From pavement to pea stone, our region is full of paths to pedal and fellow cyclists to enjoy them with.
I didn’t start out on two wheels. In fact, I didn’t start out doing much of anything that required physical effort. I got away with being bookish for most of my life, bringing magazines to my siblings’ soccer games in the Northumberland hills and novels to the campgrounds and beaches of Sandbanks and Presqu’ile. My gym shoes stayed squeaky clean. It wasn’t until I met the person who would eventually become my husband that I developed an interest in any type of voluntary exercise. The winter we met, he had sold his car and committed to cycling to work every day. He invested in a new bike with wider tires. I tried it out one evening, rolling down the trail along the Moira River at sunset. I realized I could balance hands-free.
Fast forward ten years, and the two of us operate our very own bike shop, where every day we get to introduce our community to the core components of cycling as we see them: fitness, comfort and joy. That last one is the biggest.
Joy, to us, is at the intersection of all cycling sports. Roadies and racers, downhill fiends and gravel grinders, basket-packers and commuters all do it because of how it makes them feel – but the way they got to that point has looked different every time. For those new to the area, or new to the sport, it can feel elusive, unfamiliar.
HOW ARE THESE PEOPLE PUTTING IN THIS EFFORT AND SMILING ABOUT IT? THEY MUST HAVE SOMETHING I DON’T.
I’m here to tell you that if you want it, you can have it. Cycling is not reserved for the fastest or the fittest. Over the last ten years, it’s become broader, more accessible, and dare I say it: more fun than ever before. Non-traditional races and events that centre around the joy of cycling allow new riders to get involved without having to worry about being left behind. It all starts with some curiosity and some like-minded friends. With those factors in place, any cyclist will quickly be ready to get their show on the road.
Cycling, for all its echelons, pelotons and grupettos, can still be a very solitary pursuit – although sometimes, it’s exactly that lonely nature or those unfamiliar group riding terms that turn folks around in circles trying to figure out where they fit in.
DO I NEED TO WEAR LYCRA? SHOULD I BE TRYING TO KEEP UP A CONVERSATION? WHAT HAPPENS IF I STOP FOR A SNACK BREAK?
They’re all valid questions, and it’s not always easy to find a straight answer. In my earliest riding days, I felt like I never had the right clothing, I couldn’t keep up, and I was blindly following the ride leader without knowing where the next turn (or shady rest spot) would happen. Thankfully, the more I pedal, the more I find that anyone else on a bike is a friend with something to share that’ll help propel me forward. One of the quickest ways to meet more of these friends is by way of a cycling club – a tough word choice, again, because it sometimes comes along with connotations of exclusivity and rules. So let’s put it in context.
“Club” may be the word, but in cycling, what it refers to is a community of individuals providing support, camaraderie and, of course, a safe place to gain skills and confidence in riding and route navigation. Clubs these days come in all shapes and sizes – important in an area as varied in terrain as ours – and are the gateway to finding real-life support while navigating the world of cycling.
But while cycling clubs can be an incredible source of community, the thought of cycling with a group of strangers can be hard to wrap our minds around.
The good news is that you’ll find that most cycling clubs welcome riders of all levels and are driven to create a safe and inclusive environment for everyone. Lots of recreational clubs offer beginner rides and skills clinics to help riders build their confidence and comfort on the bike and on their local terrain; they’re also a great place to find out about group rides, races, charity events, and other fun activities that allow you to push your limits and explore. It’s always a good idea to reach out to the club or ride organizer beforehand to learn more about the route, pace, and expectations for the ride you want to join.
Cycling in my own backyard has taught me that the joy I’m seeking is present in the simplest things, like the sunset through the trees, the excitement of crushing a big climb for the first time, or the new-found ability to encourage my fellow riders along a segment that tests our abilities.
Not only can you meet new people and explore new routes and destinations together, but you can learn from more experienced cyclists who will help you become a better rider.
If you’re keen, you can maybe even create cycling routes of your own, although it’s not always as simple as setting out from the garage or the trailhead and seeing where the wind will take you. But sometimes a bit of planning is in order to turn a good ride into a great story.
The smartphone app Boldface Ride with GPS is a great starting point for cyclists getting to know a new area and for experienced riders looking for new routes: it comes equipped with an “explore” functionality that lets users see others’ public route ideas. Planning ahead and using a smart mapping app will take the guesswork out of what to expect while you’re on the road. This is especially important if your itinerary relies on getting to points along the way during their operating hours for water refills and bathroom breaks (not to mention pints and ice cream cones!). Just remember that all public route information and advice is provided as a planning resource only and is not guaranteed to be accurate or complete. It’s important to do your own due diligence, research, and take safety precautions.
I pulled together a couple of my favourites at varying lengths and levels of challenge:
Millennium Trail & Bloomfield Public House Market: A Quick County Cruise | PEC
Route: Start in Wellington and head east to Bloomfield, then hop back on and head in the other direction back to the car.
If you want to squeeze in a few hours outdoors on a PEC weekend, the Millennium Trail is a perfect way to take in the County. The trail connects with the main County artery, Loyalist Parkway, both north and east of Consecon as well as Wellington and Bloomfield. The trail is flat terrain covered with hard-packed gravel; it’s great for a variety of different types of cyclists and bikes: any tire size above 35mm will be comfortable and stable.
Park in Wellington (the arena typically has an empty lot on a summer afternoon) and head east toward Bloomfield on the trail. Your out-and-back trip will be 20 kilometres and you won’t have to worry about any car traffic – though be sure to keep an ear out for ATVs. Plan to stop in Bloomfield at Bloomfield Public House Market for a coffee and a bite and then hop back on the trail to head back to the car. If a local brew is what you’re craving mid-ride, you can also stop at Matron Fine Beer just off the trail in Bloomfield. Grab a signature floofy pour of a farm-to-table brew and share a snack board. My top tip: leave room in your bag or basket so you can grab some cans to take home!
Midtown Brewing Company is a standard for PEC and Bay of Quinte (BoQ) locals at any time of year. An order of Midtown’s famous fries plus a pint of oatmeal stout are the perfect way to round out your County cruise.
An Oak Hills Adventure: On-and-Off Road Variety
Route: Start at the Lock Road parking lot. The Trent-Severn Waterway is just as appealing on wheels as it is by water, and following the Trent River past Frankford and Glen Ross on the Lower Trent Trail leads to some of the best back roads in rural Quinte West. The trailhead on Lock Road is a great starting point, with parking for about a dozen vehicles. Follow the trail in and around to the Bleasdell Boulder for a photo op, and then pop back onto the trail toward town. If you’re ready for a coffee, the Old Bank Café is in the heart of Frankford and will propel you forward to Glen Ross.
The trail portion of the ride ends at the lock, so you’re in for some new vistas. Head east and you’ll encounter the infamous Oak Hills: guaranteed to test your quad strength, but worth it for the views! The biggest test is Golf Course Road near Stirling, but remember: what goes up, must go down. You’ll start to descend soon, and if it’s in the cards (and in your legs), you might consider deviating from the prescribed route for a couple of kilometres in order to grab a cone from What’s Your Scoop on Frankford Road.
I love this route during the summer, once I’ve gotten my spring legs under me and am ready for new heights. I’d recommend it as a half-day ride that pairs perfectly with a visit to the Old Church Theatre (you’ll bike past it on your way back to the trailhead) so be sure to check the venue’s event listings to see what’s on that evening.
Rice Lake Ramble: Rolling Hills and Waterfront | Northumberland
Route: Numerous points of access.
Low car traffic in the northern part of Northumberland County means you can take your time and hear the buzz of insects in the surrounding trees. I love this area when I really want to feel like I’m off the grid without losing cell service. You’ll want to be prepared for a longer ride with water, snacks and tools, but you’ll pass by a couple of convenience stores and other top-up locations in case you run short. There’s even an artesian well that’s just a quick jaunt off the route at 5453 Front Street at the Memorial Park in Harwood.
Between the climbs, you’ll find it easy to distract yourself with the sound of the wind in a cornfield and the promise of a butter tart when you pass through Alderville First Nation.
At over 70 kilometres in length, this is the ideal loop if you’re spending more time in the area and filling out your long weekend. There are plenty of countryside antique shops, and cafés and artisans in the area for your tag-along friends who don’t plan to ride.
Whatever direction you head on two wheels this season, I hope it brings out something in you that you didn’t know you were looking for.
And that’s where joy comes back into the conversation. The joy of cycling is unparalleled – from the feeling of accomplishment gained from tackling the toughest climbs to the sense of exploration and adventure that comes with discovering a new favourite back road, to the peace of watching day turn into night while you’re on the road.
The unfiltered fun of navigating unknown terrain, of finding a surprise roadside stand, of seeing what’s around the next bend, and of completing a challenging route you thought was outside your scope can’t be replicated in all types of recreation – the adventure cycling experience is a category of its own. Through it, I’ve found that riding often brings out the best in people – myself included.
Cycling Clubs by Region
Northumberland Hills Cycling Club
A recreational club that connects all manner of local riders looking for folks to hit the roads with.
A group that enjoys the social aspects of cycling with other people in a non-competitive environment.
Cobourg Cycling Club
A local club that connects a variety of riders for youth, mountain biking, recreational and even competitive and time trial rides.
BAY OF QUINTE REGION
Bay of Quinte Bike
A collection of local bike routes to explore on your own or join in on mixed-terrain group rides.
bayofquinte.bike or on Ride with GPS
Discover the following cycling groups on Facebook:
Belleville Chain Gang
A group to join if you love riding fast on a regular weekly basis!
Offers local trail updates and group rides as well as trail-building initiatives.
A group of women who enjoy energetic road rides across the Quinte region.
Quinte Area Cyclists
This group is the meeting point for all cyclists and cycle-friendly events and businesses in the Quinte region.
PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY
Bloomfield Bicycle Club
County riders who share road conditions, route and event updates in all seasons.