Are you seeking a fun, close-to-home, safe and physically-distanced holiday this summer? Look no further than cycle touring. Move outdoors to enjoy the warm weather, see the sites and get a wee bit of exercise. This summer, as we cautiously start to reopen after the long isolation of COVID-19, a self-directed tour might be the way to go. Building your own bike tour allows you to decide where you are going, when, and with whom. Adding in some custom support such as luggage transfer and other services can transform the trip into a vacation.
Where to ride?
At Humdinger Bicycle Tours, we operate in Ontario’s loosely-defined “cottage country”, where Ontarians and out-of-province guests flock to relax, enjoy nature and participate in a variety of recreational activities, including cycling. Our version of cottage country includes Simcoe – Muskoka, extending up to Parry Sound, Grey and Bruce Counties, and Haliburton and Kawartha. We are based in Oro-Medonte in Simcoe County. This rural township lies conveniently north of Lake Simcoe between Barrie and Orillia, and is an excellent central jumping off point for biking in cottage country.
Bike trip format
For multi-day trips, there are 2 main formats: hub and spoke, or point-to-point. For a hub & spoke trip, find an accommodation that is central to several routes, plant yourself there for a few days – at the hub – and then set out in different directions over the next few days – the spokes. A point-to-point cycling trip, perhaps obviously, involves moving from one place to the next on most days.
Hub & spoke trips
Hub & spoke bicycle trips require less planning, and can be relatively low stress. Choose a spot that has good general services as well as cycling-specific services, and sufficient cycling routes to keep you amused for the duration of your stay. My hometown of Orillia comes to mind – it ticks all the boxes. Downtown has excellent restaurants and shops, a new craft brewery, a delightful waterfront, and an arts scene. It has ample accommodation, including the central Champlain Waterfront Hotel and a couple of hotels that are adjacent to bike trails. For cyclist-specific services, it boasts two standard cycling shops (The Crank & Sprocket Bicycle Co. and The Bike Stop), an e-bike sales and rental provider, and a mobile repair service. In terms of cycling routes, Orillia is on the 160 kilometre Simcoe Loop trail, is close to excellent mountain biking, and has enough quiet road routes to keep you busy for several days.
I may be a bit biased, but I do love my hometown 🙂 However, it would be remiss to not mention that Collingwood and the Blue Mountains make an excellent cycling hub. Parry Sound has a great bike shop, some decent route options, and offers the added bonus of being a gateway to Georgian Bay’s stunning 30,000 islands. Huntsville is a very well-serviced town with excellent riding in the environs, providing you are up for some hills. Haliburton also has superb and hilly riding and lots of great accommodation options. There are dozens of other towns in Ontario that meet the criteria to be a hub – and this is the summer to check them out. If you have a favourite hub, please tell us all about it.
Point to point trips
Point-to-point trips require that you know where you are going and book accommodation or are prepared for camping. This year may be a bit different, but under “normal” circumstances, getting last minute accommodations in the summer in Ontario’s vacationland can be challenging. Planning an itinerary and booking ahead is highly recommended. More adventurous and free-spirited bike packers may be entirely self-supported and prepared to go wherever the wind takes them, set up camp, and then carry on the next day. I admit there is some appeal to this, but I would likely be desperately seeking a hotel room at the first sign of rain.
What support services are available?
For self-directed cycle tourists, the most commonly used service is luggage transfer for point-to-point rides. The alternative is to equip your bike with panniers and carry your own essentials. I did a bike packing trip in Denmark and Sweden in the early 90s, which started right from putting bikes together at the airport, and it was very cool to be independent. I would do it again. But I prefer to whizz along on my bike, not dragged down by clothes and toiletries. My fondness for food and craft beer does enough to ensure my bike is adequately loaded. Luggage transfer is a sweet and economical service that allows you to do a point-to-point trip minus the schlepping.
Passenger and bike shuttle
If your point-to-point is truly that, and not just a giant multi-day loop, you may find yourself a long way from home or your vehicle when you finish the trip. Sometimes you can take a train or other public transportation back to where you started, but in most parts of Ontario you cannot. Instead, you can hire a shuttle service to bring you, your bike, and your gear back home. A popular route involves a shuttle to the shores of Lake Huron, such as Kincardine, Port Elgin, or Southampton. Then take a few days to cycle east through Bruce and Grey County, over the Niagara Escarpment and along the shores of southern Georgian Bay. Finish the trip wherever you have left your car – maybe Collingwood, Midland, or Port Severn. At Humdinger, the price for that shuttle varies depending on the distance and number of people in the group, but ballpark is ~$95 per person.
Support vehicle and guiding
Sometimes on a self-directed trip, it is worth hiring a support vehicle and/or a cycling guide for the day. For example, the Lake of Bays loop just outside of Huntsville is a bit shy of 100km, has about 1200m of climbing, and has few refueling places along the way. It is definitely doable without support, but sometimes it is nice to know that a vehicle is close by, carrying a cooler full of cold drinks and delicious sandwiches, and ready to drive you back to the starting place if you just cannot face another hill. It is also lovely to have a guide with you for a day or two, to ensure you make the right turns, recommend scenic places or superb cafés for breaks, and provide tidbits of local lore.
Humdinger’s Build Your Own Bike Tours
We are pleased to support you as your build your own cycling adventures this summer. Check out our post on what gear to bring. Please do not hesitate to contact us for route and accommodation suggestions, and to get a quote for support services to transform your cycling trip into a relaxing and enjoyable vacation.