“It’s a bicycle highway,” exclaims a pedestrian, waiting to cross the steady stream of cyclists cruising Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach on a sunny Sunday. At some point in the last forty-seven years, Vancouver became a world-class cycling city. We admit it: we have failed to pay attention to Vancouver’s evolution since we moved away from the city in 1972. We redress our error by dedicating one week to the exploration of Vancouver’s cycling trails.
Our enlightenment begins with a book, Let’s Go Biking: Easy Rides, Walks & Runs around Vancouver, by Colleen MacDonald. This friendly guidebook includes 84 different routes in Metro Vancouver and beyond. Colleen, a retired elementary school teacher, designed all the routes for “families, beginning cyclists, seniors, those who like to stop and smell the roses.” Let’s go, then!
The V2V ferry transports us and our bikes from downtown Victoria to downtown Vancouver. The sun is about to set, but it’s only a ten-minute ride to our apartment-style hotel, Times Square Suites, two blocks from Stanley Park. We will have one day of hard rain when we use our umbrellas rather than bikes. Each of the other days, we choose one or more of Colleen’s 84 routes.
We are flabbergasted by the beauty of this 24-km uninterrupted waterfront pathway loop around Stanley Park and False Creek. Stunning views, sandy beaches, and urban forest (nearly half a million trees) are non-stop. The path is divided for safety: one side for pedestrians, the other for cyclists and rollerbladers. Bicycles travel one-way (counterclockwise) around the Stanley Park Seawall portion (9 km).
This loop is not for the Tour de France set. “Slow cycling zone – enjoy the ocean view,” says the sign. That’s good advice but watch the pathway, too. Seaside Greenway is a very busy route, with plenty of wobbly novice cyclists and camera-toting pedestrians who wander in and out the bike lanes.
The City of Vancouver web site says that electric-assist bikes are not allowed on the Seawall. She-who-must-follow-all-rules sends three (unanswered) e-mails requesting clarification. Not seeing any signs to indicate that e-bikes are forbidden, we proceed with our batteries turned off. This route is so flat that no e-assistance is required, anyway.
For Doug, this route has it all: gritty portside industries, gritty portside people, navigational challenges (Secret Tunnel is aptly-named), the Ironworkers Bridge (yikes), the waterfront North Shore Spirit Trail, Lion’s Gate Bridge (yikes again), and a big finish: barrelling down the Stanley Park Causeway with heavy vehicle traffic rumbling by. At least the bikes were separated from the cars.
Queen Elizabeth Park Loop
It’s drizzling when we arrive at Queen Elizabeth Park, the highest point in Vancouver. Amazing views of the city and mountains, not so much, but the gardens are pretty, and we spend some dry-time indoors at Bloedel Conservatory, an indoor tropical garden.
To access this loop we cycle over the Burrard Bridge, which has been named the busiest bike route in North America. With its wide, safe bike lane, even a timid cyclist feels safe on this bridge, but there is a fun alternative way to cross False Creek: take the Aquabus ferry from Hornby Dock to Granville Island.
Queen Elizabeth Park Loop follows three greenways and two bikeways. In a greenway, bikes and pedestrians are kept separate from traffic. Vancouver’s network of understated bikeways really impressed us. In a bikeway, cars and bicycles share the side roads. Lower speed limits and various traffic-calming measures allow bikes to travel safely through peaceful, leafy neighbourhoods. Special bike traffic signals are located where side streets cross arterial roads. Well done, Vancouver! No wonder Vancouverism is an internationally-known term that describes a new kind of city living.
Seaside Beaches and UBC
“Nobody’s gonna miss you.” Cathy hears that once or twice each day this week. High-vis jacket, traffic safety vest, bright pink helmet: not an uncommon outfit in Victoria, but out of place here in Vancouver, where cyclists all seem to be young and fashionably dressed. Another difference we observe: fewer e-bikes and fewer hills.
Seaside Beaches route offers nine km of ocean and mountain views along a paved greenway. There is a steady stream of bicycles, but the parking lots are full of Sunday traffic, too. Pedestrians toting picnic baskets, volleyballs, kites, paddle boards, and kayaks struggle to cross the bicycle traffic at Kitsilano and other popular beaches.
Gardens, art, architecture: the campus of UBC (University of British Columbia) is much greener and more beautiful than we remember it from 1972. At a picnic stop near the entrance we have our first encounter with a person in our own age group. She’s not a cyclist, but we find at least one thing in common: her daughter, like ours, turns fifty this year.
Vancouver to Steveston
Vancouver to Steveston is our longest (65km), last, and most varied ride. Over the Burrard Bridge, down the Arbutus Greenway rail-trail to the Fraser River, and over the Canada Line Bridge to Richmond, where there are a few blocks of traffic with which to contend. Next we follow Middle Arm Dyke Trail and another rail-trail, Railway Greenway, which connects to Fisherman’s Wharf and the Cannery Museum on the south arm of the Fraser. After pineapple ice cream we return via the West Dyke Trail, with its panoramic views of the ocean and tidal flats.
If you go
The V2V ferry can take a maximum of three bikes per sailing ($25 fee per bike); call ahead to reserve a bike spot. The passenger fare is pricey, so watch for promotions (ours was Buy Now Sail Later – Save 50%).
Times Square Suites Hotel has gated underground parking, with bike racks on the lower level. The parking entrance is accessed from Eihu Lane, which intersects Chilco Bikeway and the Seaside Greenway at the edge of Stanley Park.
You may read Colleen’s blog, order her book, and subscribe to updates at https://www.letsgobiking.net/.
Rainy day scenes