Group of urban cyclists hanging out mid-ride

City cycling culture: Canadian cities great for urban riding

As Canada’s bike culture continues to grow, more and more cities are investing in cycling infrastructure and bike share programs. From protected bike lanes and scenic waterfront routes to bike-to-work weeks and public bike repair stations, it’s getting easier and easier to ride from point A to B in the city.

The cities below are just some highlights of good places to ride in Canada – we know there are lots more out there. For example, Ottawa (and others) have awesome bike share programs, Quebec City has over 400km of bike lanes, and Saskatoon has made a guide that ranks every city road in terms of cycling difficulty.

While there’s always room for improvement for bikeability in Canada, there are also plenty of riders heading to work, school or just to meet up with friends in these cycling cities on this list:

Vancouver: Most scenic waterfront commutes

Biking along the seawall in Vancouver at sunset

If you’re looking for a Canadian city that makes commuting year-round a breeze, look no further than Vancouver. As a coastal city, the climate is quite temperate, and the bike lanes and greenways that weave through the city make it easy to cycle year-round. The seawall is a local favourite (especially the part that winds around Stanley Park), with views of the mountains and water, but even the downtown core is very bikeable with protected lanes along some main streets.

“There are definitely a few months a year where the rain makes riding a bit more challenging,” says MEC staffer Karen, a year-round bike commuter. “But some decent rain gear, bright lights and a visor on your helmet make a big difference when you’re riding November through February.”

Halifax: Most up-and-coming bike culture

It doesn’t take long to cross Halifax’s urban core on two wheels. While there are some hills, many parts of this smaller Canadian city are relatively flat, which makes most commutes reasonable for any level of cyclist. Local cycling groups like the Halifax Cycling Coalition have recently petitioned for infrastructure to make cycling in the city safer and more convenient. The city has developed a large number of bike routes and greenways in the past decade to promote human-powered transportation.

For a relaxing ride, check out the Halifax Waterfront Trail, which guides recreational riders from Casino Nova Scotia along the boardwalk to the heart of Point Pleasant Park. You can enjoy views of the ocean and shade from the maple and white birch trees.

Montreal: Most developed bike culture

Biki bike share bikes in Montreal

Montreal has arguably set the bar for the rest of the country. This the only Canadian city to make the top 20 in the Copenhagenize Index (a ranking of most bikeable cities around the world), and it has had protected bike lanes since the 1980s. In spite of the rough winters and hilly streets, Montreal’s bike network connects its many neighbourhoods, which makes it easy for bike commuters to get around in spring, summer and fall.

For a cultural tour of the city, you can explore on the west-east axis on the Maisonneuve Boulevard bike path. From the Grande Bibliothèque cycling west towards Westmount Park, you will pass the bulk of downtown’s skyscrapers, theatres, galleries and museums. Another option is the scenic path that runs along the Lachine Canal, where you can stop by the Atwater farmers’ market. If you don’t have a bike of your own, try using Bixi, North America’s first large-scale bike sharing system.

Toronto: Most big-city contrasts

With many downtown bike lanes, flat terrain, neighbourhoods that are easy to shop by bike, and lots of slow-moving streets, Toronto can be a great city for bike commuting. But in addition to city streets and growing on-street bike infrastructure, Toronto cyclists also have the benefit of the Don Valley trails.

These trails are well-known to many residents and visitors, especially since they’re visible from the Don Valley Parkway. What you may not be able to tell by your view from the DVP is just how much of a workout these trails provide. They include railway crossings, riverside cruising and a ridge ride that will get your heart pumping as fast as your legs. (Tip: Make sure your brakes are in shape.) To extend the official 10km trek, continue on to Taylor Creek. This path can get pretty muddy, so you’ll want to make sure your bike is decked out with fenders for the ride.

Calgary: Most peaceful escape in the city

Nose Hill Park, Calgary

Calgary’s Nose Hill Park has a ton of mountain bike trails located close to the city, along with great views and easy access. At 11 square kilometres, it’s one of the biggest urban parks in Canada, which means you’ve got lots of trails to explore on two wheels. Be sure to bring refreshments, because you won’t want to cut your ride short any time soon. Want to explore? Read trail tips: where to mountain bike in Calgary.

If you want to start riding in your city, some tips:

  • Need a bike? Bike shares are growing in Canadian cities, and the MEC Gear Swap is a good place to look for a used bike. If you’re ready to find your commuter match, check out urban and commuter bikes.
  • Have big hills or a long route? Consider a pedal-assist e-bike. You can switch on extra help as you pedal up the climb to make your ride less daunting.
  • No clue how to maintain your bike? Learn the basics (and beyond) at in-store bike workshops, or drop off your steed and our mechanics can tune it up for you.
  • Need a lock? In most cities, the answer is a definitive yes. Learn bike lock 101, including how to lock up correctly.
  • Not sure where to ride? Do your research before you head out. Check with your local cycling advocacy group for maps, bike routes and info, and always make sure you’re clear on the rules of the road for safe, happy riding.

Photos: Shutterstock / Zhenwang Wang, Shutterstock / Maxim Petrichuk, Flickr / Shinya Suzuki

Hollay Ghadery
Hollay Ghadery

Writer, international backpacker, trail runner, kombucha brewer and firm believer in the healing power of nature, libraries and family.