With no cars left to rent, tourists explore Magdalen Islands on electric bikes

Rental cars are out of stock on the Magdalen Islands, so electric bike rentals are through the roof as people look for alternative means of transportation when exploring the red coastal cliffs, wide sandy beaches, rolling dunes and windswept grasslands.

Electric bike rental company owner says business is booming and he's looking to expand

Pierre-Louis Houle has been exploring Quebec’s Magdalen Islands with his son on a rented, electrically assisted cargo bike. (Isabelle Larose/Radio-Canada)

While on vacation on Quebec's Magdalen Islands, Pierre-Louis Houle decided to rent a cargo bike with electric assistance for a week of exploring the small archipelago with his son.

"It's exercise and it's the perfect speed to admire the landscape: you see things differently," said Houle, who is from Sherbrooke, Que.

Houle had the option to drive while there but not every tourist does, as rental cars are in short supply. 

And now electric bike rentals are through the roof as people look for alternative means of transportation while soaking up sights like red coastal cliffs, wide sandy beaches, rolling dunes and windswept grasslands dotted with colourful homes and cottages.

"The popularity of our bikes has increased a lot this year," said Bernard Vigneault.

Since founding Éco-Vélo des Îles in 2019, Vigneault says the company has increased its fleet of bicycles tenfold and multiplied its turnover by 40. 

"We've seen the electric bike gain more and more popularity, both in terms of sales and rentals," he said.

Electric bikes come in different shapes and sizes, allowing people to travel large distance without tiring themselves out. (Isabelle Larose/Radio-Canada)

The fact that rental cars were scarce started to become evident last year, he said, but this year it's been something else entirely. Calls from people without a rental car have nearly doubled, he said.

The Quebec government's effort to boost tourism by capping round-trip plane tickets at $500 this year may have something to do with the sudden boom in tourists desperately searching for transportation while visiting the islands, said Vigneault. 

Quebec Transport Minister François Bonnardel said back in April that the $500 maximum fare will also apply to trips that require connecting flights.

The government is compensating airlines by making up the difference between the discounted price and the fare usually charged.

Bernard Vigneault, owner of Éco-Vélo des Îles, says demand for electric bicycles is through the roof these days on the Magdalen Islands. (Isabelle Larose/Radio-Canada)

The Agence de location des Îles, the company that owns the largest fleet of rental cars in the archipelago, has been unable to meet the demand for rental cars, said co-owner Odette Cormier. At the start of every week, it's almost a guarantee that no cars will be available, she said.

However, she added, it's not unusual to be all rented out in July and August. 

Cormier is increasing the number of vehicles available during the summer, but it wouldn't be worth it to expand the fleet too much considering the heaviest demand lasts only a couple of months.

On top of everything else, the automotive industry has been coming up short on a global scale, unable to meet the demand for vehicles. This year, the company has 10 fewer cars than the usual 115 due to supply chain issues, she said. 

Agence de location des Îles is usually out of cars in July and August, says co-owner Odette Cormier. (Isabelle Rose/Radio-Canada)

Cormier is looking to boost her fleet to 140 cars by next season, she said. 

"Every day, we have requests, but at some point, there is a limit too," she said. "With the transportation costs of bringing cars to the islands, you can't afford it if those vehicles are only rented in July and August."

So, without a car to rent, those turning to bicycles are discovering the islands have an extensive bike path network spanning the entire archipelago. For example, the Route verte runs for about 100 kilometres along the main road that links the southern Havre Aubert island to Grande Entrée.

Stéphane Kalloo planned to cycle about 20 kilometers on La Martinique Saturday morning with his family. (Isabelle Larose/Radio-Canada)

Laval resident Stéphane Kalloo and his family decided to rent electrically powered bikes with oversized tires to venture on the beaches, doing a 20-kilometre stretch.

"We've done a lot of driving so far, so we're going to try cycling to really be in nature," he said.

And that's something tourists get to experience better on a bike, said Vigneault, who plans to expand his electric bike rental company next year.

"People are discovering a very pleasant means of transportation and it allows them to visit the islands in a different way and to admire the landscapes and smell the smells," he said.

"Even people for whom cycling was not their Plan A tell us that it is a very effective way to visit the archipelago and that they loved their experience."

with files from Radio-Canada