Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

11 October 2015

Bridges, Islands, Art, History, A Canal And Smoked Beef

Two days of cycling in Montreal and no one has beeped a horn in anger or aggression at me.  And no driver has cursed at me.  (Yes, I know when I'm being cursed at in French!)  And, where bike lanes cross into traffic, drivers actually stop for cyclists, even when there's no sign or signal telling them to do so.  

I guess all of this is remarkable to me because I've cycled so long in New York.  What's most telling to me, though, is that most Montreal drivers have no more experience of cycling than most drivers in New York, let alone the rest of the US, have.  The drivers in Paris were good, but I suspect a fair number of them, if they're not currently cyclists, recently rode bikes on a more or less regular basis.

One thing I can't get over is how, where the bike lane of the Jacques Cartier Bridge crosses the exit for Ile Sainte Helene, drivers not only stopped, they didn't creep into the intersection--or drive into it and expect you to pick up your speed and get out of their way--the way many New York drivers in New York, and the rest of the US, do.

Yes, I did ride over the Pont Jacques Cartier--to Ile Ste. Helene, as I mentioned, and from there to the South Shore of the St. Lawrence River.  This time, I took the east walkway/bike lane because, well, it was closest to where I had been riding.  One of the first things I realized was that I was rolling on an asphalt service; the last time I pedalled across the Bridge, my tires buzzed on the grating that separated them from the St. Laurent, 400 feet below.  

It was then that I recalled that the last time I rode across the bridge, I was on the west side.  No matter.  I was out to enjoy the ride, and the city.

The last time I saw the island--and its "twin", the Ile de Notre Dame--they seemed to be relics of the Terre des Hommes exhibit of Expo '67.  Since then, a lot of landscaping and other work--including, ironically, the building of the Montreal Casino an Notre Dame.  But it's far enough over on the island that it's possible to, if not notice it, at least not get too close to it.

Since I last saw the islands, the city has done, I think, a nice job with them--creating bike and walking paths, fixing eroded areas and creating botanical gardens and the Biosphere, among other things.

Today there were two events that closed off parts of the islands.  One was a cyclocross race.  I didn't mind that one:  The circuit, on dirt paths, didn't interfere with anything else. But the other event closed off access roads and made it dificult to get back on to the Pont.  But I, and others, managed.

Along the South Shore--mainly in the suburb of Longueuil--there's a series of bike lanes that takes you from the bridge, though residential neighborhoods, between a highway and series of railroad tracks (not as bad as it sounds) and through local parks.  

Then, after getting back into Montreal, I picked up some excellent Quebec goat cheese and something from France that seemed to be a cross between Brie and Camembert, with more of a grayish outer rind.  It was one of the creamiest cheeses I've ever eaten!  I washed them down with some little yellow grape tomatoes I picked up from a farmer's market.  Later after wending through some streets in Old Montreal and the area around McGill University, I would eat some succulent raspberries, purchased from the same market, 

Then I rode up Rue Amherst (How did a street in Montreal get a name like that?)  to a place called "l'Ecomusee du Fier Monde". Located in a former public bathhouse,  the Ecomusee states that, as part of its mission, it aims to teach people in the community about its history as a way of empowering them.

The upper level of the museum had a show describing the rise and fall of industry in the Cetre-Sud area of Montreal, and the lives of workers during that time.  It's interesting, even if you're not from the area.  The lower level, on the other hand, hosted a exhibit on "Art of Imagination". I liked the idea better than most of the actual paintings, which were a bit too New-Agey for my tasts.

After that, I descended la rue Amherst to Old Montreal and the beginning of a bike path along the Lachine Canal.  Said canal was built to avoid the rapids in the St. Lawrence River, and was thus one of the most heavily-used canals in the world.  The opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the rise of interprovince trucking caused the canal to fall into disuse.

This is where the canal rejoins the river:


When you look at how wide the river is, you understand why, at one time, Montreal was the second-biggest port city in North America.  

As you can imagine, all of the riding I've described made me hungry.  So I pedaled up Boulevard Saint Laurent for this:

We were all waiting to get into Schwartz's, renowned for its smoked meats, especially in sandwiches.  I got their signature item:  a smoked beef sandwich on rye bread with mustard.  It might be even more unhealthy than poutine, but it was worth every calorie and every globule of fat.  


  1. My one visit to North America was to visit Expo 67 which we did at the end of a long summer, the summer of the one speed coaster brake bike, hummmmmm...

  2. The summer of the one-speed coaster brake. Hmm...Everyone else calls it "The Summer of Love."

  3. One of my favorite vacations in my youth was Expo 67, despite spending almost a week in a Montreal hospital after a camping accident. I was quite the novelty, being a nine year old American lad.

  4. Chris--For many Americans of a certain generation, their first trip outside the US was to Expo67.

    My first trip outside the US was indeed to Canada, and to Montreal. But my family and I went a few years after Expo, and a few years before the Olympics. Even so, being in Montreal was indeed a novelty, at you say.

    Too bad about the camping accident!

    1. Justine, I agree with your first statement. I should have added in my comment that I was a "novelty" to the female nurses, as an American boy in a French Canadian hospital. Too bad I wasn't older at the time ;)

    2. Chris--Your introduction to the French language would have been "Ooh-la-la!" ;-)