The Go Bike Montreal festival is the perfect event for a weekend cycling getaway

Tens of thousands gather for the annual cycling celebration

There are a lot of North American cities that have added an incredible amount of cycling infrastructure over the past decade as people big and small, young and old embrace the bicycle in all its glory. But, there is no other place like Montreal. No other city where the love of the two-wheeled wonder machine is so palpable and so celebrated. Case in point, the Go Bike Montreal Festival, which began this week and culminates on the weekend of May 31 to June 2.

The festival is organized by incomparable advocacy group Velo Quebec, which is also responsible for the province’s stunning Route Verte system of 5,300 kilometres of cycling paths.

Although the festival is a massive local event, it is highly recommended for velo-minded visitors looking to see the already-gorgeous city in a whole new light. Those planning on attending the festival can bring along their bicycles and rent them in Montreal for the weekend.

The two biggest events worth the trip to Montreal are the Tour la Nuit, which happens May 31 and the Tour de l’Île on June 2. Both events begin and end at the festival’s event hub at Jeanne-Mance Park where live entertainment and food vendors keep cyclists fuelled up ahead of the ride and provide a central location for the good times afterwards.

Tour la Nuit is, of course, a night ride. When I showed up for the event last year, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We had a light snack and a drink before getting our ride tags, and started walking toward the start line passed the Mordecai Richler Gazebo to Park Avenue in the Plateau neighbourhood.

The line of bicycles of all shapes and sizes, from the single digits all the way up were in a festive mood, many in costumes, many with a wide variety of glow-in-the-dark paraphernalia. A band entertained the troops while we awaited the official.

Soon enough we were off, an incredible 15,000 strong pedalled along a route that wound its way through many wonderful Montreal neighbourhoods all on city streets that were completely shut down for the event.

Along the way, local residents cheered on the cyclists, often from lawn chairs set up on their front lawns or sidewalks, glasses of wine in hand, music playing. Other sites had entertainment streetside as cyclists pulled over for a quick break to watch some circus artists in front of their training facility, for example.

The people were fantastic, the costumes so creative, the organization top notch. The sites and the experience were completely unexpected and, in a word, joyous.

Needless to say, my bicycle-loving heart grew two sizes that day.

Back at the park following the event, there was much entertainment, dancing, amusement park rides and all manner of beverages to be had.

On the Sunday following Tour la Nuit, the biggest event is held with more than 30,000 cyclists taking part and an opportunity to choose from a variety of distances, although most choose from the 25 or 50 km version, both of which take place on closed streets.

As if the night ride wasn’t enough, this longer ride weaves through a greater section of Montreal and includes a tour passed Olympic Stadium as well as rest stops along the way.

Back at the park, more circus entertainment gets underway at noon along with rides and refreshments.

In between events, Montreal offers many other cycle-friendly activities including a trip along the Lachine Canal bike path (with a stop at Brasserie McAuslan for a pint, natch) or simply explore neighbourhoods such as Mile End and the Plateau where there are many bike paths and bagels at the ready. Be sure to stop by the Jean Talon Market in Little Italy, it is fantastic. And no trip would be complete without a pedal up Mont Royal and then a nice cruise down the other side.

When it comes to cycling, there is no city better than Montreal in North America. Spending a weekend soaking up those good bike vibes is a weekend very well spent indeed.

See you out there!




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