Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Tour de l’Île: The largest ride I’ve ever done

Posted by on June 4th, 2017 at 5:33 pm

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-9.jpg

Start line of the 33rd annual Tour de l’Île on Avenue du Parc.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Today I took part in the largest ride of my life: the 33rd annual Tour de l’Île in Montréal. I was one of 25,000 people to enjoy a completely carfree journey around this island city.

Can you find me? I’m on the right side, wearing a helmet (just kidding):

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-10.jpg

Keep in mind this ride comes after 15,000 people showed up to ride (in the rain) the Tour la Nuit just two days ago. It’s all part of the Go Bike Montréal Festival — a full week of bike rides and events that is so engrained in the local culture it has become unassailable (except for a few NIMBYs who are confidently dismissed by the organizers).

“It’s about quality of life for our city, it’s about fighting against greenhouse gas emissions, and it has helped totally change our urban planning.”
— Denis Coderre, Mayor of Montréal

While the sheer number of people was impressive (it used to draw 45,000 people in the early 1990s, when it was the only event of its kind in Canada); what I’ll remember most was the experience of cycling for 30 miles and never having to think about a car. Organizer Vélo Québec does something remarkable for this event: They manage to prohibit auto use for nearly the entire day on a route that rolls through major urban arterials, neighborhoods rich and poor, and by iconic downtown monuments.

After the ride I chatted with Vélo Québec’s General Director Joëlle Sévigny. I told her how our analogous ride, the Bridge Pedal, sometimes forces people to turn back because they don’t meet a time cutoff that’s pre-determined by the Portland Police who are eager to “re-open” the streets for auto use. Sévigny explained to me that their street permit with the City of Montréal is based on the time the last rider finishes.

Yes, you read that right. The people riding set the timeframe.

Not only does the route stay open for a generous amount of time, but as you ride, cars are nowhere to be seen. This is possible because Vélo Québec closes both directions of major arterials, and they cordon off one full street over from the route as well. That means there are no people in cars backing up and idling at route crossings and there are no traffic flaggers stopping the ride to let auto users by.

It might seem like a small thing, but it’s an amazing experience to ride a 30-mile loop in a major city of 1.7 million people without ever thinking about an automobile.

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-3.jpg

Mayor Denis Coderre.

This feat is possible for several reasons. Montréal has a very mature relationship with cycling because they’ve been building high-quality bikeways since the 1980s (more on that in later posts). They also have 2,600 volunteers and the full blessing of the City of Montréal. Unlike Bridge Pedal, whose organizer has begun complaining publicly about what he sees as exorbitant permit and policing fees charged by the City of Portland — the Tour de l’Île is subsidized by the government.

At the start of today’s ride, Montréal’s Mayor Denis Coderre — who has joined the ride in years past — told me the ride is about more than just cycling. “It’s about quality of life for our city, it’s about fighting against greenhouse gas emissions, and it has helped totally change our urban planning.” He then went on to tell me they have 728 kilometers of bike paths and are aiming for 1,200.

At the end of his speech, and before he blew the ceremonial starting horn this morning, Corderre yelled, “Vivre à Montréal!”

And we were off. Montréal belonged to us.

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-11.jpg

The ride started on Avenue du Parc, one of the most important streets in Montréal.

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-15.jpg

The little guy was just five years old, pedaling along like a champ. I like how his dad showed solidarity by riding the same sized wheels.

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-14.jpg

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-13.jpg

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-16.jpg


Tour de L'ile in Montreal-34.jpg

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-18.jpg

The murals are everywhere — and they are often breathtaking!
Tour de L'ile in Montreal-20.jpg

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-22.jpg

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-23.jpg

This is Gordon Little. He’s 92 years old and on his 29th Tour de l’Île. He hopes to make it to a 30th because, as he told me, “I think I’ll finally be done.”

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-24.jpg

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-25.jpg

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-26.jpg

Rolling along the St. Lawrence River was pure bliss.

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-28.jpg

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-29.jpg

This is Jesus and his pet iguana Ramona. “She loves the heat,” he said.


Tour de L'ile in Montreal-30.jpg

The city comes into view as we near the end.

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-31.jpg

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-32.jpg

Tour de L'ile in Montreal-33.jpg

They could have settled for one side of Rue Berri, a major downtown street. The riders would have fit. But having the entire street is something special.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

BikePortland is supported by the community (that means you!). Please become a subscriber or make a donation today.


NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

27 Comments
  • Caitlin D June 4, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    That looks wonderful!

    Recommended Thumb up 10

  • Clark in Vancouver June 4, 2017 at 7:47 pm

    That’s a huge ride! I gotta go do that some year. It’s a great city. Great food. Love it. Montrealers know how to live in a city.

    Just a note. He probably said “Vive la Montréal!”.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • 9watts June 4, 2017 at 7:52 pm

    “They manage to prohibit auto use for nearly the entire day on a route that rolls through major urban arterials, neighborhoods rich and poor, and by iconic downtown monuments. ”

    Fantastic!
    I hear that is how it works at the Ciclovia in Bogota too.

    “it’s about fighting against greenhouse gas emissions, and ….”

    Yeah, well, that is how Sunday Parkways started out too. Just that at this point no one at the City seems to remember that part.

    Recommended Thumb up 10

  • Ray Atkinson June 4, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    “After the ride I chatted with Vélo Québec’s General Director Joëlle Sévigny. I told her how our analogous ride, the Bridge Pedal, sometimes forces people to turn back because they don’t meet a time cutoff that’s pre-determined by the Portland Police who are eager to “re-open” the streets for auto use. Sévigny explained to me that their street permit with the City of Montréal is based on the time the last rider finishes.

    Yes, you read that right. The people riding set the timeframe.

    Not only does the route stay open for a generous amount of time, but as you ride, cars are nowhere to be seen. This is possible because Vélo Québec closes both directions of major arterials, and they cordon off one full street over from the route as well. That means there are no people in cars backing up and idling at route crossings and there are no traffic flaggers stopping the ride to let auto users by.”

    Wow! Does any similar ride in the US operate based on the time the last rider finishes and have both directions of major arterials closed and cordon off one full street over from the route?

    Recommended Thumb up 7

    • 9watts June 4, 2017 at 8:02 pm

      Boston Marathon?

      Recommended Thumb up 1

      • Ray Atkinson June 4, 2017 at 8:14 pm

        Boston Marathon is a race so it would make sense that the race doesn’t finish until the last runner finishes. Bridge Pedal and Tour de l’Île aren’t races, so it’s impressive that Tour de l’Île participants don’t feel rushed to finish the route before the police reopen the route to cars. Are there any non-races in the US that operate similarly to Tour de l’Île?

        Recommended Thumb up 3

        • 9watts June 4, 2017 at 8:17 pm

          I completely agree, Ray Atkinson.
          Because like you I couldn’t think of any I (somewhat facetiously) mentioned the marathon. It wasn’t a serious response to your question.

          Recommended Thumb up 3

        • Infinite Buffalo June 5, 2017 at 5:55 am

          By the time you get to the end of most marathon packs, they’re not much of a race anymore… 😉

          Boston may actually be different, since they have to qualify to get in. But in Pittsburgh, there _is_ a time limit on the marathon, and they will force people off the road after a certain number of hours. The last couple people in this year’s, at least, were actually running _behind_ the course cleanup trucks…

          Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Hello, Kitty
    Hello, Kitty June 4, 2017 at 10:11 pm

    Those murals look great! And look… no one has covered them in stupid graffiti! Such a civilized city.

    Recommended Thumb up 7

    • Chris I June 6, 2017 at 12:49 pm

      Graffiti is much harder in French. I think that is why.

      Recommended Thumb up 4

      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty June 6, 2017 at 12:55 pm

        But those little hats make the o’s so much cuter!

        Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Mike Sanders June 4, 2017 at 11:31 pm

    Might mention this to the Portland Police for the Bridge Pedal. Keeping the route closed to car traffic until the last rider finishes makes sense. And this should apply to the Bridge Walk, too. If Portland had a turnout like this for an event of this sort, it might wake up a few people at City Hall and elsewhere.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • bikehead June 5, 2017 at 1:48 am

    Back in the day Critical Mass did not stop, at traffic signals, we corked for the ride. There was no permit. We did/do not need permission.

    Many Blessings to the big rides.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Mark smith June 5, 2017 at 4:02 am

    The next time a city of Portland staffer says ” we are such a great bike city”…

    They should read this article.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 5, 2017 at 8:16 am

      well there’s much more to being a great bike city than big event rides. Portland does a lot of things much better than Montreal. Both cities have their strengths and weaknesses. Montreal is very very far from a bike utopia. stay tuned for more reports as soon as I get more time to write.

      Recommended Thumb up 7

  • MP June 5, 2017 at 6:22 am

    The Five Boro Bike Ride in NYC takes you over various bridges through all the boroughs. It’s about 40 miles, 30,000 riders and completely closed to cars (although I don’t think they close off the additional street over). I did it a few years ago and it was a lot of fun!

    http://www.bike.nyc/events/td-five-boro-bike-tour/

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • Dan A June 5, 2017 at 7:45 am

    “I like how his dad showed solidarity by riding the same sized wheels.”

    Are you sure he wasn’t trying to get around some screwy bike tax? 😉

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • John Liu
    John Liu June 5, 2017 at 8:18 am

    I am really enjoying this series of articles. Keep ’em coming!

    Recommended Thumb up 7

  • bikeninja June 5, 2017 at 10:30 am

    Laissez les bon temps roulez

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • bikeninja June 5, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    You will know there is hope for the world when we can block off I5 from cars for a day long ride from Portland to Wilsonville and back.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Doug Henningsen June 5, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    Bogata, Columbia closes the roads every Sunday. It’s amazing to see….and ride!

    Recommended Thumb up 3

    • B. Carfree June 6, 2017 at 3:07 pm

      Over three decades ago the owner of my favorite little bike shop began putting up information about ciclovia with the comment, “If Bogota can close its streets to cars every Sunday, surely Davis can do it once a month.” Sadly, he was and still is wrong. Worse, he’s wrong with respect to every N. American city. Someday…

      BTW, he eventually gave up trying to convince the powers that be and moved to Italy.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Clarence Eckerson June 6, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    SO GLAD YOU GOT TO GO! Been recommending Bike Portland and lots of others (who have gotten to go) for years. I got to in 2014!

    https://vimeo.com/97908386

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Doug G. June 7, 2017 at 7:46 am

    I’m so happy that you got to experience this and the Tour La Nuit. Both are perhaps the best mass rides I’ve done anywhere in North America. Unbelievably special.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • alex June 9, 2017 at 7:55 am

    Hey Jonathan, the ride actually started on Avenue du Parc, not Boulevard St Laurent.

    Recommended Thumb up 0