Montreal was recently rated as the 3rd best cycling city in the world by CNN. We are now considered better then Copenhagen, and that is a pretty big deal.
It’s no mystery to me why Montreal is such a great place for cycling. The extensive network of lanes, beautiful parks, and art neuveau architecture make this a wonderful place to ride your bike. Montreal is also very hilly. Flying downhill and around curves is exhilarating while pumping furiously to get uphill burns loads of calories and whips you into shape.
When I first moved here I knew that it was a much better environment for cycling than Toronto, but I made the grave mistake of selling my bike when I moved because I didn’t think I could fit it in the car with the rest of my stuff. The summer ended, winter came and went, and when the snow melted and the sun rose above the mountain I knew it was time for me to get on two wheels again.
I scoured Craigslist for deals on bikes. I have limited financial means so I can’t afford a sweet road bike like so many people ride around here. What I ended up buying was practically the same bike as what I had before, only it is brown instead of green and a 6-speed instead a 3-speed internal. Meet Justine:
Me and Justine go everywhere together. Ever since buying her I feel as though I’ve been born again. With Justine, I can explore the city in ways that I never could on foot. I have ridden across bridges, around islands, through parks, and upon the cobblestone streets of the Old Port weaving in and out of traffic, screaming downhill at blistering speeds with the wind roaring in my ears. I have seen more territory in these past three months than I did in my first nine months living here.
As I ride these streets I stop and marvel at points of interest. Monuments, buskers, and street art abound and riding a bike lets me discover the plenitude of these things that exist in Montreal.
I remember riding across the Cartier Bridge on a sunny Saturday in July all the way to the L’Isle Sainte Helene where I sat on a bench with a view of the Old Port across the water. The sun, waning in the early hours of the evening, took on the fiery semblance of a blazing tangerine and the glistening line it shone upon the Flueve Sainte Laurent was like an invitation or a command not to leave this place.
As I sat there smoking a cigarette, a ferry came in to dock and I watched it move across the water with its passengers sitting in the open air. The calm of this boardwalk settled into me as the echoing sounds of music came from across the water. Somewhere in the Old Port there was a party going on and I wanted to be there. I wanted to drink in all there was in Ville Marie. But I was alone. It was just me and Justine and there was much ground to cover. Riding along the path through the island, amateur fishermen cast their lines into the river and couples languished on blankets in the shade with bottles of red wine, cheese, and grapes. Their own bikes lay beside them on the grass.
Biking is culture here in Montreal. It’s not a secondary mode of transport, but a way of life, and you see it in the people who sit in parks like this. You see it in the people touring the separated lanes on the streets and the off road paths on the mountain. You see it in the many professional bike shops and independent operators selling their wares from out of their garage or basement. You see it in the students with their backpacks loaded with textbooks, and you see it in the young fathers and mothers with their child seats attached on the back.
Living without a bike in Montreal feels wrong. Without a bike I always felt a nagging sense that something is missing, like I just left on a trip and forgot to pack my toothbrush. But I will never make the mistake of going without one again. Not here. Not anywhere. Ride on!