Oct 10, 2005

Bicycle touring in Québec

Bicycle touring in Quebec has seen an upraise in recent years. Part of this new enthusiasm was the transformation of old railroad lines into bicycle paths (rail-trails) and "La Route Verte" (The Green Route), a connection of roads with shoulders, bicycle paths and low-traffic roads crossing the province from west to east and south to north. The project is supposed to be finished in 2006, although some routes are questionable.

Maps and guides

Regional maps
Quebec is a large province so a provincial map doesn't cut it. Regional maps are found in most dépanneurs (convenience stores). Three brands are sold: Rand McNally, Carthotèque Geo and Mapart. The latter is the most common and, in my opinion, the best. Mapart also has a "vacation" series but these aren't sold everywhere.

Regional tourist guides
Each region has its own. It comes in a small booklet format and is filled with information on places, events and activities. It also has an extensive list of accommodations with prices and services offered. A small map is included. It's only useful for distances. The guides are available in all tourist information booth and some tourist attractions, hotels, etc. You can also order the guide from the Quebec tourism bureau. They will most likely send a bunch of other brochures but the guide is the only one really useful on the road.

Bike trail maps/guides
These are maps covering a single or a network of bike trails. They contain good info regarding the services offered on and close to the trail. They are very "bike-centered" and some info is not available on any other guides or maps. A street map is still handy.

Vélo-Québec guides
One would think the biggest cycling association should provide the best information but no, their guides are next to useless. They have all of the fault of the three tools mentioned above and none of the advantages. The guides are heavy, with small pages. The orientation always changes (north moves from map to map) but the worst are the maps: they consist of a few lines showing a particular bike route. The problem is the other streets are either missing or without names and they don't show links between different bike routes. Stay away.

When to go

May is the first month that can be qualified as warm. It can still be quite cold though, especially on rainy days. Indoor accommodation might be cheaper and campgrounds might not yet be opened. It's black flies season and these things can drive anyone crazy. June is the first real summer month. Most tourist spots are open but the season really kicks off around June 24th, Quebec's national day. A week later on July 1st is Canada day so many people join the two holidays and make it a week's vacation. Parks can be filled with locals, some coming in groups to party.

July is the warmest month, also the driest. Rain usually comes in short but moderate to heavy precipitation (thunderstorms). The last two weeks of July are known as "construction holidays". Unless you have reservations, it's best to avoid that period. The first half of August is also quite busy. It quiets down considerably around mid-august, when you should be able to find accommodations without reservations. It's still very warm and biting insects are mostly gone. Late august is perfect for those who want a summer trip without the big crowds.

September is a favorite among outdoor enthusiasts. Day temperature is either warm or slightly cool, with cool or cold nights. After the labor day weekend, many attractions have reduced hours during the week. In late september and early-october, you might find ice in your water bottles in the morning. Most places close down after the thanksgiving weekend, which is the second monday of october in Canada.

Route suggestions

Gaspésie (~650km short loop, ~1000-1200km complete tour)
A classic among bicycle tourists, the Gaspé peninsula has a lot to offer. Quite hilly, especially on the northeastern part where it's a constant roller-coaster. A few flat sections and never boring. Lots of places to visit, lots of services for tourists. The short loop cuts across the Cascapedia river valley on highway 299 while the complete Gaspésie tour closes the loop through the Matapédia valley on highway 132.

Ottawa > Montreal > Quebec City (~500km one-way)
Excellent ride for beginners and those who want to put on distance in a short time. Take highway 148 from Gatineau to Montreal and highway 138 for the rest. The route is part of the Route Verte (Green Way). Very flat with a few bumps near Quebec City. Unless you're very unlucky, you should have the wind at your back. Services are found in the many villages on the road.

Le P'tit train du Nord (200km one-way) (website)
Very popular rail-trail running from St-Jérôme to Mont-Laurier, through the Laurentians hills north of Montreal. It's also possible to start in Montreal. The northern half is paved and the southern is well-packed crushed stone. Many ride southbound, or "downhill", although there are no difficult climbs. It's an old railroad after all. Lots of services on the trail. There are also shuttle services that bring you and your gear at the northern departure point. Those with time should enjoy riding the trail twice, south to north and back again. Very nice trail.

Véloroute des Bleuets (256km loop) (website
Another very popular bike route, although this one uses quiet roads and paved shoulders on highway 169 at times. It is quite flat and it can be windy. The "blueberry bike route" is a big part of Lac St-Jean life in the summer and is very well serviced with lots of places to visit and activities to do. A must.

Véloroute du Fjord (~330km)
Not an official bike route, at least not yet. The route takes highway 172 and 170 on either side of the Saguenay river between the St-Lawrence river and Chicoutimi (now Ville de Saguenay) and the loop is closed on highway 138 between St-Siméon and Tadoussac. Very hilly, few paved shoulders and long distances between services. Not for beginners. Allow more time to ride into villages along the Saguenay river.

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