Book review: Canada By Bicycle
Canada is the world’s second biggest country, so riding your bike across it is no small challenge.
We’re talking 7,000km of pedalling over a constantly changing terrain, from the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the flat farming fields of the prairies and through isolated fishing villages in the Maritime provinces.
That’s why it’s good to have some advice from a cyclist who’s done it before and few accounts are as detailed as Canada By Bicycle – a book written by Steve Langston. The guide traces the bike tour that Steve did from west to east across Canada in the summer of 2009.
Two things amazed us about this guide. First, it’s freely available online so you can have a good look through the chapters and see if this is the book for you before buying it. Second, there is an incredible amount of detail on all the practical issues that cyclists crossing Canada may face.
The book starts with solid advice on the basics of any cross Canada journey. You learn about seasons (May to October is best), why you should ideally bike from west to east (prevailing winds) and how much money you can reasonably expect to spend.
Topics like camping in bear country and putting your bike on a bus in Canada are also covered, along with some quirky tips from Steve’s touring experience. Ever thought of using a frisbee as a dinner plate? We hadn’t until we read this book.
The heart of Canada By Bicycle is the daily route descriptions. The 72 days that Steve took to bike from Vancouver, British Columbia on the west coast to St. Johns, Newfoundland on the Atlantic Ocean are outlined in detail. You’ll find maps and turn-by-turn cue sheets as well as helpful information on campgrounds, bike shops and the history of the areas you’re passing through.
Having biked across much of Canada ourselves, we were pleased to see many of the same places we visited mentioned along the way. The book covers all the main stopping points and attractions. While some of the information is fairly obvious, it’s nice to have it all written down in one place. There are a few hidden gems as well, like the mention of a bike shop in Ontario that has a free campground for cyclists. It would be easy to pedal past completely unaware of this treasure if you didn’t read Canada By Bicycle.
We were also happy to see the route through Manitoba take a swing to the north, away from a particularly dangerous stretch of highway and towards lesser known but beautiful places like the small towns of Dauphin and Gimli and Riding Mountain National Park.
In fact, if we had one request for future editions of Canada By Bicycle it would be for more side trips away from busier roads. This isn’t always easy in Canada because the country’s low population density means far fewer backroads than in the United States but sometimes we felt this book missed out on some beautiful rides.
In Nova Scotia, for example, the coastal road that runs between Amherst and Truro along the Bay of Fundy, taking in villages along the Bay of Fundy like Parrsboro and Five Islands, is quieter, more scenic and offers more attractions to visit, including the UNESCO World Heritage fossil cliffs of Joggins, than the busy highway route outlined in the book.
Another thing we noticed about Canada By Bicycle is that some of the suggested days are quite long. Our average day on a bike tour is about 80km but Steve regularly covers 100km or more. This isn’t such big a deal since you can almost always find alternative places to stop (especially if you are willing to do some free camping) but it’s something to keep in mind when you’re deciding how long a trip across Canada might take. At a leisurely pace, you might want a full five months to go from coast to coast.
Overall, Canada By Bicycle is a great resource for any cyclist considering a trip across this massive country. Checking out the website is a must (you can add your comments after you’ve ridden across Canada to help keep the book updated) and a printed copy as a reference guide for what’s coming up on the road ahead wouldn’t be out of place in your panniers either.
You can buy printed copies in many bookshops across Canada, from Mountain Equipment Co-op and on Amazon.