, a seat, and some peddles.

Why did I start biking?

In 2006, a co-worker at the time was getting a team together for the Rona MS Bike Tour, and seeing as I am a compulsive joiner, I said, what the heck. That year I invested in a hybrid bicycle (great for city riding) and started training for the long-distance ride that would take the group from Ottawa to Kemptville and back the next day.

I became addicted. As someone who dreams of becoming a runner simply as a way of getting from point A to point B faster, a bike was the perfect solution. It’s an efficient machine that, if you use properly, does most of the work for you (granny gear for hills and higher gears for long flat stretches of road). Get yourself some panniers and you can easily commute to work, get groceries, or pack a picnic for a day-trip, just as examples.

Why am I still biking?

Aside from the reasons I’ve already stated, because I’m back in training mode for another charity ride. In September I’ll be joining a team of likeminded individuals from across Canada for the ride of our lives: A 400+ km cycling tour across Vietnam to raise money for the international humanitarian aid organization CARE Canada. CARE works with people in 82 countries and last year, nearly 11,300 staff (97% of which are from the country they’re working in) helped 87 million people. CARE’s work focuses on empowering women and girls because they are the greatest agents of change in their communities. I know I definitely feel empowered because of CARE — I wouldn’t be challenging myself to do this if it wasn’t for them.

So far since signing up for the Cycle for CARE Vietnam 2011 fundraiser in June, I’ve ridden over 260km and raised $1000 towards by goal of $3500. If you want to help you can donate online here. Or come to the Rock Show at the Rainbow (yes named as such because it rhymes), on Monday September 5th at The Rainbow Bistro (tickets online here).

Interested in getting out there? Here are some helpful resources:

Google Maps is useful if you know where you want to go but are not sure about how to get there. Let it show you the possibilities then throw it into MapMyRide to get information about elevation and input updates about the terrain, how long it took, etc. AND you can share the route with your friends.

Which is what I will do for you. Next entry for LTO will show you my favourite ride to do in the city when I only have about an hour to spare. Later I’ll take you out to Aylmer with me. We’ll also go to Stittsville, Osgoode, Carleton Place, and Perth to name a few long distance options.

One challenge that I’ll need your help with (by way of encouragement – and donations perhaps?) is the uphill battle that is Gatineau Park. She is my Everest.

Until then fellow and future cyclo-tourists!