Toronto

Like riding a bike: Torontonians back in the saddle getting around town and beyond

There's already a greater demand for bicycles in the GTA and with people planning on sticking closer to home this summer, cycling tourism could be a popular choice.

Summer weather, pandemic cabin fever, expanded bike lanes making for more interest in 2 wheels

Renewed interest in cycling means that Ontario could see even more people vacationing on two wheels this year as the COVID-19 pandemic pushes people to rethink holiday plans, according to the results of a survey by Ontario By Bike. (supplied)

It may be the year of the bike, as the pandemic has made this mode of transportation extremely popular. And while that's meant some Toronto bike shops are struggling to keep up with demand, it also means that many cyclists are able plan their vacations around two wheels this summer.

With warm weather here and people wanting to get outside as stay-at-home orders ease, many in Toronto have been making use of extra lanes and an expanded cycling network.

In May, Toronto Public Health and Transportation Services closed lanes on roads like Lake Shore Boulevard West so pedestrians, runners and cyclists could distance safely.

The ActiveTO program has been very popular, according to data collected and verified by city staff.

The scene on Lake Shore Boulevard West this weekend. (Cycle Toronto)

On Saturday, May 23 alone, 21,000 people on bikes and 4,400 pedestrians were counted on Lake Shore Boulevard West at Ontario Drive. Staff counted 5,000 people on bikes and 5,400 pedestrians on Lake Shore Boulevard East, east of Coxwell Avenue.

"Based on the data counts, that movement in the form of cycling and walking is a very popular means to get around," said Coun. James Pasternak (Ward 6 York Centre) and chair of the Infrastructure and Environment Committee. 

"Traffic volumes remain low and leveraging the available space for both leisure and a more connected cycling route will absolutely support Toronto's restart and recovery."

Scott Kelly, who is a board member of Cycling Canada, agrees. 

"I've seen what everyone has seen: more people on the road and I see more on the trails," Kelly told CBC Toronto. 

Kelly, who is a mechanic for the Norco Factory Team and also owns a small bike shop in Dundas, Ont., says it's not just people hopping on their bikes as alternatives to taking transit or ride-shares during the pandemic.

"Kids who aren't in organized sports anymore have taken up cycling. People have flocked to all kinds of outdoors activities, cycling included," he said.

Scott Kelly, who owns a small bike shop in Dundas, Ont., hopes gains made during COVID-19 for cycling can be built on post-pandemic. (Cycle Canada)

He hopes COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on cycling, with more people hopefully sticking to getting around by bike. 

"You can really build on biking — with research you can find trails in your area to broaden your experience," Kelly said.

"You can join clubs and find communities."

More planning on cycling during vacation 

And more people are planning cycling vacations.

Louisa Mursell is with Ontario By Bike, a provincial network of bicycle-friendly businesses and local tourism boards. 

The group surveyed 900 cyclists and found that two-thirds are planning to vacation closer to home.

"Many who have cancelled cycling trips planned abroad are planning trips here," she said.

The survey found that 62 per cent of respondents are planning day trips, with a growing interest in resuming multi-day trips, as restrictions are lifted across the province.

"More people are going to be visiting the different cities and communities and taking their bikes with them, either on the back of the cars or perhaps riding to the destinations," Mursell said. 

Louisa Mursell is the executive director of Ontario By Bike. The group is developing and promoting cycle tourism in Ontario. Its recent survey found that many are planning vacations on two wheels this summer. (CBC)

Ontario By Bike has itineraries and maps on its website to help cycling tourists explore routes closer to home.

"From Toronto you can keep riding east or west for many kilometres. You can connect back using the GO train, if you're not sure of your abilities," she said, adding that a limited number of bikes are allowed per train car.

Think about safety, Kelly says

Meanwhile, Kelly has some advice for those who haven't touched that bike in the basement or the garage for some time: "The first thing to think about is always safety. Check your brakes, put some lube on the chain, make sure the tires are pumped."

He suggests taking it to your local bike shop for a basic tune-up.

"Take it out for a slow ride before you venture out into traffic or the trails."
 

About the Author

Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with more than two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for CBC Toronto on television, radio and online. He is also a National Reporter for The World This Weekend on Radio One. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.

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