Somehow last year I found myself diving head first into the world of cycling. What started with the purchase of one second-hand bike has since spiralled into Spandex shorts, a garage full of bikes, and a desire to explore Ontario’s countryside on two human-powered wheels. It didn’t take long for me to scope out Ontario’s Highlands as an ideal spot to ride, thanks to the quiet country roads, quaint towns in which to refuel, and the rolling hills – if you’re up for the challenge.
One part of cycling culture I’ve quickly come to embrace is events. It’s funny how a group of strangers can bond so quickly over a shared passion. Riding in a group provides a sense of community, where it’s not uncommon to strike up a chat with someone who keeps the same pace. It’s a special feeling to ride with a group, taking on the challenge together and offering assistance, a spare banana, or words of encouragement to anyone who needs it.
Most cycling events in the region have multiple distance options so those who are new to the sport can work their way up to a longer distance like the commonly offered metric (100km) or imperial (160km) century rides. Since these are often full-day events, why not make a weekend getaway out of it with an overnight stay? Read on to discover a few excellent options for local cycle events that you can extend into a weekend away with recommendations on where to stay and eat post-ride.
Ride: Kick things off and find your legs at the Tour de Whitewater in Westmeath on July 6. You can start the season gently with a shorter distance like 30km, or dive right in with the full 150km. A 10km family fun ride provides an option to involve eager kids, and a 60km gravel route lets gravel cyclists get their kicks too.
Rest: Westmeath is a half hour drive from Pembroke, which has plenty of overnight options. The Best Western Pembroke Inn and the Holiday Inn Express Pembroke are both certified bicycle-friendly businesses that cater to cyclists with secure lock-up areas, basic tools, and more. Plus, both have complimentary breakfasts to help you make up for lost calories.
Refuel: You’ve earned yourself an indulgent meal so stop in for dinner at local favourites Janna and Kerry’s Over Easy Bar and Grill, or The Nook Crêperie. Whitewater Brewing Company’s two locations are a little out of the way but entirely worth the detour for post-race beer and snacks.
Ride: The Tour de Bonnechere, held on August 18, is truly a community affair. A 20km family ride includes admission and a guided tour of Bonnechere Caves, while longer, timed gravel or road rides satiate seasoned riders’ appetites. Speaking of appetites, the ride wraps up with a potluck barbecue where riders supply their own dish to feed 10 alongside burgers and hotdogs provided by the race organizers.
Refuel: The Rio Tap and Grill in Eganville is a trusted spot among local cyclist groups for classic pub grub and cold drinks. Another option is the Granary Schnitzel Haus where you can tackle a schnitzel the size of your head.
Ride: The exact date for Perth Cyclosportif is not yet announced but you can pencil in this laid-back ride (not race!) for mid-September. Last year it attracted 150 cyclists with a variety of gravel or road routes on the longer end of the spectrum, ranging up to 175kms. This cyclosportif is recommended for the beautiful scenery and great food provided during and after the ride.
Rest: The Perth Manor Boutique Hotel and the Perth Parkside Inn are two certified hotels right in town, making it easy to explore Perth by foot when you’re finished biking. Both have breakfasts included, and the latter also has a hot tub your sore muscles will appreciate.
Refuel: This town has no shortage of options for a delicious meal any time of day. If you’re craving comfort food, hit up Rocky River Café or O’Reilly’s Pub. Feeling a little fancy? Scrub the mud off your legs and head to The Stone Cellar or Bistro 54 for upscale eats.
Ride: If you’re setting a goal to work towards by the end of the season, or you’re just looking for a challenge, consider signing yourself up for the Hastings Highlands Hilly Hundred on October 5. You’ll earn bragging rights when you complete this grueling race, billed as Ontario’s Toughest Century Ride. Take it easy with a 40km loop or go full out with the 100km or 160km routes that boast nearly 1000m of elevation gain.
Rest: Bancroft and surrounding area, where this event starts and ends, has you covered with several B&B options. Certified bike-friendly accommodations include Benaaron Guest House and Trails Edge Bed and Breakfast, which are both within 25 minutes by car.
Bonus: Eastern Canada Gravel Cup
As gravel cycling continues to grow in popularity, more and more cyclists are venturing off the beaten path and discovering the gravel roads that wind through Ontario’s Highlands. The Eastern Canada Gravel Cup is a new series of gravel rides with events in June, July, and September that take to the scenic roads of Lanark and Renfrew counties.