The Ride to Conquer the Ride to Niagara

I was planning to ride from Toronto to Niagara Falls last summer after I’d heard about GO Transit’s bike train.  GO Transit offers, amongst other destinations, service to/from Toronto and Niagara Falls through the summer with a couple of train cars dedicated to carrying bikes.  For folks in Toronto it’s a great way to get to Niagara for a day/weekend of cycling and wine tasting.  I figured I would ride there and take the train home.  The problem for me was with the schedule.  I could start my ride at 4am and take the 1230 train home, or leave later, after the traffic and temperature had ramped up and then return on the 840pm train.  Neither schedule seemed appealing.  I had ramped up my riding to prepare, but I didn’t make it happen in 2012.

This weekend my wife and I were going to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a night for a friend’s birthday, so it looked like I could finally make this riding dream a reality.  Saturday morning I took the subway to High Park station and at 8am I was on my way.  The ride is 150-160km so I expected it to take around 6h30.  Here’s my approximate route, minus some washroom break detours (Toronto-Niagara Bike Map).

Looking back from the Humber River

I decided to capture the moment as crossed the Humber River and looked back at Toronto’s skyline.  I was about 10min into my ride.

Burlington Skyway

By 9:55 I had put 60km behind me.  I was slightly ahead of schedule and beneath the Burlington Skyway, crossing the lift bridge.  You’ll want to stop soon thereafter at the trail side rest stop and washroom.  This is your last chance to fill up on water for a while.  The temperature would soon reach 29C and I had already downed 3 water bottles.  I filled one, drank it and filled all three again before setting off.

There were more than a few stops that I wanted to make along the way.  From the QEW you can never get a good look at the sunken ship around Jordan Rd.  So, about an hour after my last stop, I stopped again and climbed down an embankment, around the base of the Jordan Harbour (because road shoes are perfect for climbing down embankments), to quickly snap this shot :

Sunken ship

…riding on I was rather puzzled by this:

Antique Factory Outlet??

How do you have a “factory outlet” for antiques?  Anyhoo…

Believe it or not I was already out of water again at this point.  Another 30km and another 3 bottles of water!  So I pulled into Charles Daley Park for a refill, only to find a sign saying “Water not potable”!!!  Ugh!  So hot, so dehydrated already, my quads were beginning to seize!  I think my 29kph average was about to take a hit!

It was 12pm as I rode on into the scenic town of Port Dalhousie and made my way to the nearest Starbucks.  Time to fill my bottles again and wash down an energy bar with a well deserved latte!  Setting off again, and anxious to make up for lost time, I was forced to stop minutes later as the drawbridge rose to allow the huge Algocanada tanker to pass along the Welland Canal.  I figured I might as well read this sign to pass the time…


George Nicholson Trail Section along the Welland Canal

Once past the Welland Canal you’re out of St. Catherines and into farm country again.  It’s nothing but vineyards and orchards all the way to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Vineyards through the Niagara region

Once through Niagara-on-the-lake you take the Niagara Parkway along the Niagara river  all the way down to Niagara Falls, for the last 22km of the ride.  Here you face the only significant climb on the whole ride, up past the Brock’s Monument.

Brock Memorial

The hard work is all done but there are still some nice views along the way.  The Lewiston-Queenston Bridge seemed like a worthy stop:

Lewiston-Queenston Bridge

…it’s 2pm, 6hrs have passed and I’m at the Falls!  Time for some cheesy tourist pics of the Falls and the downtown.

Niagara Falls by bike

My trusty Specialized Roubaix handled the ride with ease

Downtown Niagara Falls

So I was clearly riding alone here.  My wife rented a car and drove to Niagara Falls.  A one way ride is enough for me so I would be driving back to Toronto the next day with her.  I asked what she rented and she answered happily “a Fiat”.  “Oh no!” I thought. “A Fiat 500? There’s no way that will fit my bike”, “I’m going to be riding home tomorrow”!  Well, for all of the doubters, myself included, here’s a 58cm bike, plus our overnight bags in the back of a Fiat 500 (with the seats down of course):

Fiat 500

What a ride!  So much to see along the way.  It was getting a little intimidated by the loop as I began mapping it out but I’m now anxious to do it again.  Any takers?

Toronto to Hamilton: My first century ride on a fixed gear

For the last few years I have cycled very little other than to get to work.  This year I have started ramping things up again.  I trained fairly regularly on a Wattbike over the winter (but that’s another story) and by spring I was ready for some longer rides again.  From Yonge/Eglinton I have been riding south to the lake and then west pretty much every time venturing a little further as my legs allowed.  At first my turnaround was the Humber river.  After a few weeks I’d venture as far as Port Credit where I’d stop for an espresso before the ride home.  Eventually my usual espresso ride would take me to Oakville (95-100km), a handful of times on my own and once a week with a friend from mid-June through most of July.  After 8-10 rides to Oakville my riding buddy and I decided to explore a little further.

Here our bikes wait patiently for us to finish our drinks and to keep riding:

So with no particular destination in mind we set off from Oakville to the west along the Lakeshore.  After a few kms we agreed that we might as well make it official and ride right into Burlington. So we followed Lakeshore to North Shore Blvd East and did a quick turn around at the Burlington Golf and Country Club figuring that we’d gone far enough for one day.  So that loop worked out to around 145km, and definitely the longest ride I’ve ever done on my fixed gear bike!

145km.  Phew!  But that was a week ago.  Time to move on.  I was working on extending our route while keeping it interesting so I decided a ride around Hamilton Harbour might be best.  It would add about 30km to the ride.  See my earlier post for that part of the route (  Unfortunately my riding buddy was away this weekend so I decided to go it alone.

I set off from Yonge/Eglinton around 645am, after launching the GPS app on my Blackberry and stuffing it into my jersey pocket.  I checked my phone as I rounded the base of Bayview and turned onto King St East and it had yet to acquire the satellite signal.  Ugh!  Oh well, I guess there’s about 10km that won’t be captured in my ride history.  Into my jersey pockets I also stuffed a patch kit, a small pump, a couple of water bottles and a couple of my home-made energy bars.  I also brought a camera but I placed it, my house keys, some cash and a few allen keys into my frame bag.

I stopped briefly at my usual spot in Oakville for a double-long espresso.  As I enjoyed it I sat and wondered why I would stop with 120km to go.  It might have made more sense to stop later on, maybe closer to the 1/2 way mark, oh well, a habitual stop I guess.  I stopped again at the Burlington Golf and Country Club on North Shore Blvd at 9:15am for a quick photo op about 70km in, but otherwise I didn’t check my watch all day, so I’m not entirely sure how long each leg of the journey took.

The ride around the bay was a great.  Well, most of it. Riding through Hamilton’s downtown and industrial sector is just a section to get through, but the rest of it is incredible!  North Shore Blvd is a beautiful road, quite smooth, with some small gently rolling hills and with very little traffic on a Saturday morning.  This leads you to County Road 2 (Plains Rd W) and finally to York Blvd, taking you right around the western side of the harbour, mostly along bike lanes.  Once through the downtown and industrial sector you get to the best part of the loop, the Waterfront trail.  If you know of a more bike friendly route please offer it in the comment section.  See the map link at the end of my post for all of the details of my ride.

Why oh why does this picture get rotated 90deg when viewed in full size?????

In this section of the Harbour loop you’ll cover about 10km along the lake on the Hamilton Beach Recreational trail.  The path is smooth and offers a great view of the lake.  There are also plenty of benches to soak it all in from should you need a break.  If you you need a nature break along here there is one washroom about 4km down the trail, almost as far as the Burlington Lift Bridge.  There is also a water fountain there so be sure to stop, this is your last chance to fill up for a while.  At this point it is tempting to just keep on riding, to get ‘er done, but stop, relax, savour the moment.  You’ve got about 70km to go, but this can wait another moment, you’ve earned a break.

You’re on the home stretch now, the Toronto skyline is calling you home and is but a muted spec in the distance.

So there’s my first century ride in about 12 years and my first century ride ever on my track bike.  The total distance worked out to about 170km, but my gps app only recorded 160km worth, making it an official century ride either way, 100 miles or 160km.

…but only averaged 28.6km/hr 😦

Ugh!  And my average was not even 30km/hr 😦  Oh well, I’ll blame that on the headwind that picked up on my way home, on stopping many times to enjoy the view and to take pictures.  Total trip time was, according to my stop watch, 6.5hrs.  Either way the century is a milestone to many a cyclist.  It was a milestone that I had reached at least 15 years ago, but probably haven’t repeated since.  So there it is, a little reminder to my legs and mind (and butt) of what it takes to cover that distance again.  If a 6.5hr ride doesn’t sound like fun to you then just ride faster, ride a bike with more than one gear, one that allows you to coast, go with a fast friend and take turns drafting or if this doesn’t sound like something that you would be interested in trying in its entirety then check out Go Transit schedules.  They offer service to Hamilton all the time and depending on which station you’re leaving from and the time of day you can usually bring your bike on board.  From the Hamilton Go station you can then tour the Harbour and transit home again, or ride back to TO from there.  You have plenty of options and hopefully one less excuse.

Here’s a link to the full map of the ride, which by the way could not be saved into google maps because Google keeps guessing which way you’d want to go which never makes any sense so you have to keep moving points along the route from Google guess to the actual route until you literally run out of points that you are able to enter….  So, I had to use the gmap-pedometer, which is far more user friendly:

Have a safe ride!