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Pedal Power on Montreal: An Essential Tour Guide

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As I discovered, a grab-and-go bicycle tour of Montreal, Quebec, is the best way to see the city.

In This Montreal Tourism Article You Will Discover:

  • How To Best Get Around Montreal
  • The Nature of The Bixi Bike
  • Top Spots To Visit

A short, unexpected summer shower washes sweat from the brows of Montrealers reeling from 30-degrees-plus temperatures and 60 per cent humidity. It’s twice as hot and twice as humid today, in Quebec’s largest city, as it had been when I departed Vancouver the week previous. But the midsummer storm has cooled the air, encouraging me to tackle Montreal the way it was meant to be seen: via velos!

Montreal By Bike

Throughout Montreal, banks of bicycles — called Bixis — are available for on-the-spot, automated rental. Simply slip in your credit card, take an available bicycle (velos) and ride. When you’re done, return the Bixi to any rental station you see. A simple $5 fee allots riders a 24-hour rental period, with some nominal additional fees for multi-hour rides. (A full day’s worth of bicycle sightseeing could cost less than a single taxi fare.)

Plateau Mont Royal

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Plateau Mont Royal, one of Montreal’s coolest neighbourhoods.

Plateau Mont Royal could be Montreal’s quintessential urban bicycle destination. One of Montreal’s hippest neighbourhoods, the area is characterized by wrought-iron staircases, brick and stone architecture, cafes, open-air restaurants and boutique shopping. Once off Rue St. Denis, the main route into the area, traffic is calmed and bikes outnumber cars. I find it to be a perfect introduction to bicycling Montreal.

I feel I should tuck a baguette under my arm, and wave “Salut mon amies!” as I pass café patrons whiling away the hours in gossip and laughter. I resist, and begin an uphill grind to the east of the Plateau.

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Cycling around Beaver Lake, Mount Royal Park, Montreal.

Mount Royal Park

A gravel pathway, wide as two-lane-road, winds around Montreal’s Crown Jewel — Mount Royal Park — leading cyclists, joggers and strollers on a sweaty jaunt to the 233-metre summit. Designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead — famed architect of both New York ’s Central Park and Vancouver’s Stanley Park — 692-acre Mount Royal Park can easily be a day-trip in itself. I take a leisurely roll around Beaver Lake, up past the famous Chalet Mont Royal and into my top park-picks: the non-denominational Mount Royal Cemetery and the Catholic Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery.

Some may find it morbid, but I love historic cemeteries; the real history of a region is always within those who lived and died here.

Plus, historic cemeteries are usually set in the most gorgeous real estate, such as the northern slope of Mount Royal.

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Mount Royal Cemetery, Mount Royal Park, Montreal, Quebec.

Vieux Montreal

Bixi bikes have terrible brakes — something I discover first-hand during my 40 km/h scoot down the southern side of Mont Royal. I pinch both front and back with every ounce of hand strength I can muster and ease to a stop inches before the urban traffic of Avenue du Parc. Even through downtown Montreal, though, bike travel is easy — stick to the main bike routes and you’ll be fine. I arrive at Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal) moments later, park my Bixi at a bank outside Jacques Cartier Place and step into Europe. Four-hundred-year-old stone buildings, bistro patios, a symphony playing in the streets — this is the Montreal of your dreams. At the waterfront, would-be Cirque du Soleil performers try-and-fail on the tourist trapeze. It would be perfect, if it had just a few less tacky souvenir stores to offend the eyes.

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Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal) — the most European quarter in the city.

At this moment, the sun reappears. I’ve been riding all day; I’m hungry and tired. Ahead, a wooden sign juts out from the stonework: Montreal Poutine. Hmmm — I think I’ve earned a plate…

Guilt-free poutine? Just one more benefit to putting pedal power on Montreal.

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About the author: David Webb is a Vancouver, BC-based travel writer, photographer and magazine editor.

1 comment… add one
  • Jose Jul 28, 2011

    Je me souviens! Some hotels have complementary bikes too.

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