Cycling in Canada

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A mountain biker on Goat Mountain Bike Trail in the Yukon.

Cycling in Canada is experienced in various ways across a geographically huge, economically and socially diverse country. Among the reasons for cycling in Canada are for practical reasons such as commuting to work or school, for sports such as road racing, BMX, Mountain bike racing, freestyle BMX, as well as for pure recreation. The amount and quality of bicycle infrastructure varies widely across the country as do the laws pertaining to cyclists such as bicycle helmet laws which can differ by province.


The Wanderer's Bicycle Club at Queen's Park, Toronto in 1884. Penny-farthings and safety bicycles were used in Canada as early as the late-19th century.

Interest in early Velocipede bicycles exploded during the winter of 1868-69 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada as evidenced by advertisements.[1] The first person in North America to ride a Penny Farthing style bicycle was Albert Lane who in Montreal rode an imported 50 inch Coventry on July 1, 1874.[2] He also co-founded the first bicycle club in Canada, the Montreal Bicycle Club in 1878 which later joined with the Lacrosse and Snowshoe clubs to form the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association in 1881.[3]

Before the widespread adoption of private automobiles, bicycles were a popular mode of transport in Canada,[citation needed] although Canada's snowy winters posed a problem for year-round use. Travel by horse and carriage (or sled) or streetcar offered a more robust alternative. As Canadian became more suburban after World War II, cars became the principal mode of transportation for many people, and cycling shifted to being solely for sport or recreation.

In the 1970s a bike boom saw a sharp increase of bicycle sales in Canada[4] The advent of the mountain bike in the later twentieth century made off-road recreational bicycling particularly popular.

In the twenty-first century, with longer and longer commute times between suburbs and central business districts, there has been a trend towards urbanization, with people moving into cities. together with gentrification, this has created a more dense urban environment less like the mid-century North American norm and more like Old World cities where cycling commuting is more popular. This has led to a new era of cycling advocacy and can create conflicts with motorists over road space prioritization, funding and planning decisions at the local municipality level.

Commuting cycling[edit]

Bicycle commuting to work has grown in popularity due to a grassroots cycling advocacy movement across Canada along with improvements to bicycling infrastructure in cities. Bicycling infrastructure has an impact on the perception of risk and safety which may impact the likelihood that people will commute by bicycle.[5]

According to the Canada 2016 Census, Victoria holds the largest percentage of bike commuters out of any municipality in Canada.

For the 2016 Census Journey to Work data noted that the number of people living in Census Metropolitan Areas commuting by bicycle has increased by 87.9 percent, which is more than twice the pace of overall commuter growth.[6] Canada's overall percent of bicycle commuters from the 2016 census was 1.4 percent.[6] The top five Census Metropolitan Areas by percent of bicycle commuters are; Victoria at 6.6 percent, Kelowna at 2.7 percent, Ottawa-Gatineau at 2.4 percent, Vancouver at 2.3 percent, and Montreal and Saskatoon tied with 2.0 percent of people commuting by bike.[6]

The Canada 2011 Census recorded that the highest proportion of bicycle commuting to work metropolitan areas in Canada were; Victoria at 5.9 percent, Kelowna at 2.6 percent, Ottawa-Gatuineau at 2.4% and Kingston at 2.2 percent. Victoria has a very mild climate year-round compared to the rest of Canada which may help explain why the proportion of cycling commuters is so much higher, coupled with a compact core and strong bicycle culture. Victoria is home to one of Canada's earliest Bike to Work events that has grown into the popular bicycle commuting campaign in British Columbia known as "Bike to Work Week BC" occurs in May each year and pits workplace teams in friendly competition with other workplaces in their community for a variety of prizes.[7]

In Toronto, the country's largest city, and the city with the longest average commutes in all of North America, cycle-communing has quickly gained popularity. In 2010, however, Toronto had the highest per capita rate of bike-car collisions of any Canadian city[8] and bike activists have demanded more bike lanes to make cycling safer. This was derided as "the war on the car" by successful mayoral candidate Rob Ford in the 2010 election. He was supported by media personality Don Cherry's rant against "the pinkos out there who ride bicycles" at Ford's inauguration. In July 2011, Toronto City Council voted to remove three of the bike lanes added by the previous council and most were removed the following year, the Jarvis bike lane was removed by Fall 2012 despite protesters.[9][needs update] Toronto is not the only city to grapple with cyclist-motorist conflicts, however.

Recreational cycling[edit]

Cycling along the Trans Canada Trail in the Yukon. The Trans Canada Trail is a mixed-used path that extends throughout the country.

The bikeability or bicycle-friendliness of cycling in Canada varies considerably by region. There are thousands of kilometres of bike lanes or paths in Canadian cities. Many multi-use trails connect cities and suburbs on old rail right of ways, known as rails to trails. Rural bicycling is quite popular in less-remote areas using the many low-traffic rural roads or wide shoulders on rural roads. A long distance multi-use trail that will have many sections for cycling, is slated to be completed in 2017, see Trans Canada Trail. There are also predetermined recreational cycle routes such as the Golden Triangle. It is somewhat not uncommon to see cyclists travelling across Canada on the shoulder of the Trans Canada Highway. Most of Canada's northern landmass completely lacks any bicycle infrastructure.

In comparison to Europe, Canadian cities are not as bike friendly. Canadian cars are larger with more blind spots, cities have higher speed limits, highways often travel in or near the core of the city and there is more on-street parking which can present more door zone hazards for cyclists. Consequently, some inexperienced cyclists will use a "pedestrian" style of riding where no cycling facilities exist in order to feel safer cycling in the city such as by riding on the sidewalk, rather than on the roadway. Although pedestrian cycling is technically illegal – as bicycles are deemed to be vehicles under the laws of all provinces – it is a common method in small town and suburban Canada (where pedestrians on sidewalks are often rare). Canadian cycling advocates typically favour cycling facilities like bike paths and bike lanes that provide a buffer between motor vehicles and cyclists. Protected bike lanes or cycle tracks have been adopted in strategic corridors in Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Ottawa with plans to add protected bike lanes in Victoria, Winnipeg and other cities across the country wanting to improve rates of active transportation.[10]

In 2011 the province of Nova Scotia passed a law requiring all motor vehicles to give cyclist 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) of clearance to protect people riding on the shoulder.[11] The narrow streets of Downtown Halifax were originally designed for horse, cart and bicycle and they thus require drivers to share the road with a mix of other users. The city is small and reasonably easy to navigate by bicycle as infrastructure is gradually improved each year.

Sport cycling[edit]

Quebec Track Championship at Gaétan Boucher Oval in Quebec City.

Sport cycling is a minority sport in Canada. Various disciplines are practiced across the country to different degrees. In Quebec older, disciplines like road racing and track cycling are popular, although they also have smaller following in English Canada). Newer "extreme" disciplines like bicycle motocross, cross-country cycling, downhill mountain biking and freeride are relatively popular in areas with the appropriate facilities. Many ski hills and resorts in Canada are converted to downhill biking in the summer months. Mountain biking in British Columbia is quite popular, in particular freeride originated on the North Shore near Vancouver.

Canada's only Olympic gold medallist in cycling is Lori-Ann Muenzer, who won the Women's sprint in Athens in 2004. Canada's first winner of one of road racing's three most prestigious Grand Tours was Ryder Hesjedal in 2012. Two Canadians have worn the yellow jersey in the Tour de France: Alex Stieda (who led the race in 1986) and Steve Bauer (who won the opening stage of the 1988 Tour, led the race for five days, and eventually finished fourth overall). Bauer was also the first Canadian to win an Olympic medal in road racing, finishing second in the road race at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, before taking a bronze at the Road World Championships in Barcelona later that year.

Cycling by area[edit]

The amount of purpose-built cycle facilities varies widely across Canada.[12]



Calgary operates a number of bike facilities, including a number of mixed-use pathways.

Calgary's report showed that from 1999–2010, there consistently were 9,200 weekday cycling trips entering or leaving the CBD.[13] In 2010, Calgary had 712 kilometres of multi-use pathways and 355 kilometres of on-street bikeways, 328 kilometres of which were signed bikeways and 27 kilometres of which were bikeways with pavement marking — bike lanes and marked shared lanes.[13]

In 2015 Calgary has launched a strategic protected bicycle infrastructure plan that has been lauded for its ambition by cycling advocacy organization People for Bikes.[14]


Edmonton presently operates 117 km of on-street bike routes (12 km of marked bike lanes, 105 km of signed but unmarked bike routes), plus 275 km of routes shared with pedestrians (including sidewalks and 160 km of paved multiuse trails), and 450 km of unpaved trails;[15][16] 500 km of new bike lane and paths is planned to be added from 2009 to 2019.[needs update]

British Columbia[edit]


In Vancouver, protected bike lanes are typically separated from traffic by self-watering planters with plants.

Vancouver operates a total of 400 km total bikes routes, of which 330 km are on-street bike lanes. The municipal government plans to built 55 km of new routes planned for 2010-2011 period.[needs update] Cycling is the fastest growing mode of transportation in Vancouver.[17] Translink data indicates that cycling has increased by 40 percent in Vancouver between 2008 and 2011.[17]

Statistics collected show that the protected bike lanes serve thousands of cyclists every month, even in the wet winter months.[18] Over 1 out of 8 of its lanes, bikeways and paths was a separated lane.[19] Many of Vancouver's protected bike lanes are separated from traffic by self-watering planters that feature hardy plants that can withstand the wet winters and dry summers. The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association initially did not support the separated bike lanes that were installed on Hornby and Dunsmuir streets but have since come to accept them, noting that businesses have adapted and the lanes bring a lot of people to the area.[20]

Vancouver promotes cycling to events in the city by suggesting bicycle valet services to event organizers.[21] These bicycle valet services that are usually no cost for cyclists but corral bikes for event coordinators while providing bike owners with a secure place to store their bike under watchful volunteers while they visit the event.

In summer 2016 Vancouver started its own bicycle-sharing system known as Mobi by Shaw Go.[22] Mobi faced initial planning challenges with the province of British Columbia's mandatory helmet law that is required for all ages and the placement of docking stations away from existing bike rental locations that cater to tourists.[23][24]


Victoria has the highest rate of commuters who bicycle to work in Canada.[25][6] This may be in part due to a mild year-round climate, a relatively flat and compact core and separate municipalities for the suburban areas resulting perhaps less animosity towards dedicated infrastructure for cyclists. Growth in Victoria's bike commuting and bike culture is supported by the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, and other cyclist advocacy groups. The city includes 41 km of bike lanes with 775 km in the Capital Regional District.[26][27] Victoria's regional trails connect the downtown core with suburban municipalities along the Galloping Goose Regional Trail, Lochside and E&N Rail Trail. The Galloping Goose Regional Trail in the Vic West neighbourhood has a bike barometer that counts daily cyclist activity along the popular cycling commuter trail.[28][29] Victoria's first protected bike lane of a planned downtown network of protected bike lanes that are designed for all ages and abilities, or AAA, is a two-way lane on one-way Pandora avenue which opened in Spring 2017 and now sees over 1500 cyclist a day.[30][31][32][33]

All Victoria Regional Transit buses have front bicycle carriers which are capable of carrying two bicycles.

Victoria has planned an All Ages and Abilities (AAA) bicycle network for the city with the downtown phase planned for completion by the end of 2019 and extending into all neighbourhoods by 2022.[34] Cook Street was initially planned as part of the north-south route but faced neighbourhood resident and business opposition so the city opted to move the bike route to parallel Vancouver street.[35] In contrast, downtown merchants where protected bike lanes have been installed are overwhelmingly positive after the construction of the protected bike lanes on Pandora avenue and Fort street.[36]

In addition to bike lane infrastructure, Victoria has supported and implemented measures to make biking easier in the city. Victoria has a dock-less bike share system set-up by U-bicycle.[37] All Victoria Regional Transit buses have front racks that can accommodate two bicycles.[38] Bicycle lockers are available at some park and ride bus stop locations and can be reserved through the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition.[39] To help combat bike theft, the Victoria Police Department launched a bicycle registry in July 2015 to help police identify whether a bicycle is stolen.[40] Victoria is proposing an update to the existing off-street parking bylaw to require more bicycle parking for new developments and is proposing that at minimum, half of all new long-term bicycle parking must be in-ground racks for greater accessibility.[41] Car Free YYJ was started in 2015 by the Downtown Victoria Business Association to close part of Douglas street to motorized traffic and invite people and vendors to enjoy the space, its popularity encourages cycling to the event and corralling bikes in a bicycle valet service.[42]



Winnipeg maintains a total of 149 km of bike lanes, including 13 km of bike-only road routes, plans for 375 km of active transportation routes, which includes multi-use pathways, neighbourhood pathways bike lanes, sharrows and bike boulevards

Newfoundland and Labrador[edit]

St. John's[edit]

As of 2016, St. John's had 208 kilometres (129 mi) of AT facilities including 175 kilometres of multi-use trails (of the Grand Concourse) and 33 kilometres of on-street bike lanes.

Nova Scotia[edit]


As of 2013, Halifax had 226 kilometres (140 mi) of AT facilities including 131 kilometres of multi-use trails (called greenways) and 96 kilometres of bike lanes.[43]


A number of bicycle and mixed-use trails can be found throughout Ontario, with some crossing multiple municipalities. Many of these trails are provincially maintained, including Waterfront Trail.


Many of Ottawa's urban streets have a combination of cycling facilities, including bike lanes, cycle tracks and paved shoulders. The city also has a series of cycling and pedestrian bridges, four of which have opened since 2014.[44] As of December 31, 2015, the city has 900 km of cycling facilities, including 435 km of multi use pathways, 8 km of cycle tracks, 200 km of on-street bicycle lanes and 257 km of paved shoulders.[45] 204 km of facilities were added between 2011 and 2014.[45]

The Capital Pathway is a mixed-use path that Ottawa shares with the neighbouring city of Gatineau.

Ottawa has a portion of the more than 250 km[46] long Capital Pathway Network that it shares with the City of Gatineau. This mixed-use path extends to most suburban neighborhoods and into rural areas beyond, so that many long-distance commuters use at least part of it. It is a recreational pathway that is shared with walkers and runners, and not only apart from traffic, but mostly through parks, green spaces and along waterways. Ottawa closes over 50 kilometres of Colonel By Drive, Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, the Rockcliffe Parkway to traffic every Sunday morning May to September, effectively turning the streets into wide recreational lanes.[47] Gatineau Park has a 90 kilometres of trails for mountain biking and for extreme thrill riders near Camp Fortune.[48]

There is a commercial public bike-rental system. Ottawa's city transit have bike racks on all buses that are part of the transitway network and on express routes, but quite infrequently on local routes which use 40' buses. Bicycles are also easily taken aboard the O-Train, the city's light rail transit service.[49]

The City of Ottawa was ranked as a "Gold" Bicycle Friendly Community in 2013 by Share the Road Cycling Coalition, the first city in Ontario to receive this designation.[50]

The 2013 Ottawa Cycling Plan intends to increase citywide cycling mode share during the morning peak period from 2.5 percent in 2011 to 5 percent in 2031 (8 percent and 12 percent respectively in the inner area).[51]


As of December 2017 the City of Toronto has approximately 590 kilometres of on-street bike lanes, about 37 kilometres of which are protected from motor-vehicular traffic.[52] Several types of bicycle lanes exist in Toronto. Types of bike lanes adopted in the city includes the cycle tracks, a type of lanes that uses a physical obstruction to protect cyclists from vehicular traffic. Bike lanes which do not use a physical barrier, use white lines and diamonds to distinguish the bike lanes from the rest of the roadway.[53] Winter maintenance, including snow removal, for bike lanes is done by Toronto Works and Emergency Services.[54]

A cycle track at Queen's Quay, Toronto, with traffic lights specifically for cyclists in the cycle track.

Toronto also utilizes shared lane marking on roadways without bike lanes. The markings alert all road users of the presence of bicycle traffic on the street, although they are not considered dedicated cycling facilities. Shared lane markings are typically used to connect disjointed parts of the Toronto cycling network.[53] In addition to on-street bike lanes, the city maintains a number bike trails located throughout the city's parks, and the Toronto ravine system.

In addition to cycling facilities such as bike lanes, the City of Toronto also operates bicycle parking facilities. These facilities include bicycle lockers, indoor bicycle parking stations, bicycle parking rack, and bicycle bollards. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) also operates bicycle parking facilities at Toronto subway facilities, as well as bike carriers on the TTC buses.[55] On 3 May 2011, a bicycle-sharing system was launched in the city.[56] Bike Share Toronto is presently operated by the Toronto Parking Authority.

The cost of installing cycling infrastructure varies depending on the area in the city. To paint bicycle lanes on an existing road, the cost will typically be C$40,000–50,000 per km.[53] The implementation of a cycle lane cost approximately $180,000 per km when installed with planters as the separator, although costs escalate up to C$1,000,000 per km for the construction of a curb separated cycle track.[53]

In 2010, City of Toronto reported from a downtown study that 46 percent wore helmets, over 19,000 cyclists enter the downtown core daily, and the 24 percent of roads with bike lanes carried 45 percent of the bike traffic.[57] In June 2016, the Toronto City Council approved a 10-year Cycling Network Plan which plans to add 280 km of bike lanes or cycle tracks on busy roadways, 55 km of bike trails adjacent to busy roadways, and 190 km of cycling routes along quiet roadways.[58]


A number of bicycle and mixed-use trails can be found throughout Quebec, with some crossing multiple municipalities. Many of these trails are provincially maintained, including the Route Verte trail network spread throughout the province.


Launched in 2008, BIXI Montréal was the first large-scale bicycle-sharing system in North America.

Montreal is one of the few North American cities to have been listed as a bicycle friendly city on the Copenhagenize index.[59] Montreal has a long history of activism for bicycle infrastructure thanks to the work of Le Monde à bicyclette and was one of the earliest Canadian cities to install bicycle lanes.[60] As of 2015, the Montreal had 530 km of bike lanes and shared routes, with plans for 800 km total network by 2015.[needs update] Montreal began a pilot implementation of the bicycle-sharing system known as BIXI in 2008. Users purchase daily or subscription usages for bikes, located in various depots throughout the city.

The Coupe du Monde Cycliste Féminine de Montréal female professional racing event has been held in Montreal since 1998. the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal has also been held since 2010.



The city of Regina maintains five total bikes routes, which consists of both shared and bike-only lanes.[needs update]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ kron, karl. Ten Thousand Miles on a Bicycle. p. 330. ISBN 1241335257. Retrieved 23 Oct 2016.
  3. ^ Morrow, Don. A Sporting Evolution: The Montreal Amateur Athletic Association 1881-1981. p. 14. ISBN 0-9690839-0-4.
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  16. ^ Archived from the original on November 22, 2010. Retrieved July 22, 2011. Missing or empty |title= (help)
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  22. ^ Vancouver, City of (2016-12-06). "Mobi, our public bike share system". Retrieved 2017-04-20.
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  30. ^
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  32. ^ "Biketoria Interim Report: Recommended Network" (PDF).
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  34. ^ "When will it be complete?". Victoria Cycling. Retrieved 2019-06-12.
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  36. ^ "Victoria's Cycling Revolution is Here". Douglas Magazine. 2019-06-11. Retrieved 2019-06-12.
  37. ^ "Bicycle sharing, dressed in green, rolls out in downtown Victoria". Times Colonist. Retrieved 2017-12-27.
  38. ^ "BC Transit - Bike Racks | Rider Info | BC Transit". Retrieved 2017-04-20.
  39. ^ "Store – Maps and Bike Lockers | Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition". Retrieved 2017-04-20.
  40. ^ "Bike Registry". Victoria Police Department. Retrieved 2017-12-27.
  41. ^ "Off-Street Parking Review | Victoria". Archived from the original on 2017-12-28. Retrieved 2017-12-28.
  42. ^ "Car Free YYJ 2017". Downtown Victoria Business Association. Retrieved 2017-04-20.
  43. ^ HRM Key Infrastructure Definitions Archived 2014-01-10 at the Wayback Machine, Regional AT Plan Review, 2013
  44. ^ Ottawa, Hans on the Bike-; Canada (2016-01-19). "Ottawa completes 4 bike & ped bridges + 1 overpass". Urban Commuter. Archived from the original on 2016-01-25. Retrieved 2016-05-13.
  45. ^ a b "Cycling Network Information". City of Ottawa.
  46. ^ "The Capital Pathway: Multi-use Paths in the Capital | National Capital Commission". Retrieved 2016-05-21.
  47. ^ "Alcatel-Lucent Sunday Bikedays - National Capital Commission". National Capital Commission. 2011-06-28. Archived from the original on 2011-04-26. Retrieved 2011-08-07.
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  58. ^ "Cycling Network 10 Year Plan". City of Toronto. 2018. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
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  60. ^ Walker, Peter (2015-06-17). "People power: the secret to Montreal's success as a bike-friendly city". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-12-27.

External links[edit]

Media related to Cycling in Canada at Wikimedia Commons