Three great Canadian rides

It’s probably not a good sign if you almost crash your bike during the introductory lesson. Although I had cycled on plenty of paved surfaces on a five-speed Mary Poppins bicycle, on a recent visit to K-Country I decided to kick it up a notch and try out some bona fide mountain trails on a premium cross-country bike.

It’s probably not a good sign if you almost crash your bike during the introductory lesson. Although I had cycled on plenty of paved surfaces on a five-speed Mary Poppins bicycle, on a recent visit to K-Country I decided to kick it up a notch and try out some bona fide mountain trails on a premium cross-country bike.

Since I had no experience using such a high-tech machine, I joined a guided tour that included a lesson on how to operate the bike properly. After explaining the gear system and teaching us how to operate the brakes, our guide let us do a little practising in a field before taking us out on the trails. That’s when I caught my pant leg in the chain and almost crashed.

Fortunately, after a few more times circling the field with a secured pant leg, I was feeling a lot more confident. As we rode our bikes along one of the many mountain bike trails in Kananaskis Country, we saw spectacular vistas, green foliage and beautiful mountain wildflowers. By the end of the afternoon, I almost felt like an expert.

If you have always thought that a cycling holiday is for someone like Lance Armstrong — think again. You don’t have to be an expert cyclist to enjoy Canada from the seat of a bike. There are plenty of great trails across the country and lots of little shops eager to rent you a bicycle for an afternoon or even a few days. Here are three fun rides that can be enjoyed by both beginners and experts.

Kananaskis Country — Alberta

Situated on the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies, Kananaskis Country has more than 250 km of paved trails and more than 450 km of unpaved trails. To put it simply, there is more mountain biking in K-Country than any other Alberta destination.

There are many excellent mountain biking trails for beginners and some challenging trails for more experienced riders and if you find yourself just a little nervous to tackle the trails on your own, you can always take a guided tour. However you get there, there is nothing that compares to seeing the mountain landscape from the seat of a bike.

Rent the wheels: Located in Kananaskis Village Centre, next to the Delta Lodge, Kananaskis Outfitters is the place to go for bike rentals in Kananaskis. The store has a good selection of bikes and also rents canoes and other recreational equipment. Bike rentals start at $15 per hour or $45 per day. Staff at the shop can provide trail information or arrange guided tours. For more information, visit www.kananaskisoutfitters.com or call 1-403-591-7000.

Before you go: For more information on Kananaskis Country, visit the Travel Alberta website at travelalberta.com or call 1-800-ALBERTA (252-3782).

Old Montreal — Quebec

No Canadian city has a longer history of cycling than Montreal. It was a Montrealer named Albert Thomas Lane who brought the first bicycle to North America in 1874 and rode it through the streets of the city.

Today, Montreal is one of the best cycling cities in Canada. With approximately 500 km of cycling trails, you can move quickly and safely around the city by bicycle. A number of world-class cycling events take place in the city every year and this year, the city launched North America’s first public bicycle rental system. There are 3,000 bikes and 300 stations and bikes can be rented by either monthly or yearly subscriptions.

For the visitor, nothing beats a ride through Old Montreal. From the seat of a rented bicycle you can observe horse-drawn calèches passing by, listen to the cathedral bells chime, enjoy the performance of a live band, or take in the beauty of one of North America’s oldest sanctuaries. As you ride along, it is easy to feel as if you are in some quaint European centre rather than in the heart of Quebec’s largest city and Canada’s second largest city.

From Old Montreal, follow the bike paths leading to the Old Port and Lachine Canal as well as to Mount-Royal, Jean Drapeau, Lafontaine, Olympic and Boucherville Islands parks. For my part, I believe that a ride along the waterfront is the best way to experience Montreal’s Vieux-Port.

Rent the wheels: Bixi is a great public bicycle rental service, but for a one-day rental you will actually save money by using Ca Roule. Since 1995, Ca Roule — Montreal on Wheels has been the place to go in Old Montreal for bike rentals, repairs and organized tours. The store is located in the heart of historic Old Montreal right on the famous bike path network at: 27 De La Commune East. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the summer months. A full-day bicycle rental will cost $30 and a half-day rental will cost $25. One week rentals start at $120. Rollerblade and scooter rentals are also available. For more information, visit caroulemontreal.com or call 1-877-866-0633.

Before you go: Access Montreal’s latest tourism information by visiting www.tourisme-montreal.org or by phoning 1-877-BONJOUR (266-5687). For more information on Old Montreal, visit www.vieux.montreal.qc.ca/eng/accueila.htm

Confederation Trail — P.E.I.

After cycling a mere four km along the scenic Confederation Trail on Prince Edward Island, we realized there was a traffic jam.

My husband and I stopped to watch while a ruffled grouse crossed the trail and disappeared into the thick brush on the opposite side. In reality, the creature didn’t create much of a traffic problem, but on this stretch of picturesque trail, a bird crossing is about as intense as it gets.

One of the highlights of Canada’s smallest province is the 270-km Confederation Trail that spans the island from tip to tip and forms a stunning segment of the Trans Canada Trail.

Developed on abandoned railway lines, the nearly flat trail passes through wetlands, fields, forests, and quaint towns and villages and can easily be cycled in its entirety in five days. For those less accustomed to cycling, small sections of the trail can be tackled in a day or even a morning or afternoon.

Autumn is arguably the best season to experience this trail when the deep rich greens of the island’s summer landscape start to shift to lighter shades.

Brilliant red, rich orange and bright gold foliage combine with the crisp colours of purple lupine, rose-hued beaches and emerald green farm fields to create a harvest show that is unparalleled in Canada.

Rent the wheels: Trailside Inn, Café & Adventures has become a virtual mecca for cyclists since the completion of the Confederation Trail in August 2000. Situated less than 100 metres from a major junction of the trail in the village of Mount Stewart, this establishment provides rental equipment, route maps, and even arranges a drop off and/or pickup, so you don’t have to double back on the trail. A bike rental will cost $20 for a full day or $15 for a half day. Helmets are included. For more information, visit http://www.trailside.ca/bikes.htm or call 888-704-6595.

Before you go: Download the 2009 Island Guide by visiting www.tourismpei.com. You can have the guide mailed to you by phoning 1-800-463-4734.

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, T4R 1M9.

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