● A summer without gasoline?
   Time for bicycle trips!

There have been reports circulating on American media that there could be a serious gasoline shortage in the States this summer (and I’m assuming that what happens in the US could also happen here in Canada).

It doesn’t take a lot of brain power to realize that as Covid restrictions are gradually lifted, there’s going to be a rush to make up for lost time. Countless people will be making extensive plans for travel and get away trips. Inevitably, much of this travel will be by car, which means there could be an unprecedented demand for gasoline this summer.

Apparently, there should be enough gas to go around. The problem is a major shortage of certified drivers of the tanker trucks that actually deliver gasoline to the service stations (at least in the US).

If a serious gasoline shortage does materialize, it could mean rationing and long lineups at service stations. Needless to say, this kind of shortage will play havoc with any travel plans that require more then one tank of gas.

The solution to this problem is…. you guessed it …the bicycle.

During the dark days of the pandemic the bicycle emerged as the salvation for many people who were looking for a way to maintain their sanity with a safe and accessible outdoor activity. It could be another case of “the bicycle to the rescue” as people look for ways to go on well deserved trips during a gasoline shortage. Even if there is no shortage, bicycle touring is still a great remedy for pandemic induced cabin fever.

Many people, including those who do a fair amount of local cycling, fail to realize that the bicycle is an excellent tool for get away trips. People who live in suburban areas will often find they can reach attractive overnight destinations with a 60 km bicycle ride. From there, it’s usually possible to plan a multi-day tour by chaining together a number of other nearby destinations.

Cycling these types of distances shouldn’t be too demanding for anyone who has gotten into the habit of using their bike on a regular basis during the pandemic, including most beginners. Think about it. You spend an easy two hours in the morning covering 30 km. You then stop for a leisurely lunch at a restaurant, picnic area, or better still, a country pub. Afterwards you ride another 30 km, and you’re ready to check into your hotel or bed and breakfast.

Finding suitable destinations that are within reasonable pedaling distance could be more of a challenge for people residing in the core of large metropolitan areas. However, there are options. The simplest is to take the bus to the city’s periphery, and start your ride from there. Many city buses have racks for carrying bicycles. Moreover, you’ll find commuter trains and buses often have provisions for transporting bicycles.

Another possibility is to take a Via Passenger train, which can really extend the range of where you can start your bicycle trip. You can check-in a bicycle “as is” (no need to box it) on trains that have a baggage car. This applies to a good number of trains in southern Ontario and Quebec (but for some reason, very few of the ones departing from or arriving in Ottawa).

Planning your route.

It’s important to plan a safe and relaxing route for your get away trip, especially if you’re new to bicycle touring. Ideally, you’ll be looking for quiet country roads with nice paved shoulders (or roads that have so little traffic that the absence of a paved shoulder isn’t an issue). Whatever the case, be careful not to get caught having to ride on a busy regional road that has no paved shoulder.

There are also a growing number of trails in various rural areas. Some are called “rail trails” because they are build on old railway lines. Many are made with fine crushed stone, which, if properly maintained, are fairly easy to ride on with road bikes that have narrow tires. But be careful – some have a coarse gravel surface that could be very difficult to ride on even with a full fledged mountain bike.

Google map can suggest possible cycling routes. Use the “Direction” feature, enter your starting point and destination, and be sure to select the bicycle icon under the Google Map menu. The suggested route may not always be the best (and is sometimes inappropriate), but it will provide you with something to work with. The use of “street view” and satellite imagery will give an idea of what you can expect with various roads.

Strava’s “heatmap” is also a useful tool for identifying good routes. Roads that are represented by the brightest lines are the most popular with cyclists, and presumably better suited for bicycle touring. You can also find ideas and information for route planning from online sources such as Ride with GPS , MapMyRide, Quebec’s Route Verte, Ontario’s Waterfront Trail, and Ontario by Bike.

Possible destinations around the Ottawa area.

Carlton Place is a good choice for beginners heading out on their first overnight bicycle trip. It’s only 55 kilometres from downtown Ottawa, and it’s possible to get there entirely on bike paths and trails. The trail section of this route has a surface made of fine crushed stone, and except for the odd soft spot here and there, it is relatively easy to ride on with a road bike with narrow tires.

Carleton Place has a nice little downtown area, which includes a hotel, several B&Bs, a variety of restaurants and bars with outdoor patios (at least two of which overlook the Mississippi River).

From Carleton Place, it’s possible to jump on the Ottawa Valley Rail Trail and head north to Arnprior (38 km), or south to Smiths Falls (28 km). These two towns could serve as day trips to and from Carleton Place, or as new overnight destinations. Note that the Ottawa Valley Rail Trail has a fine crushed stone surface.

Perth is truly a great destination for anyone cycling from Ottawa. But it is an 80 kilometre ride from downtown Ottawa, which may be getting long for some people. You could keep the distance manageable by riding to Carlton Place the first day, and cycling a much shorter distance to Perth on the second day.

Perth is a touristy area and a fun place to hang out. You could even stay for a few days and try some local cycling routes. Suggestion for local routes can be found at: Perth Tourism, Lanark County Tourism, Beautiful Perth, as well as the aforementioned Ride with GPS, and MapMyRide.

From Perth, you could always head further south to Westport or even Kingston. The only problem here is that roads to Kingston tend to have a bit more traffic, and may not be suitable for everyone.

If you do make it all the way to Kingston, it’s only a 65 kilometre ride to Picton, and the cycling haven that is Prince Edward County. In fact, at this point you’ll be riding on the Ontario Waterfront Trail. So if you’re getting all gung-ho about cycling touring, you can, through a series of hops, make it all the way to Toronto, or even the great cycling trails around the Niagara Peninsula. Yes, the possibilities are almost endless.

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