There’s nothing like a ride along a wooded path on a good machine, the whisper of tires on tarmac lulling one into a sort of cycle-induced stupor. And I don’t know of a better place to take such a ride than Ottawa.
Our city boasts several hundred kilometres of pathways that lead from places like Kanata North, where we live, right into the heart of downtown and across the river into Quebec and the stunning beauty of Gatineau Park. Most of the paths are paved, two-way thoroughfares that include traffic signs; speed limits, maps; benches and interpretive plaques at places of interest.
Along the way, between lengthy periods of blissful solitude, one can see elderly enthusiasts on recumbent cycles peddling so slowly it’s a wonder they can stay upright; small children learning to ride and teetering even with training wheels; marathoners, lean and fit, who look like they just breezed in from Montreal; twenty-something moms in Oakleys and $300 running shoes pushing their infants in those sleek “my-mommy’s-a-runner” RV’s, sweating profusely and trying to l0ok nonchalant; extended families out for a leisurely Sunday stroll along the river; white-haired in-line skaters breaking the 20 km/hr speed limit; large groups of Middle Easterners or Asians filling the picnic areas with their languages, their laughter and the mouth-watering aromas of their traditional cuisines; purse-lipped university students evidently trying to beat their last times; Africans playing soccer–barefoot, the only way they’ve ever played it; lovers embracing on park benches; Muslim women with their hijabs flapping in the river wind; a man walking two dogs on reel-in leashes while he strolls along reading his Kindle; walkers with furrowed brows and determined looks, seemingly wrestling with deep internal struggles.
What one will not see is trash or groups of road bikers. They would clog the paths and the speed limits are too restrictive for them.
Despite the many reports on the news of cyclists complaining about traffic patterns; inconsiderate drivers and city policies that fail to accommodate them to their satisfaction, Canada’s capital is in the world’s top fifteen bike-friendly cities. The city even brought in a consultant–a Dutch traffic engineer who specializes in designing urban streets that are cycle-safe.
Ottawa is a cyclist’s city, and a ride like the one I took today confirms that.