On Thursday, June 8th – my dad and I drove up from NYC to Montreal – the primary reason for the trip was to see the F1 racing. For me, I was more inclined to ride my bike around a new city and try to juxtapose it in my mind relative to the cycling infrastructure in NYC.
Before arriving in Montreal, I think I had built it up in my mind to be different than it was. A lot of online reviews stated that Montreal was rated the #3 best cycling city in the world. Now, my experience on Day 1 was entirely different than my ride on Day 2, as you’ll soon see.
While there are a quite a few different two-way protected lanes, the vast majority of streets north/south streets that I saw did not have bike lane markings, or even shoulders for that matter. For the streets that did have markings, a good portion of them were faded. However, I will say that as I approached downtown Montreal by the financial district, the lane markings were far more clear. Additionally, it felt as though East-West routes were far more developed than the North-South Infrastructure. It seems that locals have voiced their opinions on this as well.
To some degree, it does make sense. When you think of Manhattan, the island itself is far more elongated than it is wide. Looking at the below map of Montreal, you can see that the city itself extends more on the East-West plane. How many cross-town protected bike lanes does Manhattan have? (If I’m not mistaken, Grand Street is the only one and even that is not a perfect through-way).
“They say the city appears too focused on adding kilometres, so it resorts to merely painting lines on streets that do little to enhance cycling, when it should be addressing gaps in the network. As a result, many bike paths don’t take cyclists where they need to go, critics say, with too many the city’s paths running east-west, and comparatively few going north-south.
“It’s absolutely horrible going north to south in Montreal if you’re on your bike,” said Daniel Lambert, a spokesperson for the Montreal Bike Coalition.”
Nevertheless, there were a few routes that I wanted to try – one, involved a bit of climbing (relative, of course) and promised a beautiful vantage point of the city. This route did not disappoint! The view was well worth it, as you can see in the below screenshot. I noticed that this area had a greater number of true road cyclists. In terms of % grades, I’d rate the steepest portions around 7-8%, reminiscent of Alpine Hill on River Road in NJ.
A few of the main arteries that allow you to reach the Mont-Royal volcanic hill had very poor (re: no) infrastructure. So, take into account you’re climbing 7-8% and you’re surrounding by cars whizzing by. Not exactly the best equation. Now, imagine trying to climb Alpine hill on a Citibike and that’s what it appeared to look like for individuals riding the “Bixi” bikes up a street known as “Atwater.”
Once the gradient dropped back down to 1-3%, I took a number of streets to check out the area known as Westmount. The best comparison, in my mind would be to say it’s very slightly reminiscent to Presidio Heights in San Francisco. A mix of streets brought me up to Mont-Royal where I was greeted with packed dirt / gravel on my way to the city lookout point. This view did not disappont – I always love looking out on a city’s skyline from a distance.
I also had a chance to explore part of the Lachine Canel, which I’ll describe in greater detail later in the post as my 2nd ride primarily took place there.
In terms of other routes, another famous one was by the Lachine Canel. This route spans a great deal of the city and is separate from traffic. The best way to compare this route, in my mind, would be to say it’s a mix between the West Side Greenway in NYC and the North / South County Trail just north of NYC.
The Lachine route was quite flat; it went under overpasses, over small bridges, and through some tree-covered sections. On the Western edge of the city, the path opened up to view of the river. As an aside, once you exit Montreal proper, there were some pretty neat (flat) paths that spanned coastal islands. I did not get a chance to ride on these, given time constraints. Some of the coastal path “access routes”, if you will, felt VERY much like the Belt Parkway Greenway in Brooklyn / Queens. Had a sense of deja vu here.
Montreal’s version of Citibike: Bixi
One more thing that I wanted to mention was that the “Bixi” is very popular here. It’s essentially a 1st-gen Citibike. The docks are the same, and the primary difference is the paint scheme, from what I could see. For what it’s worth, there seemed to be a ton of bike racks/places to lock up your bike (I.e. welded attachments to parking meters). I can’t comment on the bike theft rate here compared to NYC – though from what I understand, Montreal is certainly not immune to theft.
“8D Technologies powers nearly 40,000 bikes in bike share programs globally including Santander Cycle Hire (London, UK), Bixi (Montreal, Canada), ADCB Bikeshare (Abu Dhabi, UAE) and Melbourne Bike Share (Melbourne, Australia), and already provides the hardware and software for many of the bike share networks that Motivate operates world-wide. Motivate manages many of the largest bike share systems in North America, including Citi Bike (New York), Ford GoBike (San Francisco Bay area), Hubway (Boston metro area) and Capital Bikeshare (Washington DC metro area).”
Overall, I’d say Montreal seems, from first impressions, to be better suited for bike commuters as opposed to those training for races, granfondos, etc… They have done a fantastic job incorporating two-way (cross-town) protected bike paths. These routes are not parking protected like we have in NYC, but rather have raised asphalt to physically separate the cyclists from traffic.
While there are a few great paths, but I can imagine that as a local, it may get pretty monotonous to ride long distances on those somewhat narrow paths. When I visited San Francisco in January, I immediately found a parallel to the East Coast. The Marin Headlands are the 9W of the West Coast. In Montreal, I can’t say I found a hallowed ground for roadies. Maybe I missed it in my limited excursions, but just as far as I can tell.