Bike Trains:

the Toronto roots

The Canadian bike train service actually started as a mere four weekend pilot project during the summer of 2007, between Toronto and Niagara.

    A partnership with the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce and a $ 60,000 grant from the Ontario government paid for a bike rack installed in a Via Rail car and for the promotion. Volunteers sold tickets, welcomed passengers and loaded bicycles on and off the trains.

    The “bike trains” were an instant hit. Some trains even sold out their 56 bikes capacity. So the initiative expanded to eight weekends in 2008. Some American tourists from Buffalo and Upstate New York even cycled across the border, to visit Toronto by bike, recalls Justin Lafontaine, who envisioned the Niagara bike train concept and is now a projects director with Transportation Options.

    Eventually, the Niagara Bike Train received two Ontario tourism awards that second year, drawing attention from other local tourism agencies.

    By 2009, additional pilots were set-up, to North Bay (Ontario Northland), Eastern Ontario (Kingston, Cobourg) and all the way to Montreal. At this point, both Ontario and Quebec Tourism pitched in more money to support the expansion, while the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Friends of the GreenBelt Foundation also provided additional financial assistance.

    So far, Bike Trains have carried 2,500 cyclists on all the pilots. In addition, Go Trains drew 2,100 cycle tourists in 2010 (the year when the Greater Toronto Area train service picked up the route that Via Rail had dropped.) Until now, Via Rail only offered minimal bike train service between Toronto and Montreal.

      Looking back to the original pilot project in 2007 to the current major service expansion for this summer 2011, Lafontaine simply says : “We did what a non-profit is supposed to do: we set-up the program and then passed it on to an organization that could grow it.”

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Bike Trains: a major local tourism driver

June 18, 2011

Via Rail will be offering 150 bike trains a week in Ontario et Quebec for the summer 2011

Cyclists are getting off one of the Via Rail bike trains, during one of the pilot projets in 2009.

Photo: Transportation Options

Bike racks in a Go Train car.

Photo: Transportation Options

Loading a bicycle in a Via Rail car.

Photo: Transportation Options

Photo: Go Train / Metrolinx

Photo : Via Rail

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Bike train service is expanding considerably in Ontario and Quebec this summer. Via Rail will be running 150 bike trains weekly along its Windsor-Quebec corridor and beyond, from June 6 to October 31. Bike trains are proving to be a powerful driver of local economic development through cycle tourism.

New bike train destinations include Ottawa, London, Windsor as well as Quebec City, Jonquiere and Senneterre, with increased service between Toronto and Montreal (All schedules).

The original bike train, between Toronto and Niagara, will continue this summer from June 24 to Sept. 8 (on Go Trains, Saturdays and Sundays only;

The bike train concept is simple. Bike racks are installed in regular train luggage cars, saving the hassle of removing handle bars, pedals and seat from bicycles. So for an extra $ 20.00 each way on Via Rail, cyclists can quickly load up their bikes and hop aboard.


With this expanded service from Ottawa and the Go Train connection through Toronto, why not visit the Niagara Peninsula, where bike tourism is booming, exploring the vineyards and the backcountry, not to mention the world famous Horseshoe Falls.

The Greater Niagara Circle Route covers more than 140 km, running largely on dedicated paths. The
loop goes from Niagara-on-the-Lake down south to the Falls, then west along Lake Erie to Port Colborne and eventually north, up along the Welland Canal then back east to the starting point. Five additional shorter loops (30-40 km) are also available, all clearly indicated on a very easy to use Regional Niagara Bicycling Map (downloadable at or 1-800-263-2988). A group of B&Bs even offers luggage transfers to cycle tourists along this Niagara peninsula route (

For the cycling enthusiasts who might even consider riding the train one way and cycling all the way back to Ottawa, the new Welcome Cyclists program ( makes traveling by bike easier. From Niagara to the Quebec border, the certification identifies more than 300 bike friendly tourism establishments, including overnight bike lockers.

Inspired by the Vélo-Québec Bienvenue cyclistes, the network is run by Transportation Options. The Toronto-based non-profit, dedicated to offering alternative forms of transportation, was also the incubator that nurtured the original bike train pilot project, between Toronto and Niagara.


In Canada’s National Capital, bike trains should certainly provide an additional draw for tourists, considering the many bike paths on either side of the Ottawa river.

An Ottawa classic is riding along the Rideau canal. To make a loop, going back up along the  the Rideau river will lead to the stunning Prince's of Wales falls, right in the city. The path meanders through some thick woods, while at times gets too close to some major thoroughfares. Areas with picnic table are dotted along the way.  ( ou On the Quebec side, Gatineau Park offers plenty of trails. A detailed map is available (


Surprisingly, Toronto also offers many urban wilderness bike routes along its own rivers, both the Don in the East and the Humber in the West. Both river paths are accessible from the waterfront trail. A 45 km two river loop, largely on dedicated paths, is actually possible.

Uptown, the Belt Line trail, built on an old railway corridor, runs East-West and partially closes the loop across, between the Humber and Don river paths. (, PDF map downloadable). Note: along the lower Humber, watch for the brand new signed promenade celebrating Toronto’s early French and native heritage, The shared path/Le sentier partagé, officially opened on June 11, 2011.


London offers two main bike paths along the Thames river ( or, while Windsor and Essex County are home to many bike paths (downloadable maps at Notably, the Chrysler Canada Greenway (, a 42 km recreational trail to Point Pelee National Park and also built on an old railway corridor, is leading to freshwater beaches and to wine growing Pelee Island.


In the Province of Quebec, cycling in Montreal on dedicated bike paths can take you from the Old-Port all the way up to the Jean-Talon market and Little Italy, along the Lafontaine Park and through the famed Plateau neighbourhood. Another classic is riding along the Lachine Canal, recently reopened, including nearby Atwater market. Or why not simply cross the river to cycle past the Expo 67 Habitat apartment block and along the south shore, back through the Islands or over the Jacques Cartier bridge for a breathless view of downtown Montreal (

In Quebec City, the hilly old quarter certainly comes with its own cycling challenges (not unlike San Francisco’s). Yet, a new “Must Do” in the summer is riding west along the St. Lawrence river on the mainly flat bike path to the Champlain Promenade. This new classy contemporary linear park (built for the 400th anniversary celebrations in 2008) is a definite treat for the senses and a trip back in time ( Across town, a fairly recent path along the St. Charles river runs through what is now a poster child of successful urban ecological restoration (which connects all the way to the native area of Wendake, including the new upscale first nations museum-hotel ( Another bike path leads out to Beauport and further along the Beaupré shore, connecting over to the charming Orleans island.

Last, but not least, the Véloroute des bleuets (blueberry bike route) is a paved dedicated cycling route all the way around the Lac St. Jean (256 km). Local private luggage transfer service is offered to and from the Via station and between accommodations, as well as packages from 2 to 6 days (


Looking forward, it would seem bike tourism is riding a tail wind in Ontario: a Lake Erie Cycling Route (500 km from Windsor to Fort Erie) is scheduled to open in 2012, part of a 1,300 km Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail from Windsor to the Quebec border, explains Justin Lafontaine of Transportation Options.

Looking back to the original pilot project in 2007 to the current major service expansion for this summer 2011, Lafontaine simply says : “We did what a non-profit is supposed to do: we set-up the program and then passed it on to an organization that could grow it.”


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Photo: Via Rail