Island cycling highlighted in Toronto

TORONTO—Manitoulin Island and the surrounding LaCloche Mountain foothills provide some of the finest cycling opportunities to be found in Ontario, but an information vacuum exists about what the region has to offer to the greater cycling community. Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates (MICA) representatives Maja Mielonen and Guy Nielen stepped up to fill that vacuum at the 28th annual Toronto International Bicycle Show.

The show ran from February 28 to March 2 and is the largest bicycle consumer show on the planet. This year’s show featured new bicycles, accessories and apparel available from over 150 manufacturers, distributors, retailers, touring companies and cycling clubs displaying their most up-to-date wares for the thousands of cycling enthusiasts attending the show to review. The show provided a unique opportunity for MICA to showcase the virtues of the Island to literally thousands of potential visitors.

“This is the first time that Manitoulin has been represented at the show,” said Ms. Mielonen. “This is the place where, if you need a bike, every manufacturer is there.” Ms. Mielonen said that their experiences at the show were “totally validating.”

The Destination Manitoulin concept and the opportunity to utilize the Chi-Cheemaun ferry in conjunction with local resorts and the many cycling options available on Manitoulin elicited a lot of interest from the attendees at the show.

Expressing those advantages took quite a bit of effort on the part of the volunteer ambassadors, however. Although cycling would seem intuitively serene and quiet, cycling shows are filled with pumping dynamic energy and a lot of sound.

“It was pretty noisy,” laughed Ms. Mielonen. Never mind the collateral sound of several hundred people milling about, the show was also the venue for a Mountain Bike Dual Race and Stunt Competition that featured “big air and heart-stopping racing for cash prizes.” The race, with thumping music accompanying heart-pounding action, saw mountain bike wielding pros weave through amazing wooden obstacles that created an awesome stunt and dual-cross race course.

The super high ceilings at the venue allowed for spectacular air, as each contestant vied to reach exciting new levels. Last year’s champion, Norco rider Mike Hermanovski, had set the bar literally high. Last year’s stunt champ, Braydon Barrett-Hay, thrilled spectators while the Friday night of the show featured the Pro-only Tim DaSilva Challenge Race.

Added to the mountain bike action was the Toronto BMX Jam 2014. Touted as “the world’s best professional street course,” BMX riders battled for over $20,000 in cash and prizes for the 14th year in a row.

Adding to the cacophony was the Great Lakes Winter Classic Bike Polo Tournament, the first major event of the bike polo calendar 2014. Bike polo is an innovative team sport, combining the bike skills of trials riders with the fast paced action of hockey. Teams and players from all over Canada, the US and Europe are invited, including some from as far away as San Francisco, Vancouver, UK, Germany and France. The majority of players have played in the North American and World Championships. The show event featured Nick Kruse, the current third in the world, and Chris Proulx, the world champion for 2011.

“The polo event was really something,” said Ms. Mielonen.

The duo handed out more than 1,500 pieces of ‘This is Manitoulin 2014’ which features an in-depth article on cycling on Manitoulin and discussed plans for the Georgian Bay Cycling Route with hundreds of interested cyclists.

“There was great interest,” said Ms. Mielonen, “particularly amongst the baby boomer group.” The cycling advocate noted that many cyclists will spend more on their bicycles than most people in Northern Ontario spend on a used car.

Among the draws to Manitoulin and region is the particularly safe and well-suited run between Espanola and Little Current through the LaCloche Hills for those training for hill climbing races. “It is a fantastic place to train for hills,” said Ms. Mielonen. She explained that cycling across flat roadways is not good for those training to take on hills in races. “You need to build the muscles in your legs and especially calves,” she said. “You also need the right training ground if you are going to develop the lung power and leg muscles for climbing.”

The show attracts many different types of cyclists, explained Ms. Mielonen. “There are roadies, Guy and I would fit into that category,” she said. The typical mid-sized ride for roadies would be 32 kilometres. The route around Lake Mindemoya would fit that bill, it is about 32 kilometres and takes about three to four hours.”

The long distant roadies will tackle routes that run well over 30k, even past 75 kilometres. “Roadies are the experienced cyclists. They like the paved shoulders and are the kind of cyclists you will find with the $6,000 bicycles that weigh two pounds,” she said.

The really serious roadies will cycle a minimum 100 kilometres to 180 kilometres a day, often reaching land speeds of over 35 kilometres an hour, and will plan out week-long cycling tours. “These are the cyclists that the Georgian Bay Cycling Route will really appeal to,” said Ms. Mielonen. She explained that the proposed cycling route would run all the way from Parry Sound and travel around Georgian Bay.

The Island itself is just broad enough to meet the needs of the serious roadie, featuring plenty of safe paved shoulder roads.

Another category of cycling altogether is the mountain bike enthusiast and for them the trails at Manitowaning or Bebamikawe Trails in Wikwemikong offer a unique wilderness cycling experience, noted Ms. Mielonen. “These cyclists want off-road experiences and we have those here on Manitoulin as well,” she said.

On the return trip, the duo stopped by a trail symposium where they gave a presentation on the Georgian Bay Cycling Route to the 70 participants at the symposium.

There are three challenges presently facing the route due to the advancing four-laning and the restrictions on non-motorized traffic on 400 series highways, noted Ms. Mielonen. The first is found south of the Killarney junction, between the Highway 522 intersection (Grundy Lake turnoff) to Pickerel River Road. “You can ride it right now,” said Mr. Nielen, “but once it is four-laned that will be a problem as there is no alternate route.”

“We hope that the MTO will maintain a service road parallel to the highway,” said Ms. Mielonen.

The second challenge lies north of the Killarney turnoff. “We will need less than six kilometres of new non-motorized infrastructure to be able to connect to existing country roads,” said Mr. Nielen.

The final challenge is the need for a pedestrian bridge over the Spanish River on Highway 17 just north of Espanola.

“The Spanish River bridge would also benefit the Lake Huron Cycling Route and the North Channel Cycling project,” said Mr. Nielen.

Ms. Mielonen noted that the province has identified cycling as a major component of both health and tourism promotion in the province and that they hoped the relevant ministries would put money where their policy statements are to put Ontario on the global cycling map.

“So there are three challenges of less than seven kilometres, probably 17 kilometres to create a signature Ontario cycling route,” said Ms. Mielonen. “We hope that the province steps up to make this very doable dream a reality.

Michael Erskine