I think we can envision what cycling a Park path is like, though I am not going to be just stating the obvious here. I want to mention how I define the category and finer points of Park bike riding for the Ontario Bike Trails (OBT) site.
This will be informative for anyone new to cycling and tourists visiting Canada.
First I tend to intermix the terms trail and path when talking about Park bike routes. Here they mean the same though I see a path as wider, like the width of a car.
Now mentioning cars, they are seldom seen on these paths/trails, so one less concern (except for the odd detour). OBT reviewed routes need to be more than 85% off road, and most are 100% car free.
As the name implies, about half of the trails on the OBT site are Park type rides. These will split in two subtypes: City Park and Forest Park riding.
City Park riding is an easy beginner bicycle route in a city park. Whereas a Forest Park ride is for more experienced Park cyclists that want to go out of town, try a woodlot with rougher terrain and have few amenities.
Most trails do not loop back. So often doing a shorter ride requires returning on the same path. Sometimes you can connect with other trails and work your way back making it a longer route. Note that all paths have two-way traffic, so be aware.
What is it Like to Cycle a Park Path in Ontario?
A path through a City Park usually has gentle turns put in them to keep you interested. Sometimes paths share old roads or rail beds no longer in use. You might be able to tell.
Many park trails follow along a creek or river. This makes for a gentle incline with few hills of any length.
These rides are in typically well-manicured parklands, with cut grass, flower beds, open fields, and a few random trees here and there.
You may pass by benches, picnic tables, baseball diamonds and soccer/football/cricket fields. Kids’ playsets offer a stop for the little ones to go wild or exercise stations for you to get a total work out.
Some more popular paths now have bike repair stations. A nice touch if you have to tighten something or put in some air.
I would have to say that there are never too many washrooms on any route. So if you think you need to take a pit stop, do so. Same with water fountains and snack bars.
A few other observations. City Park trails can be busy on sunny weekends with not just other bikers but challenging obstacles called people, kids and dogs. Many of them are oblivious to cyclists coming up behind them. A small bell on your bar is good to have or call out “on your left” as you pass on the left, which can help.
The terrain of a Park path in the city will usually be all smooth paved asphalt. Sometimes at the end, where it peters out, it turns to fine crushed stone or smooth soil. Bridges take you over waterways to keep you connected. Some bridges are rather pretty and worth a picture.
Some city rides have more naturalized and less manicured grounds with small woodlots and ravines to pass through.
The other type is a Forest Park path that will take you to even more of a natural wooded setting.
The terrain will be mainly smooth soil or stone dust with sections of sand and gravel. There may also be leaves, woodchips, and the odd rock, patch of mud, puddle or animal burrow holes to negotiate.
Some locations have hills. Not steep ones as in mountain biking, but fair-sized inclines. None of these hills will last longer than a minute to climb, as Ontario is not a mountainous province.
This kind of Park trail riding may be at a MTB location as well. There is a bit of an overlap here between more advanced Park riding and the beginnings of MTB riding disciplines.
You may eventually take to it and ride the easier MTB side trails. These are what they call single track trails that loop in and out from the main wide access paths you are riding.
If you ride beyond these Park trails, I would recommend using a mountain bike to navigate the twisty loops safely. You will enjoy the experience as well as be on a more solid bike with a front shock, better brakes and lower gears for climbing.
Who is Suited for a Park Trail Ride?
Well everyone is the quick answer…let’s divide the masses in two camps:
#1 City Park
• Bike owners who are fair weather riders and cycle a few times a year
• Beginners of all ages, learning skills and not wanting to encounter road vehicles
• Commuters going somewhere, work, shopping…
• Citizens and tourists exploring the city
#2 Forest Park
• Riders with Intermediate skill level as a Park cyclist
• Cyclists wishing to improve bike skills and endurance
• Naturalists seeking a peaceful environment with some adventure
• Day Trippers out of town, vacation riders
City Park cyclists have few challenges, an easy journey, with plenty of time to unwind. They enjoy the weather and see the scenery drift by far away from the office and dishes.
This is a recreational pastime to meet up with friends or get the kids out of the house not a race.
It is also rather a safe route to cycle, with no cars and easy terrain. Yet watch out for kids and dogs zipping across your path.
One of the main causes of accidents are riders chatting to each other and not looking ahead. (This has happened to me.) Also when the leaves fall they can hide nasty holes and crevasses that will send you flying, or be slippery when wet after rain.
You may encounter stairs to get over bridges or up out of the valley but otherwise little biking skills are needed to stay the course beyond the basics.
A Forest Park ride gets you into what I rate as an Intermediate Park ride. Good for seasoned road/path cyclists, where the added skill and leg power needed is there.
Are you looking for some adventure in a peaceful setting in the woods? You might even see some wildlife. Make it part of a day trip, weekend or vacation to stretch those legs after sitting in the car so long.
As recreational cycling grows in popularity here in Ontario, you can even ride paved paths in the winter, if you dress for it and have the right bike.
What do I Need to Bring ?
Riding in the city one need not be totally self-sufficient. (Though it’s better if you are.) Usually within walking distance is a means of getting your bike repaired or taking transit/ taxi back home. In the city, you can find many places to eat with a quick search on your phone.
Getting out of the city on a Forest Park ride, one needs to pack for the occasion and have a plan. Few forest rides have anything more than a parking lot and outhouse. So bring plenty of water, snacks, rain jacket, bike tool kit, pump and spare tube.
Maps and signage on most trails are adequate but reviewing your location on your phone will help. Saving a map offline on your phone or printing out a paper map may be wise, as cell reception can be limited in the rural areas.
Up north in the bush, having a bear bell might be smart as they do not like to be surprised. Or keep talking, singing, reciting Shakespeare…
Being seen and highly visible is never a bad thing on a bike. You are a thin object moving quickly. Cars, people (hunters) cannot see you easily dressed in black on a black bike. I know BLACK is the trend but it’s not helping. Why do road workers wear safety vests?
Wear some bright colours folks! Do you own lights, have reflectors on your bike for when it gets dark?
Cycling local park paths with our parents or friends is how many of us started bike riding. Carry on and explore other trail areas in your own neighbourhood, town and province.
It’s a great way to be a local tourist. You see plenty at a leisurely pace. Not too fast like in a speeding car, or too slow walking it. No hassles with parking, gas or traffic jams; I love it!
Combining your planned route with local subway stops, GO train stations and other public transit makes it stress free.
And isn’t that the way your cycling day should be? Stress Free !
Enjoy the ride and tell us about it back on the OBT trail pages. Leave a Trail Review !