Whether in a city bike lane or along a road to the beach, bicycling gives me that carefree this-is-vacay feeling. “I’m on a bike” is my lower-budget take on T-Pain’s famous rap “I’m on a boat!”
By now I’ve hit a few of the world’s most famous cycling metros, like Minneapolis, Amsterdam, and Bogotá, as well as surprising little islands like Nantucket and the Seychelles where pedaling is a joy.
But Montreal stands out for being the most freewheeling big city I’ve experienced so far. (Granted, the Copenhagenize Index of Bicycle-Friendly Cities most recently ranked it 20th worldwide, but cities like Buenos Aires and Dublin that placed higher strain credulity.)
In Montreal you can ramble down the road and into parks for wine-fueled picnics. Traffic is so calm you can wobble down the road half-zozzled afterward—as did an older British lady in our tour group who hadn’t been on a bike in 20 years. And you still never once get honks.
I tried cycling around Montreal three ways: first on a neighborhood cruise with clever tour company Fitz & Folwell, then with friends along Frederick Law Olmsted’s carriage road to the city’s overlook, Mont Royal. Both rides were unhurried and idyllic, ducking down alleyways and into markets for Montreal bagels or coffee.
Finally I tried a Bixi, or public bike-share bicycle, with Suzanne Lareau, the head of the cycling advocacy group Vélo Québec. She described how it’s not just the city’s 600 miles (and growing) of bike lanes—it’s the range of people using them that make cycling there stand out.
“There’s a culture of cycling in Montreal, and it took 35 years to build it,” she told me. “Now this culture is part of our DNA. You can see the kids, the old, men and women—it’s everybody. I like that diversity—it’s the real life.”
Then, in perfect Montreal style, I turned in my Bixi and met up with friends at a brewpub, and Lareau pedaled gracefully away.
Look for more on my experiences cycling Montreal in locally in Buffalo Magazine and nationally in the New York Times over the next few months.