“Our aim is to recruit bike commuters for the ride,” said Jon Ramos – Boston resident, architect, Team Dad, and co-creator of Bos/tréal, a bike ride from Boston to Montreal that raises funds for the Boston Cyclists Union (BCU) – over and over again throughout the one-week trip. “The point is to inspire more bike advocacy and involvement in Boston, and the best way to do that is to show people what they’re really capable of on a bike.”
For the third year in a row, Ramos and others from the BCU, including Executive Director and current UEP student Becca Wolfson, helped 35 riders and 5 volunteers bike and camp their way from Massachusetts through Vermont to Québec. Each rider was responsible for raising at least $1,600 for the BCU, and many went above and beyond, resulting in over $62,000 in donations. Some bicyclists had plenty of bike touring experience prior to the trip, and others had never ridden beyond their Boston-area commutes.
Advocates, planners, and people who just ride bikes for fun had the chance to climb and descend mountains all day and learn about BCU’s efforts around the campfire at night, creating deeper bonds around a shared love of cycling that will inevitably lead to greater bandwidth for the organization and its community.
Averaging 80 miles per day, riders completed the 400-mile journey in five days, then celebrated and explored in Montreal for two. The first four nights were spent camping in state parks, with three SAG (support and gear) vehicles transporting all the food and equipment. Rest and water stops were set up every 25 miles and BCU mechanic Brian MacKenzie was always on hand, creating a supported experience for a wide range of cyclists.
UEP was well-represented – with Becca Wolfson leading, and myself and alums Jay Monty and Steven Nutter pedaling through the undulating hills of northern Mass and Vermont, and pancake farmland of southern Québec. Swimming holes, farmstands, roadside creamees (Vermont for “soft serve”), dirt and gravel sections, and extremely variable weather conditions all helped turn the ride into a ramble!
After a much-deserved day of rest in Montreal, we woke up early the second morning for a lecture series at McGill University from fellow bike advocates at the Montreal Bike Coalition and Vélo Quebéc. With a network of concrete-protected bike lanes and the first large-scale public bike sharing system in North America (Bixi), Montreal is widely considered to be one of the best biking cities on the continent. But, we learned that bike commuting still only makes up 3% of commutes citywide – a number advocates hope to see rise to 15% in the next 10 years. The focal strategy to achieve this goal? Expanding the protected network from downtown streets to the city’s many arterials, which carry traffic from outer neighborhoods and suburbs. Currently, only five of Montreal’s 50 arteries (think Route 16 in Medford/Everett or Morrissey Boulevard in Boston) have bikeways. Advocates think redesigning these pieces of traditionally car-only infrastructure will transform the transportation paradigm. With a brand new, highly progressive city administration focused on transportation, it will be fascinating to see if/how/when these plans are put into practice.
More topics of discussion included snow clearance, highway codes, government funding, and how Vélo Québec uses bicycle-based tourism to support their advocacy work – something Boston and Massachusetts has yet to really tap into. After the lectures, our host David Beitel took us on a 5-mile tour of Montreal’s protected bike network, stopping to provide historic context for some bikeways and showing off new ones currently under construction.
Many rounds of poutine and beer later, the group packed bikes into the truck, piled onto the bus, and shipped back down to Boston to dream of next year’s trip!