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1. Toronto doesn't have a great reputation as a bike touring destination. It brings
to mind images of big-city traffic and crowded roads, rather than enjoyable riding.
What can you say to change these impressions?
Toronto is North America's fifth largest city, so you might think that it had many
of the issues of most large cities with over-crowding and poor bicycle infrastructure.
The city is on the north shore of Lake Ontario and the city as well as the area around
it known as the Greater Toronto. Toronto is North Americas fifth largest city with
a population of more than 2.5 million.
10 Questions about cycling in Toronto
Toronto has several things going for it. There is an active bicycle culture and city
council has a City Cycling Advisory Committee to assist council with staying ahead
on biking issues. Toronto also has the lake and the Waterfront Trail. This trail
runs almost unbroken from the New York State border to the Quebec boundary. It is
Y kilometres of mostly off-road trails running alongside or near the lake. Thanks
to the cycling committee and other concerned citizens, Toronto has has 200 kilometres
of cycling paths and dedicated bicycle lanes (mostly in the core).
2. Is it possible to get away from the traffic entirely, on a long-distance bike
path, for example?
Toronto was named by the Huron First Nations as meaning 'meeting place'. The tribes
would canoe down the Humber and Don rivers to meet at the sandbanks that now form
the Toronto Islands. These three areas are still car free so it is possible to cycle
along both river banks and the entire Toronto Islands is a car-free paradise where
people prove everyday that you can live comfortably in North America without a car.
Although, The Waterfront Trail has some off-road exposure around Toronto, the really
long traffic-free runs are within an hour or so of downtown by public transport.
A two day trip might be to Hamilton, Ontario and then up the Brantford Rail Trail
and then to Paris, Ontario. It is possible by using the governments GO Trains on
the weekend to take a train ride to Niagara Falls with your bike , tour around the
Falls, and return the same day.
3. What are some of your favourite places to bike tour in and around Toronto?
Depending on who I'm with and how much time I have, I have a number of preferred
routes. My partner and I live along the lake, just east of downtown in a nieghbourhood
known as 'The Beaches'. The Waterfront Trail is off-road on that portion and there
are a number of ways to get downtown. Once at the ferry docks, the Toronto Island
Ferry will take you to the islands. I suggest going to Hanlan's Point and heading
east to Ward's Island. Ward's and Algonquin Islands are were the Island Community
live in car-free Nirvana. A longer run might be up the Don Trail with a stop at historic
Todmordon Mills, across the Belt Line to connect with the Humber River Trail, then
south to the Martin Goodman Trail and home. Either one could take most of the day
with a few stops, the latter is much more athletic than the Islands tour.
4. Is it possible to rent bikes, or do you have to bring your own?
I always recommend to my clients to bring their own bikes when possible. If coming
by car, this is easy and affordable. Usually only airlines make a charge for carrying
bikes. Having your own bike means that it fits you properly, you are used to its
gear ratios and stopping times and the saddle is worn-in.
If it is not possible to bring your bike, then there are a number choices for bike
rentals. The first is BIXI, the new City of Toronto short term bike rental scheme.
Many bike shops in Toronto will rent to you. Some rent from their stock and others
have dedicated bikes. My favourite is Curbside Cycle. The staff is warm and helpful
and they rent an excellent Dutch-made city bike. Tourcycle.ca also rents a number
of specialty bikes including a tandem, a bike with a child carrier and children's
5. Can you easily take your bike on Toronto's public transport system (ferries, buses,
the GO train, subways)?
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) operates buses, subways and streetcars in Toronto.
Today the majority of bus routes have busses with front bike racks and they take
a maximum of two bikes at any time. Bikes are banned from the subways for morning
and evening rush hours, but are fine at other times (bring a bungee cord to fasten
the bike to a pole). Not every subway station has an elevator, so you may have to
lug your bike up or down several flights of stairs. Streetcar operators have the
right to refuse patrons with bikes if the streetcar is crowded. They are also 2 large
steps up, so they are not comfortable to get bikes on or off.
Toronto Island ferries will take bikes on the Ward's Island and Hanlan's Point ferries,
but sometimes ban them from Centre Island ferries because of crowding.
The Government of Ontario (GO) operate a bus and train commuter system which runs
from Toronto to many points in the GTA. Most GO buses have front bike racks similar
to the TTC. Each coach of a GO train can carry 4 bikes (2 at each door) except for
the accessible coach. Bicycles are banned from the trains during rush hours when
trains are heading into, but not away from the city.
6. What about actually getting into the city by bike? Can you ride in, from the airport,
Toronto has two international airports. The largest one by far is Lester B. Pearson
International Airport in nieghbouring Mississauga. Riding into Toronto from Pearson
airport is possible and I have done it several times. My preferred way of getting
to the airport is by taking the subway ($2.75 cash fare from anywhere in Toronto)
to the Kipling Station and the express bus to the airport. Toronto City Centre Airport
Billy Bishop) is already downtown and the Waterfront Trail is about 100 metres from
the airport follow Bathurst Street north.
7. How much do I need to worry about my bike getting stolen? Do I need the heaviest,
strongest lock I can find?
Toronto has a reputation for being very safe. In fact even with our large population
our violent crime rate is much lower than other Canadian cities. That being said
sneak thievery and other non-violent crimes are about the same as most places. Never
leave your bike unlocked, not even for a couple of seconds. Lock up your bike in
an area with lots of shops or pedestrian traffic. The City of Toronto provides 'Post
and Rings' just about everywhere. Check to make sure the post is solidly anchored
to the sidewalk. If you have quick release wheels, use two locks or take off the
front wheel and lock them all together. Never leave your bike outside overnight.
8. What do bike tourists need to budget if they're coming through Toronto, on a low
to medium budget, for example (campground or hostel, modest meals).
Many readers may already know that when I travel I enjoy following a budget very
closely. Toronto need not be an expensive city. There is inexpensive accommodation
downtown in several hostels and small hotels. Great Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs) abound
as do 4-star hotels. Camping can be a bit problematic as there are only 2 legal campsites
in Toronto and both are in the suburbs, a long ride to downtown. Camping in one of
the many parks in Toronto is frowned upon but it is possible to stealth camp if you
strictly follow stealth camping rules.
I really like the idea of eating a 100-mile diet when travelling. Prepared food in
ethnic neighbourhoods tends to be very cheap. Downtown try Chinatown at Dundas and
Spadina or Broadview and Gerrard. Further east go to Coxwell and Gerrard for Indian
and Pakistani food. Toronto is called a world within a city, so if you are tempted
you can get just about any style of food you wish. $2 ban-mi's from Little Vietnam
or $4 chicken buriani from the Indian Bazaar.
9. If people want to extend their tour outside the city, what are some nice places
a little further away from Toronto to consider?
When I tour internationally on my bicycle, people ask me where I'm from and when
I say "Toronto" may people reply "I've been to Toronto, it's really near Niagara
Falls." Without a doubt The Falls are the most popular destination for international
tourists. It is possible to do day trips to Niagara from Toronto including self-directed
tours. Both Niagara Falls and the tony Niagara-on-the-Lake areas are expensive and
fraught with tourist traps.
10. What's one thing you advise everyone to bring with them for bike touring in Toronto?
Other than your bike, bring with you an interest in what the United Nations calls
the most culturally diverse city in the world.