By Joe Wiebe
Here in Victoria we are blessed with an amazing bicycling infrastructure. There is an incredible network of well-maintained cycling trails, including the interconnected Galloping Goose and Lochside Trails, which stretch all the way from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal at the top of the Saanich Peninsula out to Sooke, a total of about 80 kilometres — much of it car-free on independent paved or packed-gravel trails. There are several smaller bike paths, too, such as the E&N Rail Trail, which begins near Spinnakers Brewpub in Esquimalt and runs diagonally out to meet the Galloping Goose in View Royal, and was recently extended all the way out to downtown Langford. And, of course, more and more bike lanes are being built downtown every year.
If you are planning on visiting Victoria this October to participate in this year’s Tour de Victoria — or even if you just want to come over here to check out the city and go for some bike rides — here are some suggestions for rides of different lengths.
20-25 kilometres (approximately one hour)
This is a good length for someone who likes to ride but isn’t an avid cyclist yet. It also works well as a “quickie ride” first thing in the morning or even on a slightly extended lunch break. I’m not a morning person, but my buddy Tom is often up early so he will go for an hour-long ride like this before starting his work day. For me, it’s more often a reward towards the end of the afternoon.
This route works well from anywhere in central Victoria (downtown, James Bay, Fairfield, Oak Bay). Basically it’s a closed loop from downtown around James Bay and out along Dallas Road to Oak Bay, then back to close the circle along Cadboro Bay Rd or Foul Bay Rd. It has one steep hill (King George Terrace), but if you want to add another hill climb you can ride up and over Mt Tolmie, or if you want to add a few more kilometres you can ride around UVic a couple times.
One of my favourite 25-km rides is this circuit across the Johnson Street Bridge, then up the E&N Rail Trail and back to downtown using the Galloping Goose. Depending on where you are starting in Victoria it might be a little shorter or longer, of course.
30-45 km (1.5 to 2.5 hrs)
This is a good distance for a weekend or holiday when you can afford to take off an entire morning or afternoon, depending on your pace, of course. If you are a novice cyclist trying to build up your endurance then this will be a more challenging ride, but I guarantee that after a few times, it will be a lot easier!
I consider this to be the quintessential Victoria ride. I think of it as the “big loop around the city.” It never fails to satisfy me since it is filled with so much variety, including a bit of downtown urban bike lane navigation, the gorgeous waterfront stretch along Dallas Road all the way from James Bay out to Oak Bay, some hill climbs and rapid descents, some forest bathing in Mount Douglas Park, and a mix of road and trail riding. You can go clockwise or counterclockwise, whatever you prefer — or maybe depending on the wind! After all, the wonderful Dallas Road run can be very breezy.
There are lots of short additions you can tack on for variety or extra distance, such as Ten Mile Point (some serious climbing there!) and Queenswood, which are both out by Cadboro Bay. When I want more exercise I will keep going up to Mattick’s Farm after I have made it past Mount Doug, or you can also add the E&N loop by continuing west along the Goose instead of turning downtown at the so-called Switch Bridge near Uptown, which will push this above 50 km.
I think of this as my “bowtie ride” because it has two loops that meet downtown at the Johnson Street Bridge. In this example the loops don’t actually meet there because I snuck over into Rock Bay to stop at one of the breweries there on my way back downtown (a pretty common occurrence for me!). Again, this ride is easily adjusted if you want to add or subtract some distance.
50-75 km (2.5 to 4 hrs)
A few years ago, this was an unthinkably long ride for me. Back then, the longest ride of my year was the 45 km Tour de Victoria run from Sidney to downtown. But when that route was discontinued I had to make the jump to 60 km and since then I’ve upped my game enough that I can even handle 100 km rides from time to time.
I love visiting breweries by bike, and Category 12 Brewing in Saanichton is an ideal destination from downtown Victoria. I usually take the relatively flat Lochside Trail up the Saanich Peninsula to Mount Newton X Road and then cut across to Central Saanich Road, which allows for a more gradual climb up to Keating X Road, rather than the steep hill across the highway from Michell’s Farm Market on Island View Road. One of the bonuses of my route is that it takes me past Silver Rill Farm, ideal for stocking up on corn on the cob in the late summer.
Then, afterwards, I like to return downtown on the west side of Elk Lake — taking Oldfield Road past this hilarious sign on to West Saanich Rd before crossing the highway by Royal Oak and taking the Douglas Connector on the east side of the highway past Swan Lake until I can reconnect with the Galloping Goose by Saanich City Hall. Of course, the reverse loops works just as well. Note: Oldfield Road and West Saanich Road can be very busy with traffic.
I love this ride out to Metchosin and back. You take the Galloping Goose out to Rocky Point Road and then take Metchosin Road back towards Victoria. That stretch has some long ups and downs — reminiscent of a roller coaster. It has a painted shoulder bike lane, but it’s also fairly busy with traffic so if you’re not comfortable riding with fast-moving vehicles right next to you it might not be for you.
Eventually, you end up reconnecting with the Goose by Royal Roads, or if you prefer, you can swing down to Ocean Boulevard and ride “across” the Esquimalt Lagoon and then reconnect with the Goose in Langford by riding up past Fort Rodd Hill.
Matheson Lake is a great destination — especially on a summer day when you can cool off for a swim upon arrival. That’s exactly what Tom and I did at the start of the heat wave earlier this summer. We started fairly early that morning, but even so, on the way back I felt pretty overheated!
Howl Brewing is a great destination for a 70-75km ride from downtown. It is located right next to the Fickle Fig Market just north of the airport. You can take the Lochside Trail or follow West Saanich Road along the west side of the peninsula. Either way, this is a very satisfying ride with a nice reward at the halfway point.
100+ km (5+ hrs)
I don’t do “Century Rides” very often — usually just on Tour de Victoria day and maybe once or twice a year otherwise.
Earlier this year I asked some friends to join me on this Century Ride around the entire Saanich Peninsula. It was a beautiful day in May, and although I nearly ran out of gas around the 80 km point, my pals kept me motivated and helped me achieve it.
I’ve been riding out to Sooke with some friends annually for a few years now. We usually stay for the weekend so the trip there and back is split over two days, but last summer, the pandemic didn’t allow us to stay overnight in an AirBnB so my friend Mike and I decided to ride out and back in one day. We had a nice, long break in the middle while we fuelled up with food and beer at Sooke Brewing, and then at the end of the day we actually had to ride a couple of loops around my neighbourhood to get the mileage up over 100 km.
And this, of course, is the Tour de Victoria itself as I recorded back in 2019, the first time I ever rode 100 km. It also ranks as the ride with the highest elevation I’ve achieved, thanks to the dastardly route planner who decided it would be “fun” for cyclists to tackle Munn Road in the Highlands about a third of the way through the ride. Nasty!