A Locals’ Guide to Ontario Bike Culture
Every town has at least a few local legends on two wheels. So many enthusiasts combine forces to contribute to a healthy cycling community and it’s often hard to pick just one. But here are a few cyclists—including mentors, advocates and inspirations—you are likely run into biking in Northern Ontario.
Katherine Morency started mountain biking in high school race series, and she’s now a coach and amateur local competitor who also works at Fresh Air Experience, a Thunder Bay bike shop.
“I love working on my skills and seeing how I improve when I train for races and just push my skills when I ride with my friends,” Katherine says. “Riding bikes is just so fun!”
Why Thunder Bay?
Unlike Sault Ste. Marie and southern Ontario, Thunder Bay’s dirt has more clay, and the trails are a little more old school, according to Katherine. In the past few years, more trails are emerging and that includes more variety. “Jumps are getting bigger,” she says, “and the trail network is a lotmore accessible to true beginners.”
The Blacksheep MTB Club has group rides, female-identifying rides, and family rides for beginners and the non-competitivecrowd. The Wednesday Night Race Series presented by Heartbeat Hot Sauce Co. rivals some of the provincial equivalents, Katherine adds. Throughout the season, the Spring Classic, Ozzy-8 Mountain Bike Relay, and the Shuniah 40-Miner are worth the trip for destination rides.
“I really can't pick just one. It depends on what I'm doing!” Katherine says. “At the moment, it’s Snakes and Ladders, Milk n' Cookies, and Doctors, and Cassandra is super spicy too, especially when it rains.”
Apres Ride Drink?
Located inside the hip Goods & Co. Market, The Woodside Bar is the place for cocktails, or non-alcoholic drinks and snacks.
From a one car family, riding was Rusty Hopper’s main mode of transport since he was six-years-old. Today, Rusty enjoys riding on the quiet country roads and is the president of the Walden Mountain Bike Club. Rusty toured Europe by bike and bought his first mountain bike in 1990. His cycling has evolved to technical terrain—and becoming a staunch advocate for trails in his ‘hood.
In the summer, Rusty rides an older Niner carbon fibre dual suspension. Four years ago he picked up a fat bike, as he says: “to interfere with my cross country skiing in the winter.”
The large slabs of bare Precambrian Shield rock in Sudbury make for some great technical singletrack riding, Rusty says. “I enjoy riding the trails on technical terrain that make up so much of the Sudbury Basin.” He also loves punchy rock-strewn climbs, technical descents and rock gardens on the flats. “Where we do have soil,” he adds, “I love the swoop and flow of beamed downhill runs.”
The Walden Mountain Bike Club has been key to the growth of the trail riding community. This volunteer organization has built a great trail system in the west end of the city and organizes many events for recreational riders, including weekly group rides, women’s rides, skills clinics, monthly social rides and low-key races.
Created in 2010, Bike Sudbury promotes road riding in the community and organizes Thursday evening road rides. Options include gravel on Mondays, roadie rides on Thursdays and mountain biking on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Apres Ride Drink?
The perfect way to finish a ride at Walden is with friends over a pint at Dukes.
Tim Clayton started riding full-on mountain biking 32 years ago as a teen on a Rocky Mountain Equipe. He still uses that old frame to commute to work in the winter. He also owns a Divinci Django, a Giant Yukon, two gravel bikes (one carbon and one vintage), and a road bike that has been banished to the trainer.
“Biking for me is about adventure, adrenaline, exploration, socializing with friends, and most of all, keeping me fit and young,” Tim says. Years ago when he discovered bike packing, he thought "why not make my own bags?" Using a sewing machine that he used to repair tents, he now makes and sells custom frame bags for local riders.
Why North Bay?
“North Bay is an emerging place to ride,” Tim says. Area roads and city paths are growing. “I feel the real gems are our fantastic mountain bike trails and the culture that goes with them… especially the women’s groups that have exploded in numbers.”
The escarpment trails near the ski hill and the Northshore Road trails are Tim’s favourites. The former have many great features, descents and flow, and the latter is best for long, technical adventures.
Apres Ride Drink?
A great place to chill after a ride with some friends is at Gateway Brewery.They also host bike-themed events where riders learn about bike maintenance with local mechanics.
Sault Ste. Marie
Since he removed the training wheels at age three, cycling has been a lifelong addiction for Jan Roubal. He started racing mountain bikes as a teen and today he loves riding for many reasons: freedom, solo time, and the cycling community. Jan says, “You can bond with people all over the world, just because you ride.”
And while he doesn’t discriminate on biking disciplines, he loves the flow state he gets from hopping over logs and leaving the world behind on a mountain bike. Jan and his wife, Ngaire, own Velorution Bike & Ski in Sault Ste. Marie.
Why Sault Ste. Marie?
The city supports all kinds of riding styles. Sault Ste Marie has invested heavily in developing the mountain bike trail system at the Hiawatha Highlands while the Sault Cycling Club is creating an urban flow trail within the urban core. Mountain biking is the Soo’s signature, says Jan. However, he adds, the countless country roads make for some long epic road cycling with views of the Great Lakes and raw wilderness. The gravel country roads are also great places for bike packers to explore.
Sault Cycling Club volunteers maintain the trails and advocate for the needs of cyclists in the community. The club offers multiple group rides throughout the year for all disciplines, including mountain, road, gravel, multi day bike packing tours. Meanwhile, Jan’s store organizes a series of group ride options, including Titty Tuesdays, a popular women’s group.
For daily riding, Kinsmen Park/Hiawatha Highlands have a 40-km of a mix of machine-built flow trail, hand-built trail, and techy rocky and rooty trails. For “gravity junkies” (black or double black trails), Bellevue Valley is a short 20-minute drive north of town and will challenge the fittest rider. If he has the time, Jan loves Stokely Creek’s 100 km of double-track trails with a stunning view of Lake Superior on top of King Mountain.
Apres Ride Drink?
For a brew Jan likes Outspoken Brewing or Northern Superior Brewing. His shop, Velorution Bike & Ski serves free St.Joseph’s Island coffee while you’re shopping in the store, and Feeding Your Soul Café is a pretty sweet local place for snacks and coffee.
Born and raised in Timmins, Yves Viel started riding over two decades ago. He is an avid cyclist and certified spin instructor. Along with a handful of other cyclists, Yves grooms and maintains trails all across the city, including the Hersey Lake trails. Yves owns five types of bikes: a road bike, a fat bike, a hardtail, a full suspension and a service bike.
Cycling in Timmins is a year-round pursuit. Yves is a fat-biking advocate who bought a Snow Dog snowmobile to groom the Hersey Lake trails for the winter. He says people love to stop and chat and often give him gas money for grooming. City riding is quite pleasant for the road cycling enthusiast, says Yves.
Drivers are quite respectful and give riders room while riding. “There are also many shortcuts and awesome little trails with small features and little jumps,” he adds. “Like bunny hops here and there so you can make your commute or ride a little more fun.”
Cross-country mountain biking is Yves’ true love and options for singletrack riding in Timmins are rapidly expanding.
JVC is a local favourite that climbs a formidable hill and then swoops down quickly into a wonderfully constructed berm. It’s a technical challenge for the mountain bikers, Yves says. He also loves Mad Trapper because it is relatively flat but also has “pretty sweet corners” where you can really push yourself every time you ride it. Nadon puts your technical skills and your endurance to the test, he adds.
Boreal Cycling Club is relatively new but is planning group rides, socials and maintenance rides.
Apres Ride Drink?
Full Beard Brewing is the local microbrewery where Yves likes to commiserate about the flat tires, fumbles and victories on the trails with fellow riders over beers.