‘Cycling connects me with my adopted city’
There’s no better way to feel part of a new place, writes Patrick McKenna
Two years ago, a contributor to Generation Emigration’s “Why I love where I live” contest began by citing a Flann O’Brien’s theory: ride your bike often enough on bumpy Irish roads, and an exchange of molecules may occur. You will become part bicycle. As a lapsed chemist and practicing cyclist, this theory caught my attention. Could such an exchange of molecules provoked by cycling the bumpy streets of Montreal account for my now feeling part Montrealer?
As to my being part bicycle, I am not so sure about that, even though my trusty, two wheeled vehicle is part of the ticktock of my daily life in summer. It helps me get my share of summer sunshine, thus creating a store of home made Vitamin D. The exercise, I hope, will keep some lifestyle diseases at bay. For all its well being benefits, though, cycling in the city is not risk free. To stay safe, I pay constant attention to my surroundings, and do my best to expect the unexpected. So far, I have avoided being “door-ed” or anything worse.
Staying within Montreal’s roughly 500 kilometers of bike paths reduces the risk of accidents considerably. The bike path network is constantly being added to and extended and can be used for business or pleasure or both. So long as you don’t live too far out in the suburbs you can cycle to work in the downtown core, and pick up some groceries on your way home.
You can cycle on various bilk paths around the full hundred or so kilometers of the island of Montréal either solo or with the annual Tour De l’Isle held on the first Sunday in June. This year, 30,000 cyclists set off from La Maison Des Cyclistes, opposite Park Lafontaine. If you are a night owl, there is a Tour de Nuit, a nocturnal circuit of the island.
The main east-west bike path links some of Montreal’s finest parks and green spaces: The Botanic Gardens (22,000 plant varieties), Park Lafontaine (Montreal’s oldest, and nicest), and Mont Royal, a 200 hectares green space, rising 800 feet above the downtown core. Frederick Law Olmstead, who landscaped Central Park, designed Mont Royal.
From where I live, at Park Lafontaine, a short ten minute ride southbound brings me the modern Bibliothèque Nationale, (Quebec’s national library), that stands four stories high, and occupies a full city block. Another ten minutes south and east and I am in Chinatown that still offers a good lunch for a mere $6.99: soup, main plate, fortune cookies and as much Oolong tea as one can drink.
Next door to Chinatown is the Old Port – officially known as the Quays of the Old Port of Montreal. I often sit at the foot of the 45 meter-high Clock Tower on the eastern most quay, to admire the mighty St Lawrence River, Canada’s largest, and one of the world’s Top 20 great rivers. I may spend the day on the urban beach just below the Clock Tower or cycle west to Le Café Des Éclusiers, situated at one of the locks that regulate water levels in the Lachine Canal.
Le Café Des Éclusiers is also the entrance to The Lachine Canal Park, a 12 kilometre long green strip with a fairly wide bike path. At weekends, the path is thick with all manner of cycles: unicycles, bicycles, tricycles, tandems, low riders, Harley Davidson look alikes, and other custom made bikes, too hard to describe. Do any of their riders think of John Dunlop, and the pneumatic tube that he invented, in Dublin in 1888? Very few, I would say, despite the added comfort that his invention brings to their cycling experiences.
The Lachine Canal bike path takes me to René Levesque Park, a spit of land that juts 2-3 kilometers into Lac Saint Louis. There, I flop down on a lakeside bench to admire the waves and enjoy the cool breeze. Of course, it’s not Inch, or Tryella, but sitting by Lac Saint Louis in the summer, works for me.
Biking in and around Montreal connects me with the sights, sounds and colours of my adopted city. Perhaps it can do the same for you, in your new place? If you can get out and cycle your city, in safety of course, it’s worth a try. Who knows, it may just get going that exchange of molecules that Flann O’Brien spoke of? It may catalyze the process of becoming part of where you live. That, it seems to me, is a worthwhile outcome – so long as you don’t mind becoming, at the same time, part bicycle.
Patrick McKenna is a regular contributor to Generation Emigration. Read his previous articles about feeling lonely at Christmas time, becoming ‘at home’ in Montreal, letting go of his ‘Irish’ identity, getting ‘that call’ when abroad, living with homesickness for 34 years, and more.