Discovering Burlington by Bike
This summer has been one weekend after another of sunshine and great bike riding weather here in Burlington, providing so many opportunities to explore. I’m an avid cyclist, but tend to ride on the country roads north of the city, where the roads are generally quieter and the rest stops are fewer and further between. On a recent sunny Saturday morning, I decided to discover some new roads in Burlington and perhaps make a little adventure out of it.
I was up bright and early and loaded up my minivan with my bike and my paddleboard. Parking at Beachway Park early on a Saturday morning was certainly not a problem (and thankfully free!) and I began my route from there. My goal was to work up a sweat and an appetite, then work my way back to downtown for some great eats.
The Waterfront Trail
I hopped on to the Burlington waterfront trail and pedaled my way along the lake. I’ve lived in Burlington for close to 15 years, and I’m a little ashamed to say that I’ve never explored further than the lift bridge along the waterfront. What can I say? I’ve been missing out!
The path is wide, flat and smooth with non-stop unobstructed views of the lake as you head out of Burlington towards Hamilton. The path tends to get busier as the day goes on, but early on a Saturday, there are just a handful of runners, dogs and their humans out for a walk, and a few other cyclists and rollerbladers. There are plenty of spots to take a quick rest on a bench with a great view or to take a few steps down to the beach. There are also a few stops for restrooms, if needed.
The ride from Burlington Beach to Gray’s Road, where this part of the path ends, is not quite 10km, which takes you past Hutch’s, Baranga’s on the Beach and Confederation Park and waterslides. It’s a great spot to turn around and head back to the beach, or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can continue on into Hamilton. I headed up Gray’s Road and climbed up the escarpment to get some more great views of the lake. It’s a tough climb but the reward of the view and then the descent make it worthwhile.
Once you’re back in Burlington, you’ll notice a sign along Lakeshore Road reminding you to Share the Road with cyclists, and promoting Burlington’s commitment to cycling safety, along with the City’s Silver designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community. It’s a commitment to safety that everyone in the community would do well to participate in – both cyclists and vehicle drivers alike.
Spencer Smith Park
By this time I’ve worked up an appetite and I head back along the waterfront trail, with a short stop at the lift bridge to watch a ship pass through the canal, and all the way into downtown Burlington, through Spencer Smith Park.
I checked out the bike repair station (there are currently four located throughout Burlington, with four more soon to be installed), which is helpful if you need a quick repair or some air for your tires. The promenade through the park has been recently resurfaced and offers a smooth and well-marked path for enjoying the park. However, the path does get quite busy, so cyclists should use caution and keep speed well down.
My first stop was Lakeshore Coffee House, a downtown destination that I’d never visited before. With a view of Lakeshore and Brant Street, this patio is a great spot to people watch and still catch glimpses of the lake. While I didn’t notice a designated bike rack, there was plenty of space to park my bike where it wasn’t in anyone’s way. Another small group of cyclists arrived while I was enjoying my maple scone, and there was space for their bikes as well.
Next I cruised a few blocks over to Village Square, one of the prettiest places in downtown Burlington, where I’d heard something about a new coffee shop that had just opened up. To my delight, I discovered Lola Choco Bar and Sweet House, a European inspired café offering gelato, espresso and an impressive variety of sweets, all locally sourced. Even though I wanted to try one of everything, I settled on an affogato – essentially, espresso poured over gelato (the espresso melts the gelato, not too quickly, creating just the perfect caffeine and dessert combination).
Lola’s patio is ideal for creating community. There’s lots of space to park your bike, and great bistro seating. Flowers add lots of colour, there’s a gorgeous tree for shade, and the stone walls make you think you’re in another time and place. Lola is easy to find just off Elizabeth Street and extra convenient if you arrive by bike and don’t have to search for a parking spot! While at Lola, I met the owner, Buba, whose passion for her new business bubbled out during our conversation.
Back on my bike, and with no agenda or time pressure, I explored downtown streets that I’ve usually only driven down. It’s such a great way to experience your own community, in ways that you might not usually. I almost cruised right past another downtown staple, Tamp Coffee Co. (there are two locations – one on Pine Street and another on Brant Street). I was ready for another espresso, and Tamp never disappoints. They’ve got a few chairs out front to sit and enjoy your coffee and I kept my bike close by, as I didn’t see a bike rack.
Back on Lakeshore after my espresso, I made a quick stop at Bodhi Bar for a ginger shot to balance out all of the morning’s caffeine and sugar. Bodhi Bar offers a few seats in front of their store where I sat with my bike and slowly (because it was spicy!) sipped my juice while doing a little more people watching.
There are so many small businesses located throughout the downtown core that I didn’t have a chance to visit, but hope to on a future ride. Throughout the ride, I was always on the lookout for places I could park my bike while I popped inside, whether that was a bike rack or an enclosed area off the street, and I was certainly more likely to visit if I felt welcomed as a cyclist.
I cruised back along the promenade at Spencer Smith, taking time again to enjoy the incredible views that the park offers, and stopping to read a few of the signs that offer a little history about Burlington Bay and the Brant Street Pier.
As I loaded up my bike and got ready to take my paddleboard out onto the water for another unique Burlington experience, a little golf cart happened to cruise by at that moment with a sign saying “InfoMobile.” I flagged down the two smiling faces inside, and learned that they are Tourism Ambassadors from Tourism Burlington and they cruise around the waterfront and downtown, ready to assist visitors with questions. Even though the Tourism office is close by, just off Lakeshore on Locust Street, the ability for guests or residents to learn more about the area via a team of roving ambassadors is a really fantastic idea.
It’s been said that the best way to see a place is by bike – it’s just the right speed to take in the feel of a place. You miss so much while driving, and while of course walking is a great option, it’s sometimes nice to cover a little more ground, a little more quickly. And besides, parking is always free! Whether you ride your own bike, or rent one from a local shop, exploring Burlington by bike is a great way to get to know our community. Whether you’re visiting a favourite business, or discovering a great brand new business, you’ll enjoy your experience even more when you travel by bike.
Teresa Baerg has been proud to call Burlington home for close to 15 years. She is an avid cyclist and runner, and has recently added swimmer to the list to complete the title triathlete. She loves to be active every day (bonus if it’s with her three kids or husband), discover and talk about great new businesses and the people who make them great, around the community (especially if they serve great coffee!), and makes her living by editing, social media managing and writing. She is a member of the Burlington Cycling Committee. Find her on Instagram at @triathlonteresa or @teresabaerg or on Twitter at @teresabaerg.