Vancouver by bike: six easy-riding routes
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
This article is part of a guide to Vancouver from FT Globetrotter
I’m a mamil. A middle-aged man in Lycra. My name is Legion, for we are many. In any large city, you can find us riding alone or in packs, munching power bars, pointing at bits of detritus on the road for the benefit of pals pedalling behind us and wearing Lycra kits that in colour, fit and flamboyance have no equivalent in our workday wardrobes.
In Vancouver, there are thousands of us. And we are outnumbered by daily commuters, weekend riders, tourists on rentals or bike shares and children wearing pink, unicorn-horned helmets, with glittery streamers trailing from their handlebars. While some of us are foolhardy roadies, comfortable zipping along on a skinny strip of asphalt next to cars, SUVs and cement trucks, many more want a protected or, at least, quiet route where they can pedal at their own pace and enjoy the scenery.
Fortunately for them — and visitors to Vancouver who may not be familiar with its roads — the city offers a variety of such routes, which differ in length, flatness and exposure to large, four-wheeled vehicles.
The following six rides — all of which are better in dry weather, but still doable in the rain — will take you on seaside paths, over a scenic bridge, around a large and much-loved park and along a quiet, tree-lined street running parallel to one of Vancouver’s busiest thoroughfares. Ride safely, have fun, no Lycra required.
Vancouver cycling tips
Safety Always wear a helmet (it’s the law in British Columbia); always signal your turns; don’t ride on sidewalks; and obey all traffic signs and laws, which include coming to a full stop at stop signs and red lights. And some etiquette advice: pass on the left; if your bike has a bell, use it to signal your presence to those ahead of you on shared paths; if it doesn’t, announce yourself — a loud-but-not-frighteningly-so “On your left!” will suffice.
Directions In Vancouver, the mountains are roughly north and every local who gives you directions — including me — will work from that starting point.
What to ride If you don’t travel with a bike, you can rent one from a number of shops downtown and near Stanley Park, or use Mobi by Shaw Go, Vancouver’s official bike-share scheme, with 240-plus stations. The Mobi mobile app will point you to one of the 2,000 standard bikes and 500 e-bikes currently in rotation (each equipped with a helmet). Mobi bikes are popular with locals and tourists alike, with well over 100,000 rides recorded each month — even during the colder and wetter times of the year.
Coal Harbour Seawall (5.77km round trip, or roughly half that one way)
Good for: A slow, easy ride with stunning mountain and water views
Not so good for: Pedestrians wandering on to the cycle path. Fighting the urge to stop for a cocktail at a waterfront restaurant
FYI: Looking out from Coal Harbour, you’ll see waterfowl, Stanley Park, the North Shore mountains, float planes, cruise ships — and the Chevron Legacy Fuel Barge, the only floating petrol station in Vancouver
Vancouver is known for its views, notably the towering North Shore mountains, topped with white in winter, which seem to sit at the water’s edge across Burrard Inlet from the city’s downtown. This almost entirely flat ride makes the most of this feature, starting near Canada Place, home to the trade and convention centre and known for the white “sails” that form its roof, and heading west along the waterfront.
Past the West Building, wrapped in glass and with a sloped green “living” roof, and all along the Coal Harbour route, cyclists use a separated bike lane running immediately parallel to a pedestrian walkway, spinning along a network of green spaces, past water-view high-rise buildings and pricey floating real estate bobbing in the shoreline marinas.
Nobody would blame you for stopping for a coffee, or a beer and a bite, at one of the many waterfront eateries. A popular spot is Cardero’s, a seafood restaurant that sits on the water and is blessed with views from every seat.
At the foot of Denman Street, just past the Westin Bayshore hotel, you can turn south and complete the round trip back to where you began (not all of that route is on a protected bike path, however). Or you can head south-west into the city’s West End along busy Denman Street. When I recently pedalled this route (full disclosure: wearing Lycra, riding an Italian road bike, a huffing, puffing mamil cliché), I chose to continue west on to Stanley Park.
Stanley Park (10km)
Good for: A picturesque seaside ride or a cool spin along a tree-lined road
Not so good for: If you’re riding on Stanley Park Drive, be prepared to breathe in the exhaust of passing tour buses; if you’re on the seawall, you’ll have to walk some sections because of congestion
FYI: From the City of Vancouver: “Stanley Park is on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. The park’s villages were occupied for thousands of years by First Nations and newcomers before their eviction in the 20th century”
Larger than New York City’s Central Park, Vancouver’s 1,000-acre green jewel offers two cycling options for riding paved paths: the famed Stanley Park Seawall and Stanley Park Drive, the two-lane, one-way road through the park.
The seawall attracts not only cyclists but also walkers, joggers, in-line skaters, skateboarders and scooter riders. A flat 10km around the perimeter of the park (from the entrance at the foot of Georgia Street to English Bay), this route is, on its busiest days, not wide enough to accommodate all users, so cyclists must be extra careful as well as respectful of their fellow travellers.
If you choose to ride on the road, you will be sharing that space with other cyclists, cars and horse-drawn carriages. From the Georgia Street entrance, Stanley Park Drive takes the rider to a collection of First Nations totem poles, the Variety Kids Water Park and, at the end of the park’s only substantial climb, to Prospect Point, where there are bathrooms and a café.
From there, you can visit the Hollow Tree, a 700- to 800-year-old western red cedar that has been appearing in visitors’ photographs for a century. Braving the hill to Prospect Point (get off and walk if you have to, no shame) provides another benefit: a majestic view over the Lions Gate Bridge, the 85-year-old suspension bridge that links Vancouver and West Vancouver.
Taking either route all the way around will carry you to Third and Second beaches, English Bay and Beach Avenue, and the West End, where in tiny Morton Park you will encounter “A-maze-ing Laughter”, an installation of 14, 2.6m-tall cast-bronze figures by artist Yue Minjun. From there, you can also continue south-east to Burrard Street Bridge — see below.
Burrard Street Bridge (less than 1km)
Good for: A chilled-out protected route between the downtown peninsula and cool Kitsilano
Not so good for: Stopping and looking, because the bike lanes are steadily in use
FYI: More than a million cycle trips are taken across this bridge every year and the Burrard bike lanes have been dubbed North America’s busiest
Not so much a bike route as a key connector with pleasantly wide, protected bike lanes on either side, this classic Art Deco structure boasts amazing views — south-east along False Creek towards Granville Island (you can ride there in about five minutes from the end of the bridge) and north-west towards Stanley Park, English Bay and beyond.
The north end of the bridge is in downtown, the south end drops you in Kitsilano — a hippy enclave in the 1960s and ’70s that is now home to trendy shops and restaurants, including the creative and delicious Rain or Shine ice-cream shop on bustling West Fourth Avenue. And Kitsilano Beach is one of Vancouver’s most popular sandy spots for (cold) ocean swims, beach volleyball and yet another view, back to downtown.
If your inner Jonas Vingegaard is calling, Enroute Cycling & Cafe on West First Avenue serves up coffee and baked goods (try the vegan banana bread from Vancouver’s own To Live For) alongside socks, inner tubes and other cycling kit — fuel to continue your journey westward to Point Grey Road, if you so wish.
Point Grey Road (less than 2km)
Good for: Real estate envy. This is one of the most expensive streets in Vancouver
Not so good for: Waterfront views, because the mansions and lesser abodes block them
FYI: Google “Point Grey Road” and you’ll find plenty of real estate listings — starting in the double-digit millions
Serviced by several Mobi bikeshare stations, Point Grey Road is a relaxing route that, while open to local car traffic, is very cyclist-friendly. From Macdonald Street, this flat 1.5km-long road heads west to Alma Street, where the cyclist looking for a longer ride can continue to head west towards Jericho Beach and Spanish Banks — a long, north-facing stretch of sand where the tide goes way, way out, allowing for leisurely strolls in the tidal flats.
And if you’re really inclined, you can ogle (from a respectful distance, of course) some of the most expensive real estate in British Columbia, including the C$74mn ($56mn/£43.5mn) abode belonging to Chip Wilson, the founder of global activewear giant Lululemon.
10th Avenue (7.2km)
Good for: A shady, tree-lined spin — slow or fast, your decision
Not so good for: Avoiding cars, which share most of this route
FYI: Keep an eye out for the “Painted Ladies”, a cluster of vividly coloured, early-20th-century Queen Anne-style houses on the south side of West 10th Avenue, which were saved from redevelopment and lovingly restored
Broadway is one of Vancouver’s busiest streets, a wide thoroughfare running east-west from the edge of the neighbouring city of Burnaby to the University of British Columbia. It’s lined with shops, condos and restaurants, and, at the time of writing, great swaths of it were being dug up to build an underground extension to the SkyTrain rapid transit line.
Running parallel one block south, however, 10th Avenue is a narrower side street, with houses and large, leafy trees on both sides. It’s a designated bike route that draws commuters and recreational cyclists alike — about half a million each year.
Extending more than 7km from Victoria Drive in the east to Trafalgar Street in the west, this mostly flat route is one of the busiest bikeways in Vancouver’s cycling network, and connects a number of key destinations. You could stop at busy, funky Commercial Drive (known as The Drive), eclectic Main Street, or South Granville, another shopping district. You’ll pass Vancouver General Hospital, where the bike route briefly goes off road to a dedicated parallel path, and neighbourhood parks. And in shade and relative quiet.
Arbutus Greenway (9km)
Good for: A little uphill, a little downhill
Not so good for: Scenery
FYI: When the City of Vancouver bought the land for the greenway, it committed to design it for various modes of transportation, including a streetcar, sometime in the future
Built on a former Canadian Pacific Railway stretch of railroad, the temporary — since 2016 — Arbutus Greenway runs from the Fraser River in the south almost to Granville Island in the north. It’s designed for walking, skating and cycling, and features separate (but not separated by anything more than a painted line) paths for those on foot and those on wheels. At a number of the east-west street crossings, greenway users have the right of way over motor vehicles.
Riding south is mostly uphill, although the gradient isn’t onerous, and you’ll have plenty of company because it’s a well-used route for both commuters and recreational riders, along with motorised scooter users.
For a northward outing, start with a coffee or ice cream in Kerrisdale (West 41st Avenue near West Boulevard) followed by a leisurely, mostly downhill ride. Granville Island is always a good destination, just a few blocks from the greenway’s terminus. It’s filled with shops and stalls selling British Columbia-grown fruits and vegetables, and locally produced craft products — and, to be fair, also filled with tourists.
Where do you enjoy cycling in Vancouver? Tell us in the comments. And follow FT Globetrotter on Instagram at @FTGlobetrotter
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