NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Tis the season of the cycle tourist.
Watch them pedal past, front and rear panniers stuffed full of clothing and supplies. See those legs pump, feel the good health radiating from their ruddy cheeks.
Bicycle touring offers great potential for adventure, not to mention all those health-related benefits, but it may be a bit daunting to think of pedalling through France or Spain.
For easier entry into the pastime, Ontario’s Niagara region offers the perfect place to try a Cycle Touring 101 experiment. There’s no need to learn Spanish or Slovakian and you’re never more than a few kilometres from services and assistance, including bicycle shops open Sunday.
Only a little planning is required to enjoy a dazzling display of scenery, cultural events and history in a geographically compact area.
To add a touch of authenticity, leave your car in Toronto and imagine Union Station as your cycle tour’s point of departure in any European city. Hop on the BikeTrain and use this new rail experience to get to Niagara. Glasgow or Barcelona would be no different.
The safety and convenience of the Greater Niagara Circle Route, and the unique blend of scenery, activities, and services provided for cyclists, eliminate all excuses for not trying your hand at cycle touring. Niagara next weekend, the Netherlands next month.
There are three types of cycle touring and all can be experimented with while cycling the Greater Niagara Circle Route (GNCR), a 140-kilometre, off-road trail joining Niagara on the Lake, Niagara Falls, Fort Erie, Port Colborne, and St. Catharines safely away from traffic.
Fully supported cycle touring means charming bicycle guides pointing out local hotspots, your luggage transported for you daily, meals and accommodation arranged. Pay, pedal and relax.
Self-guided touring is similar, except that the guide is replaced by a map and instructions. Pay less, pedal, and become engaged navigating your own way.
Unsupported touring means you pre-book your own accommodation or take your chances finding a place to stay each evening, carry your luggage on your bike and design your own route. Pay even less, pedal, and cross your fingers in the knowledge the unexpected experiences are always best.
Part of what makes the Greater Niagara Circle Route perfect for a first attempt at cycle touring is the Cycle and Stay Bed & Breakfast Association, unique in Ontario. Ten B&Bs along the GNCR work together to make organizing your tour very easy while providing high quality, character accommodation.
Following European traditions, these B&Bs provide special services suitable for self-guided and unsupported cycle tourists. Luggage transfer between partner B&Bs, booking your next night’s accommodation, healthy breakfasts, secure bike lock-up, and bagged lunches are available.
They can arrange bike rentals, including cruisers, tandems and top-end carbon racers through Zoom Leisure (Niagara-on-the-Lake), complete with helmet, lock, and panniers if required.
Looking for a special wine tasting, brew pub, or dining experience — perhaps tickets to the Shaw Festival? B&B proprietors like Jane and Peter Griffiths of the Duncan-Quinn House in Niagara on the Lake have the scoop for cyclists.
Their Victorian-styled property is located on a quiet street near the historic 1834 home of African-American Teamster William Steward.
The Jessica Duncan room comes with a pineapple-carved mahogany four-poster queen bed so tall and luxurious you need stepstools to mount it, plus ensuite Jacuzzi for two, both ideal for cyclists with aching muscles. Muskoka chairs, pond, and shaded deck add to the post-ride experiences.
At the southerly end of the GNCR in Fort Erie, cyclists can relax on the deck of the Friendship Trail B&B (wine glasses provided) and watch others pass by on the trail — it’s that close.
Owner Hope Goodyear explained some of the special ways she caters to cyclists — including filtered water, fresh fruits, specialty breads, and a fireplace. (Spring presents blossom time and fall foliage displays offer spectacular cycling)
But, she says, most riders “can’t wait to have a shower and get to bed.”
If you go
• Putting it together: Accommodation details for Cycle and Stay Niagara are at www.cycleandstayniagara.com
• For bike rentals and side tours Zoom Leisure is at www.zoomleisure.com
• To get there by rail check out www.biketrain.ca
• To get in the spirit visit www.adventurecycling.org
• For attractions, history and culture visit www.tourismniagara.ca