07/05/2012 02:45 EDT | Updated 09/04/2012 05:12 EDT

Montréal, By Bicycle

My first visit to Montréal, Québec was a whirlwind weekend featuring a bone-chillingly cold horse drawn carriage ride through Old Montréal, a visit to the Notre-Dame Basilica and a packed Britney Spears concert at the Bell Center. I sampled La Belle Province poutine, smoked meat from Schwartz's Deli and crêpes from Chez Cora in the flamboyant Le Village gaybourhood. Eight years later, I returned to Montréal 20 pounds heavier, determined to ignore the siren's song of squeaky cheese, mustard slathered rye bread and Métro trains.

Instead, I saw the city by bicycle.


Having previously visited in icy November, I had no idea what a cyclist's paradise awaits for those travelling to Montréal. The city has strong roots in cycling culture and an elaborate bike lane and pathway system encourages locals and tourists alike to saddle up and experience this diverse and historical city on the back of bicycle.

Using the Spotcycle app to find a nearby BIXI bike dock, I tooled around on these unisex utility bikes, picking up and dropping them off at docks around the city as needed. Montréal's BIXI system offers over 5,000 bikes at more than 400 stations across the city, and has been a model for similar systems around the world, including London, England, and Melbourne.

I raced through downtown city streets to catch the Canada Day parade before slogging uphill to Parc du Mont Royal to take in the tam tams jam, an informal jamboree of drums and dancing that takes place every Sunday all summer long. I rode on sidewalks, bike lanes on the street and bike paths throughout gorgeous city parks. I walked my bike along the closed-to-traffic rue Sainte-Catherine and took in the Festival International Montréal en arts, pausing to admire the art for sale and performance art installations.

Too late to take part in Montréal Bike Fest, which takes place in late May and early June and features a massive night bike ride and a 50 kilometre ride around the city, I upgraded my wheels and rented a bike from Montréal on Wheels on the waterfront for a long ride. This cruising bike was perfect for my four hour ride through Parc Jean-Drapeau, a large park spanning the two islands of Île Notre Dame and Île Sainte-Hélène. Flanked by inline skaters and cars, I cycled the 4.3 kilometre long Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, the formula 1 racetrack that is home to the Grand Prix Montréal each June.

Seeing Montréal in the spring, summer or fall by bus, train or even foot is a travesty. To explore the city like a local, a bicycle is the only way to roll.