Cycling to Canada’s Wonderland

My co-workers and I headed up to Vaughan for a day of funteam-building exercise at Canada’s Wonderland last week. Like all kids in the ’80s, I used to go to Canada’s Wonderland every year—but always by bus or car. But now that Canada’s Wonderland is surrounded by suburbs rather than farm fields, I thought that maybe I should ride my bike up there, through the city all the way. Everyone I mentioned my plan to thought I was crazy. “They don’t like bikes up there,” was the typical response, usually accompanied by a slow head shake as if they were warning me to stay out of a rowdy bar. But hey, if I can’t ride to the rides, I don’t want to go. Besides, I regularly ride the mean roads of suburbia when I go on long-distance rides out of the city. Still, this felt different. I needed a bit of planning.

So I started with an email to Canada’s Wonderland customer service:

Do you have any bicycle parking?

The response came a couple of days later:

Hello Val,
Thank you for contacting Canada’s Wonderland. Unfortunately, we do not offer bicycle racks to lock your bike with.
I hope this helps, please do not hesitate to contact us again.

Well, no, it doesn’t help. Not at all. So I replied:

Seriously? One-third of the park is given over to a parking lot for cars and there isn’t a single bike rack there somewhere?

I didn’t receive another response. Well, this isn’t off to a good start.

But as with many things, It’s Google to the rescue: Street View goes right into the park! I started looking for bike racks and found one just outside the main gate:


The only problem? The Street View was taken in 2011 and this particular spot is now consumed by supports for a giant roller coaster—a leviathan, if you will—that spills out into the parking lot:


Huh. Maybe customer service was telling the truth. I mean, it didn’t look like the bike rack was all that well used in 2011, and if they put a support post right through the spot that hosted said rack, they may not have replaced it. But wait just a second! If you zoom in as far as you can, you can sort of see the faint outline of not one, but two bike racks between the support posts, each with a lonely bike hanging off it:


All right, it looks like we’re back on! I loaded up directions in Google Maps, finessed it a bit for my preferences, and loaded this relatively direct yet incredibly twisty route into my GPS:

After all of the warnings from friends and family, after the assurance from customer service that I wouldn’t find a bike rack, and after the satellite-fuelled research, I set out on a sunny morning last week to meet my teammates at the theme parkconference center for our day of thrill ridesimportant meetings.

And you know what? The ride was actually really nice! A surprisingly large portion of the route north of the 401 is on trails through parks. By far the worst part was riding on Bayview between Lawrence and York Mills, a stretch of road I’m all too familiar with. Even the relatively short ride along car-friendly highway Rutherford Rd in Vaughan wasn’t bad in comparison. The only glitch I encountered was some construction that closed part of the bike trail, forcing me out onto Dufferin to get past the 407. There’s a beautiful bike lane on Dufferin north of Steeles that, sadly, ends just when it would be most useful: crossing the 407.

And so, less than two hours after setting out from Broadview & Danforth, I rode past Maple High School and into the parking lot at Canada’s Wonderland where the bike racks were exactly where Google Maps said they would be:


Would I do it again? Absolutely! It’s no worse than any other ride out of the city, and the joy of riding through a gargantuan parking lot to my—free!—parking right beside the entrance is always one of the joys of cycling to a destination. That said, the ride reinforced a long-standing problem with cycling infrastructure in and around Toronto: the optimum route is so hopelessly convoluted that you couldn’t hope to follow it without a good GPS and/or mapping app. If you want to get there in a car, you can just hop on the 400 and follow the signs; wouldn’t it be great if there was a signed route from the Finch hydro corridor to Canada’s Wonderland? The route is already there; now we just need the signs. Instead, you’re left cycling on a dead-end street, hoping that the GPS is right and there’s a trail at the end (there always was). Or assuming that the barely-visible gravel path beside the driveway actually goes somewhere (it did). As good as the ride was, it shouldn’t take so much effort to figure it out and keep track of it while you’re on the go.

Driving to work for Halloween

After considering a variety of costumes for my workplace Halloween celebrations (held on Friday last week), I decided to dress up as a car driver. I mean, what better costume could there be for a cyclist? I figured that it would be an easy enough costume to make and wear, given that drivers look (more or less) like normal people. For inspiration, my mind went to a time when driving was glamorous instead of a dehumanizing chore. I decided that I’d try to look like I was driving a roadster in the 1920s. It was still a pretty simple costume, requiring just an aviator’s hat, some goggles, and a long white scarf. This is what I came up with after poking around the closet for the scarf, Etsy for the hat, and Lee Valley Tools (of all places) for the insanely great goggles:

Val as old-time car driver

Val as old-time car driver

All that was left was the car. Now obviously, I don’t have an old roadster lying around, so I had to buy or make one that I could take to work for costume day. Oh, and did I mention that I wanted to make the 10 km commute by bike, the way that I always do? Three weeks, eight trips to Home Depot, three visits to Lee Valley, and two online orders later, this is what I ended up with:

Val's retro roadster

Val’s retro roadster


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Steep (steep!) hill ahead

Along the Finch hydro corridor, these signs warn cyclists of an 80% grade hill coming up:

Bike on very steep hill sign

That’s one steep hill!

Wait a second, that can’t be right. That’s looks like they’re warning you that path goes straight down the face of the Scarborough Bluffs. But I just rode up this hill and I’m sure I would have remembered if it had actually been that steep. Let’s try a little head tilt:



Yeah, that’s more like it. Toronto signs, the latest in a continuing series.


New bike?

My new bikes?

My new rides?

That’s me in my new Quest velomobile, with my DF and Alleweder behind me. In my dreams, at least. In reality, I stopped by Bluevelo for a test ride in the Quest when I found myself in Collingwood last summer. And what a ride it was.

Bluevelo’s owner, Randy, accompanied me in the Alleweder as I piloted the Quest for an hour-long ride through the rolling countryside around Collingwood. Although I’ve lusted after the Quest for several years, it was my first time actually sitting in a velomobile. Indeed, it was my first time riding a recumbent. Hell, it was even my first time on a trike in nearly 40 years. And the Quest is a lot more sleek than the trike I used to power along East York sidewalks in the 1970s.

Randy and I set out on a warm sunny morning, first winding our way through local traffic and an industrial area before hitting the open roads just outside town. Riding a recumbent is all kinds of different from an upright bike. You grow accustomed to the sitting posture quickly enough, but leg muscles that are used to pushing down on pedals in a particular way take a little while longer to adapt to the legs-forward position. I thought my legs were going to fall off when we rounded the first corner, barely a couple of minutes into the ride. But it got better from there.

Coming from the world of upright two-wheelers, I quickly encountered a few things that required getting used to:

  • The steering felt a lot more twitchy than I’m used to. I’m sure it’s just a matter of getting used to the steering tiller and using two front wheels instead of leaning to control my direction. I was already riding more smoothly by the end of my hour-long ride so the twitchiness would probably be gone entirely after a couple of days of regular riding.
  • It’s heavy. No amount of aerodynamic fairing will help you climb a hill. I’m used to pulling a heavy trailer up all kinds of hills on loaded tours and I found the Quest’s 70-pound frame to offer a comparable experience. On the upside, you can go as slowly as you need to because you don’t need to maintain your balance. Feeling the weight on uphills and when starting from a dead stop would be a bit of a culture shock to a roadie.
  • Chain slap. Shifting gears at speed sometimes resulted in big waves traversing the length of that long chain from the crankset at the front to the cassette all the way at the back. I’m used to making soft shifts on my upright bikes by easing off the pedals a bit when I hit the shifter but found that I had to be much more conscious about the technique in the Quest. Again, I’m sure that it becomes second nature once you’ve ridden it for a few days.

And that was basically it; I’d catalogued all of the negatives and idiosyncrasies within a couple of minutes of pedalling away from the shop. The rest of the hour was spent marvelling at the wonders of the Quest. Although the weight makes it slower to accelerate, the full fairing and low-to-the-ground posture mean that once you’re going, you can keep going with little effort or really fly with just a little more. And fly I did. I never did much more than turn my legs at a steady pace but ended up with an average speed slightly higher than I would have gotten if I’d done the same route all-out on my road bike. The aerodynamic shape is incredibly good at maintaining speed when you coast. And I coast a lot.

Going up hills was undeniably more difficult in the Quest than on a road or mountain bike, but it was far easier to maintain higher and more consistent speeds on the flats. As for downhills, they’re ridiculous amounts of fun: push a bit at the top and you feel like you’re going to take off by the time you get to the bottom. If you get going fast enough, the inertia can take you over the next roller so quickly that you don’t even notice you’re climbing.

I could definitely get used to taking the Quest for a spin through the countryside. Which raises the question…no, I haven’t bought one. Yet. I spent a full two hours at Bluevelo that day and the pitch is compelling. I went in expecting (maybe even hoping) to find some kind of deal killer but every time I said, “Yeah, but what about <X>?” Randy had a great explanation. I’m probably not going to buy one this year, but I can definitely see one in my mirror, slowly reeling me in. The only question is whether a velomobile will be my next city bike or my next touring bike.