Cycling through the capital

Bike riding hit a new level of popularity during the pandemic. Here’s what you need to know when cycling in Ottawa this summer, Tracey Tong writes

It’s a great time to take up cycling with your family.

First, it was hand sanitizer, then toilet paper, flour and yeast. Then news outlets reported bicycles as the latest shortage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When you think about it, the demand for bicycles makes sense, especially in Ottawa. After being socially distanced and encouraged to stay inside for the better part of three months, people of all ages are eager to get outside to enjoy what promises to be a beautiful summer in the capital.

People have always used their bikes for both transportation and recreation, and this number continues to grow for several reasons. First, cycling seems to be an ideal sport for those mindful that there’s still a pandemic out there – while physical distancing measures have eased up a bit, there remains a need to be cautious and maintain a safe barrier to continue to flatten the curve. What better outdoor activity than recreational bicycling – a sport, that unlike many others, naturally requires you to keep a buffer while participating?

A second reason is that with an abundance of paths and traffic lanes devoted to biking – and a number of traffic closures on local roads to make the streets more conducive to cycling – the National Capital Region (NCR), more than ever, is touting itself as being bike friendly.

“We chose cycling because we could all participate,” says Ottawa’s Julie Voorberg, who rides with her husband and their sons Simon, 5, and Andrew, 2. “My older son just got his training wheels off and my two-year-old is in a seat on the back of my bike.”

The family has been riding to Mooney’s Bay and Hog’s Back Falls lately – a 10km round trip.

According to Julie, it’s a great activity given the current circumstances. “It’s much easier for physical distancing as the kids just can’t run wherever, and people tend to give bikes a bit more space than those walking,” she says.

Once you’ve tracked down that elusive bike – or pulled your trusty steed out of the garage – here’s what you need to know to make this the summer for cycling.


Cycling and public transit

For some, cycling is a green way to get around. For others who might under ordinary circumstances rely on public transit, cycling is a great way to circumvent the potential germs that come with it. Using your bike for at least a leg of your trip is a good way to reduce your time on the bus – a great incentive to cycle with the virus still out there. OC Transpo’s Rack and Roll program, which runs from spring through fall, places racks on more than 600 buses. There is no additional cost to bring your bike on the bus. Bikes can also be brought on the O-Train year-round.


Some NCC parkways open to traffic-free cycling

The National Capital Commission (NCC) has paused its NOKIA Sunday Bikedays program for 2020 pending the guidance of federal and provincial health directives during COVID-19. According to the NCC, the Sunday Bikedays program will return in Phase 3. But there are still many kilometres of NCC paths available for use.  

Currently, the NCC is in Phase 2 of its plan for the public use of its assets, which means that parking lots are open at its facilities, and select portions of NCC parkways are closed to motor vehicle traffic, allowing some cycling, walking and running. Until June 28, cyclists can experience car-free portions of the parkways, including sections of Queen Elizabeth Driveway, Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway, Sir George-Etienne Cartier Parkway, and Gatineau Park Parkways. Details of the sections affected can be found at:

Mountain biking is permitted in Gatineau Park. In all phases, all users must practice physical distancing by staying two metres apart on the pathways.



The green spaces – including parks, gardens and other attractions of the NCR – are connected by more than 600 kilometres of multi-use pathways, which people use for commuting, walking, running, cycling and in-line skating. Managed by the NCC, the Greenbelt is now fully open for recreational activities, including cycling. The Capital Pathway Network includes of 10.4 km on the Greenbelt Pathway West (mostly flat, some hills, with asphalt and stone dust surfaces); 9.3 km of asphalt on the Watts Creek Pathway; and 4.6 km of stone dust surface on the Greenbelt Pathway East. Visit for a map and more details.

Whether you decide to hit the local cycling pathways, or stick to streets around your neighbourhood, this summer is the perfect time to try out cycling while keeping a safe distance from others.



Before you start: Here’s what you need

Equipment required by law includes:

  • helmet for cyclists under 18 (although all cyclists should wear one)
  • lights and reflectors – a white light on the front and a red reflector on the back at night; and white reflective tape on the front forks and red reflective tape on the rearstays
  • bell or horn

Recommended equipment includes:

  • rack or basket to keep your hands free
  • water bottle in a holder
  • closed-toe shoes
  • brightly coloured, moisture-wicking clothing
  • bike lock

Source: Young Cyclist Guide, Ontario Ministry of Transportation


Staying safe

If you and your family have picked up cycling as a hobby during the pandemic, here’s what you need to know to keep the whole clan safe this summer.


The best helmets are made to meet strict safety standards and have a proper fit. According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, children under 18 are required by law to wear an approved helmet, and parents and guardians must ensure that children under 16 wear a helmet. However, as they protect riders in the case of a fall or crash, they should be mandatory for everyone.

According to the Canada Safety Council, the forehead usually hits the ground first in a fall from a bicycle. Head injuries cause most bicycle-related deaths, but because up to 88 percent of serious head injuries can be prevented by wearing a helmet, it is critical to wear a bike helmet that fits properly and is certified by CSA International.

When choosing a helmet, your child should try on several helmets carefully, states the Canada Safety Council. Level the helmet over your child’s forehead and adjust the chin strap to fit snugly and comfortably. It should protect the forehead without slipping forward or backward; and it should not move unless the scalp moves.

Bike fit

Before you start, ensure that your child’s bike is the right size. According to the Canada Safety Council, your child should be able to straddle the bike with both feet on the ground; a bike that is too big or too small is a safety hazard.

Know when collisions happen

According to the Canada Safety Council, the majority of bicycle injuries do not involve motor vehicles. Most are falls and collisions with stationary objects and other bikes or pedestrians, which result from the bicyclist losing control, and most occur less than five blocks from home, in familiar surroundings. Circumstances include riding out from the driveway and getting hit by a vehicle; failing to stop before entering the street; running a stop sign, and failing to scan both directions for traffic.

 General list of safety tips from the Canada Safety Council

  • No playing on the road
  • No riding on busy streets
  • No riding at night
  • Stop for all stop signs
  • Ride on the right side of the road
  • Walk bikes across busy streets
  • Scan and signal before turning left
  • Assess the traffic situation for yourself. When riding with friends, many children follow each other, causing vehicle-bike collisions. The first one may run a stop sign and get through. The second one may get hit.

 Bike skills every child should know

According to the City of Ottawa, here are some skills children can benefit from – and this summer is the perfect time to teach them!

  • Check over shoulder while travelling in a straight line
  • Brake quickly and confidently to stop at a predetermined point
  • Ride with one hand while displaying clear hand signals
  • Gauge the speed of other vehicles
  • Concentrate on a task and avoid distractions
  • Lock up the bicycle