Cycling in BC

Posted Monday, October 20, 2014

Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, Kootenay Rockies, Northern British Columbia, Thompson Okanagan, Vancouver Island, Vancouver, Coast & Mountains, Vancouver, Victoria, Whistler, Health & Wellness, Outdoor Adventure / Ecotourism

BC was made for cycling.

Imagine, for example, pedalling from winery to winery through lakeside vineyards in the Okanagan, riding over canyons on historic rail trestles, or bike touring beneath the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains. BC's stunning back roads, bike-friendly cities, and hundreds of miles of car-free pathways beg for two-wheeled exploration.

Victoria and Vancouver Island

Victoria, known as the "Cycling Capital of Canada," is a good place to start.

More people per capita commute by bike in Greater Victoria, BC's provincial capital, than anywhere else in the country; nearly 5.9% of all Victorians bike to work, roughly 5 times the national average.

Add why not? A balmy climate, an extensive trail network, bike lanes on several downtown streets and bike racks on many city buses make this a bike-friendly town. Visiting from the mainland is easy too, as BC Ferries welcome bikes on board for a small fee.

The city's most popular bike route is the Galloping Goose Regional Trail. Part of the Trans-Canada Trail, coast-to-coast multi-use recreational path, the Galloping Goose runs 55 kilometres (34 miles) from downtown Victoria to Leechtown, a former mining town near Sooke. Built partly on abandoned railway tracks and trestles, it's wide, mostly level and scenic.

The Galloping Goose, named for the trains that once travelled the route, connects with two more long-distance paths in downtown Victoria. The 40-kilometre (25-mile) Seaside Cycling Route takes in the sights of the Inner Harbour and Beacon Hill Park before following the coastline to Cordova Bay. The Lochside Regional Trail runs 29 kilometres (18 miles) along rail lines and country roads from downtown Victoria to the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal.

From Swartz Bay, BC Ferries can whisk cyclists to the Southern Gulf Islands. Some of the roads on these bucolic islands are steep, but the rewards -- isolated coves, groves of Arbutus trees, and artists' studios -- make it worthwhile. Mayne Island has the easiest pedalling; Salt Spring has the most services.

Just north of Victoria is the Cowichan Valley Rail Trail. Built on a converted rail bed, the trail runs 122 kilometres (76 miles) from Shawnigan Lake to Cowichan Lake. The Cowichan Valley Rail Trail is also one of four trails comprising BC’s Spirit of 2010 Trail. Like many "rails to trails" projects across North America, this government and community initiative is turning BC's abandoned railway corridors into mixed-use recreational trails. Other routes include the Kettle Valley Rail Trail in the Thompson Okanagan and the Slocan and Salmo-Troup Rail Trails in the Kootenay Rockies.

Vancouver

Not to be outdone, Vancouver is becoming an increasingly bike-friendly city, with more than 400 kilometres (250 miles) of bikeways on many different routes through the city, and more in the planning stages.

Public transport here is bike-friendly, too: most TransLink buses serving Greater Vancouver have bike racks, and bikes are permitted on the Seabus to the North Shore at any time, and on the Skytrain rapid transit system at off-peak hours.

One essential ride is Vancouver's seaside bike route.  Part bike-only, part mixed-use, this paved, car-free route starts at Canada Place downtown and traces the waterfront around Stanley Park and False Creek to Spanish Banks Beach near the University of British Columbia.   From there, it links with a network of forest trails in Pacific Spirit Regional Park. The Seaside Path takes in many of the city's top sites, including Science World, Yaletown, Granville Island and Kitsilano Beach. Several bridges and Aquabus Ferries (a foot passenger ferry that accepts bicycles) provide shortcuts.

Another good route is Vancouver's Central Valley Greenway, a fairly flat 24-kilometre (15-mile) path popular with commuters; it links with the Seaside Path at Science World and heads out to suburban New Westminster. Another suburb, Richmond, 30 minutes south of Vancouver, has a more than 90 kilometres (56 miles) of easy, level, interlinked on-street and off-street cycling routes that take in farmland, the historic fishing village of Steveston, tidal flats and beaches.

Whistler

You can also ride to the beach at Whistler, where the Whistler Valley Trail meanders 40 paved, car-free kilometres (25 miles) along the valley, through Whistler Village and around Lost Lake. For a more challenging road trip, try the scenic Whistler to D'arcy route, a roughly 150-kilometre (93-mile) path that follows Highway 99 and the quiet D'arcy-Anderson Lake Road deep into the Coast Mountains. The Whistler Transit system has bike racks on every bus and there are several bike rental shops in the village.

Thompson Okanagan

Probably the best known of BC's rail-to-trails conversions is The Kettle Valley Rail Trail.  Part of the Trans Canada Trail, it runs over 450 kilometres (283 miles) from Brookmere to Midway. The whole trip takes about eight days, but the most popular section, Myra Canyon, is an easy family day trip from Kelowna.

The Kettle Valley Trail boasts stunning scenery and dramatic railway trestles. In 2003, 12 of the trail's 18 trestles were destroyed in a forest fire; all trestles have been rebuilt, and the trail re-opened in June of 2008.

A shorter cycling option is the 18-kilometre (11-mile) International Bicycling and Hiking Trail. Starting near Oliver, it follows the Okanagan River through farmland, vineyards and desert, with access to wineries en route. Tours that combine cycling and winery visits -- like the one lauded by National Geographic -- are a new innovation that may just catch on.  

The Kootenay Rockies

Despite -- or because of -- the mountainous landscape, the Kootenay Rockies offer some of BC's most rewarding cycle tours.

The Great Northern Rail Trail, part of the Spirit of 2010 Trail, is a 48-kilometre (30-mile) multi-use pathway built on abandoned rail beds between Salmo and Kootenay Lake, near Nelson. Travelling through rugged scenery, the grade is fairly level and crosses bridges and trestles en route. A shorter rail trail is the Galena Trail, a 13-kilometre (eight-mile) day trip on the old Canadian Pacific Railway line.  In the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, cyclists can pedal along a network of dikes and boardwalks south of Kootenay Lake, and admire the wealth of birdlife that gathers in the wetlands. The Silvery Slocan Loop is a cycling route on fairly low-traffic roads through the most scenic parts of the West Kootenays.

The region's epic road trip is the Golden Triangle route between Radium Hot Springs and Golden. The riding, through Yoho, Banff and Kootenay national parks, is strenuous, but the payback -- mountains, waterfalls, canyons, glaciers and hot springs -- is legendary.

The Cariboo and the North

The sports- and outdoors-minded towns of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast and Northern BC reward visitors with scenic, accessible bike trail networks. The Williams Lake River Valley Trail, for example, is a 12-kilometre (7.5-mile) gently graded gravel trail punctuated with bridges made from the floors of old railroad boxcars. In Smithers, in Northern BC, a trail system meanders through alpine country and along pristine rivers; the Perimeter Trail loops the entire town, making for a level and pleasant family ride.  In Prince George, the main city in Northern BC, the 11-kilometre (6.8-mile) Heritage River Trail System loops around the city and, like all BC bike trips, takes in plenty of scenery en route.