Ooh la la – Cycling in Montreal is a dream

Posted on 23. Oct, 2011 by in Canada, Canada, Destination Tips, Quebec, Travel Tips

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Slouched down on a Montreal curb just after 1pm, Dani and I were starving, fatigued and wondering how, after over 5 miles of pounding pavement, these aching feet were going to carry us through the remaining must-see neighborhoods on our list. We fell in love with Montreal instantly upon arriving the evening before, and knew that we had to pack in as much as possible into the 48 hours we had to spend in the city. From 8am the next morning we were out sauntering along wide thoroughfares, cutting through Montreal’s many green spaces, schlepping it up hundreds of steps in Mont Royal park to the incredible view point below followed by a forest hike, a stroll through a university campus and down to the Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, which now loomed behind us as we considered napping out in front.

montreal marie reine du monde cathedralBeginning to feel defeated, we saw a glimmering light of hope in the distance in the form of a sleek steel bike rack loaded with shiny silver bicycles. We had discovered Montreal’s public bike rental system and, knowing we could easily pedal our way through town, it took only five minutes before we were whizzing away from the bike station.

Montreal’s Bixi bike rental system is similar to city cycling schemes in Paris, London, Mexico City, Munich, Seville and several North American cities. As of 2009, the publicly-funded Montreal system became the largest in North America, with over 5,000 bikes (worth $2,000 each!) available at 400 depots around the city. Even though we were faint and weary, jumping on a set of wheels couldn’t have been easier to use.

jess on bike in montreal

Start at the payment machine by swiping your credit card to pay $5 for the 24 hour bike rental. The machine gives a code which you enter in to any of the stations that hold a bicycle. Once the bike is released, you are free to ride around the city for the next thirty minutes at no additional cost. After 30 minutes, bring the bike to any of the nearby stations, dock it, and wait two minutes. Swipe your card again for a new code, unlock the new (or same) bike, and you’re off again on your way. The system is best used by locals who just need to get from point A to point B, but we easily used the bikes to tour the city. Montreal is loaded with these stations, conveniently located on corners throughout the city, so finding a drop off point was no problem, and it was almost always near something we had wanted to stop to see anyway.

Houses in Plateau Neighborhood

Should you accidentally run past the 30 minute mark without realizing it, your card will be charged $1.50 for every extra half hour. The system is also surprisingly fair. If you arrive to your drop-off destination to discover all docks are taken, just swipe your card, and the machine  recognizes no availability, gives you a 15 minute grace period and tells you all available nearby station and how many docks are available at each.

The system is a breeze to get the hang of, and within 10 minutes we had pedaled all way down to the old historic down town, riding past the Notre Dame, before riding along the riverfront all the way up to the town hall.

montreal notre dame

A looming thunderstorm sent us home earlier than we would have liked, but with the bikes, this was no problem at all. We just exchanged the bikes to get us a full half hour and pedaled back to the many stations in the Mont Royal Plateau neighborhood where we were staying.

Not a drop of rain fell that late afternoon, and after dinner and a quick rest, our hosts drove us to see a  live outdoor concert in La Ffontaine Park. They were ready to make a night of it, but we were exhausted. Luckily, instead of them having to drive the sleepyheads home, we still had nearly plenty of  hours left on our bike rental, so were able to just hop on two nearby bikes and make it home in no time at all.

After a deep sleep and a power breakfast we were back up on our bikes and squeezed in a full morning of sightseeing before heading  to Quebec that afternoon. Covering several miles, we were able to make it to the Fairmont and St Viateur bagel shops, where the best of Montreal’s famous bagels are made and weave in and out of countless alleys and side streets to spot so many samples of Montreal’s incredible street art. And this was all for the $5 we paid to rent the bikes the day before.

montreal street art

The Bixi system in Montreal couldn’t be easier to use and is the cheapest, yet most exhilarating form of transportation in town. Drivers in the city appear to really respect cyclists, so the nerves you might feel cycling in New York City, for example, are not an issue here. The cycleways are clearly marked on the street and while many of Montreal’s roads are one-way for cars, cyclists can often ride in both directions, making getting around by bike a breeze.

Have you rented bicycles in a city you visited, and would you do it again? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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10 Responses to “Ooh la la – Cycling in Montreal is a dream”

  1. Biking seems like such a great way to see a new city, although I get gun shy because I prefer to stick to streets with marked bike lines, and you never know how bike-friendly a particular city is. It’s good to hear that Montreal drivers respect the cyclists!
    Scott – Quirky Travel Guy recently posted..New York City neighborhoods worth checking out

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    • Dani

      24. Oct, 2011

      Yes, the drivers really looked out for cyclists, and many roads had bicycle lanes. But we never felt unsafe on the roads with bike lanes, we say you should give it a try one day :)

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  2. For 91 Days Travel Blog

    24. Oct, 2011

    We love those city bikes. A year ago they introduced Valenbici in Valencia over a year ago (about when we left) and when we just recently got back for a month we were shocked out widely it spread already. And for 15 a month you can’t complain. We both signed up right away. Even though we won’t be spending more than 1 or 2 month in VLC a year. But it’s still worth it!

    How much are these bikes in Montreal?

    Love the photos!!!!!
    For 91 Days Travel Blog recently posted..The Flag of Sicily

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    • Dani

      24. Oct, 2011

      Yes, I remember seeing them in Valencia! Especially in cities like Valencia that get really hot in the summer it is a great option to ride around town while enjoying a little breeze! The Montreal bixi bikes are $28 a month, or $78 a year, or $5 for 24 hours which is much cheaper than private bike rentals!

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  3. I think this is the best idea for cities. In Buenos Aires, the government has bike stands all around the city, but you cannot pay to rent them. Great for locals, not so helpful for visitors.

    Then again…. the people that drive in Buenos Aires aren’t so bike-friendly yet, so maybe unaware tourists shouldn’t be risking their lives like that ;-)
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..A Foreigner’s Perspective on Argentina Elections

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    • Dani

      24. Oct, 2011

      That’s a shame that visitors can’t use the rental bikes in Buenos Aires! Maybe they’ll change it by the time we get there?

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  4. Don Faust

    25. Oct, 2011

    Those bike racks seem to be popping up in a lot of cities now. It is truly a great way to get around in a central part of a city.

    I wish we had visited Montreal when we were living on the East Coast – we saw Quebec City though. I have all these visions in my head about how great the architecture might be in Montreal.
    Don Faust recently posted..Fascinating Finland: The Cult of the Sauna

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    • Dani

      26. Oct, 2011

      Don, I have to say that we liked the architecture in Quebec City more than the architecture in Montreal. The European feel of Quebec City was just incredible. We are still not sure if Quebec City or Montreal is our favorite city in Canada :)

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  5. Rease

    26. Oct, 2011

    What a great system! I love free or cheap bike rental systems in big cities, it´s such a great idea that works so well.

    Buenos Aires just started a free one, but it is only open to locals, which I find to be ridiculous. I actually have an Argentine ID so I could use it, but I feel like it is such a waste as so many tourists would use them.

    I have paid to rent bikes here in Buenos Aires (before the free bikes arrived) and also in Uruguay. I am not a hard core bicyclist, but for cruising easy streets, I love it.
    Rease recently posted..Buenos Aires is Poetry in Motion

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    • Dani

      26. Oct, 2011

      Renting a bike is just such an easy way to get around town – you can go far and beyond the city center, you don’t have to worry about parking… and you even work out ;)

      Reply to this comment

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