Canadian Cycling Magazine
Quiet Roads and a Vibrant City
The prime road routes and trails of Ontario’s Peterborough and the Kawarthas aren’t well-known, but that will change
We followed our guides on a rainy day in June. We were travelling over rolling hills in Ontario’s Kawarthas on road bikes against soft winds and under grey skies. Grazing horses gazed out at us over wooden fences as we went down hills. Curious perhaps or simply startled? Certainly, we travelled at speeds that made the farm animals seem frozen in place. Our group began in Peterborough, a city of 81,000 people that sits on the Otonabee River i n central Ontario, a 90-minute drive east from Toronto. Although Peterborough has a strong local group of avid cyclists– the Peterborough Cycling Club boasts some 275 members–the city and the surrounding Kawarthas is still relatively unknown as a destination for road and mountain bikers outside the area. But no doubt the word will get out to cyclists. Downtown Peterborough is 10 minutes from almost-deserted country roads, and not much farther from beautiful lakefront vistas. The landscape is also diverse: some sections are quite flat, such as the Trans Canada Trail, while more challenging routes meander through the undulating hills created from glaciers thousands of years ago. Throughout the area, cottages, resorts, quaint country inns and B&BS also make for good overnight stops for tired cyclists. “Peterborough is the bridge between Toronto and the north, with an intimate connection to the land and water,” said Michael Vanderherberg, co-owner with his wife Andrea of the Silver Bean Café in Millennium Park, next to the Otonabee River. He is also an avid cyclist and supporter of Ride for Africycle, an fundraiser that has included a ride around Lake Ontario to support sending used bikes to Malawi. “In a half hour, you can get anywhere. If you’re really adventurous, you can go from downtown to the Trent-severn Waterways,” said Vanderherberg, referring to the 386-km chain of lakes and rivers linked by more than 40 locks and canals that extend from the Bay of Quinte on Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay. Kieran Andrews, who led our group with his partner Dee Hutchison, is another cycling advocate. Andrews was a key person in the mapping out of the Peterborough and the Kawarthas Classics Road Cycling Routes: six signed bike routes that range in length from 45 to 100 km, covering a total of about 350 km. Each route starts and ends in Peterborough. They all feature recommended stops for photo ops and places to fuel during your ride. Our 185-km trip, which we did over two days, incorporated several of these routes. We began at the Silver Bean Café in Peterborough, then pedalled southwest, along hilly terrain, until we reached the town of Millbrook, where we stopped for lunch at the Pastry Peddler, a bike-themed café with the Frog Cycles shop just upstairs. We then headed east, with a short stop at Lang Pioneer Village before arriving at Rice Lake, where we stayed in lakefront cottages at the Elmhirst Resort. The next day, we travelled north through the town of Warsaw on fairly level terrain. We stopped for lunch on Stony Lake at Mccracken’s Landing, and then headed west to reach the town of Lakefield later that afternoon. We spent the night there. The next morning we had a quick 20-km bike ride along the Rotary Greenway trail back to Peterborough.
While road riding is gaining momentum in the area, mountain bike infrastructure is growing, too. The Harold Town Conservation Area (htca) saw the development of trails start in 2006. It’s a 323-acre property that has a large drumlin, a ridge formed by a glacier, in its centre. An active volunteer-based trails program, following ibma guidelines, was behind the area’s more than 14 km of mountain biking trails. Wide doubletrack circumnavigate the area with singletrack routes leading off to different features, including switchback climbs, tight turns, bridges, log hops and technical rock gardens. The park is easily accessible: there is no entry fee; parking is free; and you can find an hcta mountain biking trail map online.
More than 20 years ago, when Andrews and his business partner Scott Murison first started up their outdoor gear and boat shop, Wild Rock Outfitters, in Peterborough, there was no cycling club in the area, and no real community of cyclists. But they recognized the potential for cycling and other outdoor pursuits. In their early days, Andrews and Murison slept in sleeping bags on a dirt floor in the basement of a 900-square-foot space. Now, 23 years later, they have 27 employees, an 8,000-square-foot space, and offer everything from bike repairs, rentals, gear and guided tours. “The time has come for the area to be appreciated by more than the local community,” Andrews said. “What we have here is truly outstanding. Peterborough and the Kawarthas have a big enough population to have a significant road network, but not enough of a population to make these roads really busy.” Clearly, more cyclists will be coming to ride the area’s roads and trails very soon.
“The time has come for the area to be appreciated by more than the local community.”