5 Best Shop Rides in Ontario

Join in on these weekly rides with like-minded local cyclists and hang out after too.

They often start with a few dedicated riders from the local bike shop, then word spreads. Soon more locals and friends-of-friends turn up for the weekly shop rides. These rides are a chance to share the love of riding with a bunch of like-minded people. They’re also a chance to challenge and inspire one another to hit some technical sections, ride a longer trail or session a new feature.

And when you’re all muddy, tired and inspired, you never miss the post-ride hangout to share stories over a coffee or brew.

Here are a few popular shop rides in Northern Ontario that always draw a crowd.

Cycle Works, North Bay

Starting in 2006, every Thursday the owner of Cycle Works went out for a ride. At first he was joined by a handful of riders. Today, the shop rides sometimes see upwards of 60 riders. When that happens, the riders break up into groups to keep it manageable.

“We encourage every level because everyone has to start somewhere,” says owner Kevin Stephens.

The mountain bike rides on Thursdays last a couple of hours. And while it’s mostly men in attendance, the shop opened up an unofficial women’s night ride on Wednesdays.

Tuesdays between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. ebikers meet at the shop for a ride. Of course, ebikes are also welcome on the weekly mountain bike rides.

Gravel riders head out together on Saturday mornings.

Where They Ride

Typically the mountain bikers meet at the trailhead of a new route every week, which is posted on their Facebook page. That might include the 25 kilometres at the Laurentian Ski Hill or the Three Towers Trail Network.

The gravel riders drive out of town northeast to Redbridge for a 20-kilometre ride.

Where They Hang Out After

The New Ontario Brewing Co. and the Gateway City Brewery are two favourite locations for apres brews, while The Portage is a local hub full of regulars and home of the Trout Lake Monster burger.

a group of cyclists pause during their ride to look out over a lake
A fun evening ride with The Hardwear Company. Source: Stephen Strachan // The Hardwear Co.

The Hardwear Company, Kenora

Shop rides at The Hardwear Company started 15 years ago as a way for employees to get together after working all day. Then friends started to come out too. Today, riders from the community continue to gather at the shop, which is close to their favourite bike trails, on Tuesday nights between 5:30 p.m and 6 p.m.

“We have a lot of technical trails nearby, somewhat intimidating and rocky and rooted,” says Stephen Strachan, owner of The Hardwear Company. “They’re not for everybody and these rides tend to be a little more advanced.”

Recently, both high schools in Kenora have introduced mountain bike programs. The Hardwear Company helps run Twoonie Tuesdays for these junior riders after school—timed races based off of Whistler’s famous Twoonie Tuesday race series.

Where They Ride

“All over the place,” says Strachan. Locals know many of the unsigned routes that connect with one another in the Kenora area. This means every ride is unique as each leader chooses a series of linked trails and pathways around town. Riders sometimes head over to the popular Tunnel Island Trail, which sits on picturesque Lake of the Woods and offers tons of amazing vistas.

Groups also road trip south from Kenora on weekends to ride the series of trail systems found along Highway 71. About an hour south of Kenora, the first trail system is located in Sioux Narrows Provincial Park. Here you can choose between a blue or green mountain bike route—your ride will total about eight kilometres if you do both trails.

Drive another half-hour south and you’ll be in Nestor Falls, where you can ride the Red Pine Adventure Region Trails, which consist of a few kilometres of rocky, technical trails. Go farther south for the final set of black technical trails at the Boreal Trail—offering a four-kilometre loop or a shorter loop of rocky terrain.

According to Strachan, Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls Tourism expects to double or triple the number of trails in the area over the next year.

Where They Hang Out After

Riders gather on the patio of Lake of the Woods Brewing Company for frosty local brewa and burgers or at Cottage Time Public House for amazing soups and beverages.

Sessions Ride Co, Sudbury

In 2016, Sessions Ride Co owner John Lalonde started setting out for 6:30 a.m. road rides from his shop with employees. He made it clear from the beginning: the ride was not competitive.

“We always kept the elitism out of our rides,” he says, adding the rides were meant to be inclusive and only positive attitudes were welcome.

Although the rides started with employees, no one was allowed to talk about work. It was just riding with friends.

“It wasn’t about selling things or fixing someone’s bike,” Lalonde explains.

Six years later, the group now has a name: the Circus Riders. It’s open to all riders, provided they come to the shop for a quick chat first. In addition to the road rides on Wednesdays, they’ve also added a gravel ride on Mondays. Rides begin at 6:30 p.m.

The final governing rules: rides happen rain or shine and if Lalonde is the only one showing up, rides are indefinitely cancelled. To date, this has never happened. In fact, the popular Circus has had 60 riders, but most days runs around 20 cyclists.

“With a town of only 160,000 in Northern Ontario, that’s great,” says Lalonde.

Where They Ride

Departing from and returning to the shop, the mountain bike riders head over to the mostly blue-green trails of Nickeldale Conservation Area. The selection is small, but the rooty, rocky trails are a good morning refresher, says Lalonde.

Road cyclists typically ride near the shop or venture out onto the quiet country roads nearby to lakes and farms. Bike Sudbury has created a variety of road ride routes which include a ride from the town of Lively to Mikkola, a 20-kilometre ride with many climbs. Mikkola is also home to a large Finnish population.

Another favourite is the 18.5-kilometre MacFarlane Lake Tour through rolling hills, farms and lakes.

Gravellers have tons of options. The Rainbow Route connects 30 plus different trails of fine packed gravel and some paved sections. Each section has unique features including the Lake Laurentian Conservation Area ride to Moonlight Beach. The trail traverses through a beautiful birch tree forest and ends on a boardwalk across the lake.

Where They Hang Out After

Everyone returns to the shop for a freshly made coffee from Lalonde’s espresso machine. And for those needing sustenance, they head to lunch at Knowhere Public House for grilled cheese and breakfast pizza.

Velorution, Sault Ste. Marie

Velorution has so many weekly and one-off special rides, it’s hard to choose!

The biggest ride is their Titty Tuesday Ladies Mountain Bike Ride hosted by Danielle Anstess and taking place Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. in May and June. They also have a meeting once a month. The rides began because Danielle was a little weary of “just riding with dudes.” The group ranges between 50 and 80 ladies each week—sometimes more!—and is open to all riders from first-time mountain bikers to seasoned shredders.

Perhaps the longest-running shop ride in the entire province is the Thursday night ride.

“[The ride has been running since] I started riding back when I was about 12 years old. I won't say how many years ago that was,” says Jan Roubal, owner of Velorution. This was a time when “bikes didn't come with suspension forks and you had to buy them aftermarket. Handlebars were skinny, stems were long and the neon colours were plentiful.”

The ride took a hiatus during COVID, but it’s returning in 2024.

A regular cyclist, Terrance, also leads road rides starting and ending at the Northern Superior Brewing Co. Tap Room on Thursdays. He takes cyclists on a great tour of the city. The John Rowswell Hub Trail is a paved multiuse trail that goes through some iconic Sault spots including the waterfront, Bellevue Park, Sault College and Fort Creek Conservation Area.

Velorution also hosts a few one-off rides each year.

“Next year we are going to start a lookout tour that will tour six lookouts and two lake lookouts—date to be determined—with a distance of about 40 kilometres,” explains Roubal.

For fat bikers, there’s a fat bike tour from the shop to Stokely Creek Lodge—about 50 kilometres in length.

Velorution also has an end of the year ride in November—more party than ride.

“You won't find a friendlier cycling community anywhere else than the Soo,” says Roubal. “Folks who come for the riding generally end up part of a local ride during their stay and end up making friends and connections with locals for the next time they come ride.”

Where They Ride

Hiawatha Highlands is a regular spot as it’s quite close to the shop. The well-groomed trails are mountain bike heaven with over 116 kilometres of trails.

Where They Hang Out After

The Tap Room at The Northern Superior Brewing Co. is a must for beers and food post-ride, says Roubal.

Feeding Your Soul Cafe is on top of the list for great food that is both tasty and healthy. They also serve local St. Joseph Island Coffee Roasters coffee.

Superior Home Bakery has killer donuts that are great post-ride treats.

action shot of a man riding his mountain bike along a forest trail
Steven repping the Fresh Air jersey on a local ride. Source: Jonathan Portinga

Fresh Air, Thunder Bay

In 2012, local rider and Fresh Air employee Greg Jensen started riding through the Shuniah Mines trails on Saturday nights alone. After working all week, he called them his Sanity Saturdays.

But as locals came into the shop asking where to ride, he invited people along. “At that time the signage wasn’t great so people didn’t know where to go,” said Jensen.

Locals started to join regularly—sometimes one or two, other times 15 to 16 riders.

In 2014, Sanity Saturdays included the first winter fat bike rides. “We wanted to keep the rides going all year-round,” explained Jensen.

At first the trails at Shuniah Mines were packed from snowshoes. Eventually, volunteers started grooming the trails, amounting to about 30 kilometres.

If mountain bike trails aren’t in good enough condition to ride on, the group will go for a road ride, playing around the city on bikes. That also evolved into gravel rides on Sundays, which are returning in 2024.

Where They Ride

The Shuniah Mines trails are the closest to the shop. All levels of riders are welcome.

“We gauge the level of the ride by the riders who show up,” said Jensen. “If we have one beginner, we’re not going to ride the techy stuff.”

Jensen’s favourite trails are Snakes and Ladders, Rocky Road and Chasm. “The techy stuff,” he added.

This year the Black Sheep Mountain Bike Club, who maintain the trails, opened up Scary Canary and some new downhills. “You can let off the brakes and away you go,” described Jensen.

Where They Hang Out After

Merla Mae has excellent poutine, burgers and old school soft serve ice cream.

Daytona’s serves decadent road house food. Think prosciutto and goat cheese pizza, salmon picatta and steak salad.

Head to Prospector Burger Barn for a cheesy bacon burger. Jensen’s favourite is the Mother Clucker. “It’s the best spicy chicken sandwich in town,” he said.

About Melanie Chambers

Melanie Chambers is a writer and university instructor living in Toronto. Ever since cycling from Holland to Spain in 1996, Melanie has penned stories about her amateur athletic challenges such as cycling 105 uphill kilometres in Taiwan's KOM Challenge road race and hiking Northern Africa’s highest peak. As an editor and instructor, she has conducted writing workshops around the globe. Locally, she’s provided workshops at the Alice Munro’s Writers and Readers Festival and Western University’s Homecoming. When she’s not on the road, she teaches food and travel writing courses at Western University.

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