Friday, June 1, 2012

Ride report: Montreal - Ottawa

My old club, the FLCC, has the tradition of a Memorial Day getaway where everybody stays at a not-too-close-but-also-not-too-distant location on Friday, and then we have 2.5 days of riding from that destination. This year the destination was once again Ottawa, and this was a perfect opportunity for me and the accomplice to join the FLCCers and have a chance to meet and ride with old friends. By train, Ottawa is about 2 hours from Montreal, but I decided to do the route by bike. At a distance of 215km that seemed far but definitely doable.

There are two main route options, both following the Ottawa river (which flows into the St. Lawrence near Montreal): you can follow the Route Verte 1 on the Quebec side of the river or you can ride on the southern, Ontario side. I've had pretty good experiences with riding on the various Route Vertes, but after some online research I figured out that this particular stretch isn't all that great: it mostly runs on the shoulder of the 344/148 highways which are apparently busy, including a lot of trucks. The Ontario side, in contrast, was supposed to be very rural and quiet, presumably due to the existence of the more direct A40/417 expressway. 

I planned my route mostly based on Brian Hedney's suggestion, but chose to stay completely on the southern shore of the river instead of riding from Oka to Hawkesbury on the Route Verte. That decision was mostly due to timing: since I was leaving in the very early morning hours I couldn't be sure if the Hudson-Oka ferry would already be running by the time I'd get there, and in addition the ferry crossing itself would cost me some time. So if you ride at a more normal time of day and aren't in a rush, the northern option makes sense, too.

My alarm went off at 3 am, after only a few hours of sleep. The night beforeI had prepared everything as much as possible, which is uncommon for me. This helped with being ready go just a little after 3:30, despite my usual morning slowness. It was still pitch dark (well, it doesn't get all that dark in a big city) and I headed off on the usual route towards the western tip of the island. The Lachine Canal bike path was completely empty, and so were the residential roads on the West Island. This made riding a real joy and I zoomed along at a good clip. I reached the spiral staircase to the bridge over to Ile Perrot at pretty much exactly 5 o'clock. It was already pretty light at that point and the highway adjacent to the bike path was getting busier.

Following the Route Verte across Ile Perrot, I then reached the mainland in Vaudreuil-Dorion. After getting off the bridge there is a short stretch where you either have to salmon on the busy highway's shoulder or ride on the sidewalk. Two horrible options, but at this time of day it was alright. I left the Route Verte at the intersection with Route 340, turning northwest towards Oka. During the day this is also somewhat annoying to ride on for a few kilometers until you get to Chemin de l'Anse. I made a quick stop to take a picture of the beautiful sunrise, only to realize that my camera didn't have a memory card. Drat -- another ride report without pictures!

From here on, the ride was really beautiful for many kilometers. The quiet highway follows the Ottawa River through the town of Hudson and into Rigaud. Around Rigaud it was slightly more busy due to the nearby A40 but highway 342 has good shoulders and quickly got more quiet again after getting away from the highway on-ramps. Route 342 ends where it meets with the A40 again and for a short stretch I followed a service road parallel to the expressway. It might be possible to take a different route here, staying north of the highway and going through Voyageur Provincial Park, but I couldn't determine if that road was open to public and what its condition would be.

The service road itself was pretty bad: a gravel road which only recently had gotten re-graveled, making the riding with my 25mm tires very unpleasant. Fortunately, this was only for a few kilometers. Crossing the highway once again, I rode on Front Road/Rue Principale which follows the river into Hawkesbury. It was time for a breakfast stop, and I stopped at the Tim Horton's for a coffee and bagel. It was very noticeable that I had entered a very bilingual region of Ontario, with people effortlessly switching from one language to the other in their interactions. My odometer displayed 105km already -- almost half of the total distance.

The route, now following Hedney's suggestion, kept going along the river at close distance for most of the time and the riding was beautiful. At about 140km there is a very short stretch on the busy CR 17, but after only 500m you turn onto a quiet country road again (presumably this is the old highway 17). The wind which up to this point had been barely noticeable started picking up now, making good on the weather forecast's prediction of a 30 km/h headwind from west to southwest. Also the road conditions which had been fabulous so far started getting worse. Despite Ontario's reputation for much better roads than their Quebec neighbors, some of the roads I was riding on very pothole-ridden. Nothing too horrible but my wrists and lower back did not appreciate it.

In Rockland I made my second stop, this time at a gas station, with salty pretzels, a big coke, and refill for my Gatorade bottles. I estimated that I had about 40 kilometers still to go and I still felt surprisingly well. The road out of Rockland leads you onto CR 17 again, but the unpleasant conditions with heavy traffic and a very narrow only lasted for a few kilometers. Old Montreal Road was quiet and its surface was okay. At Trim Road I turned right and at the intersection with N Service Rd I had reached familiar territory: this had been the turn-around point on my Monday morning ride on the previous year's Ottawa weekend.

From here it was smoooth sailing on the pretty Ottawa River Parkway all the way into downtown and to the jail hostel. After 9 hours and 15 minutes I had reached my destination, yielding a total average of 23 km/h and a moving average of 26.6 km/h. I still can't quite comprehend how I ended up being so fast, especially since I didn't feel all that destroyed at the end of the ride.I can highly recommend this route, either for a one-day ride or for a multi-day tour with camping along the way (I don't remember seeing many hotels or B&Bs along the way).


  1. Sounds like another great ride. It was good to see you in ottawa again. Let me know of you figure out a good beer route tour some day too.

    1. Yeah, that beer route is definitely something that should be done!
      And if you ever feel like spending a weekend in Montreal, send me an email. Our two aerobeds are usually available.