Bike Tour guides tell the story of the city
Hans, one of our tour guides, has always liked cycling. He doesn’t even remember how he learned it. He has been cycling for about 50 years now, but he rarely ever sat on a road bike: for Hans cycling in his native Netherlands on an upright bike was mostly a means of transportation to get around.
One summer day in Ottawa in 2017, Hans had a coffee with Maria, our founder and owner of Escape Bicycle Tours & Rentals and before he knew it he was a bicycle tour guide. He loves the combination of cycling, being outdoors and sharing knowledge.
“Being a tour guide is a great experience. I never realized that there were so many tourists coming to Ottawa. I have cycled with guests from as far as the Philippines, Uruguay, Denmark, Germany and Kuwait to name just a few of the countries. Many of our guests take a city bike tour for the first time, and they are totally sold on it when we return to the store on Sparks Street.”
Compared to many other North American places, Ottawa is richly endowed with that combination of nature and history. There is evidence that the region was occupied thousands of years ago by the First Nation peoples; the last 200 years have added another layer to the nation’s capital beauty: historic buildings, national institutions have been added to the water bodies and green space.
Tourists are often pleasantly surprised about the great cycling infrastructure the city has been building. The oldest bike paths, along the canal and our rivers are now nearly 50 years old, built by the National Capital Commission. Already in 1970, the National capital Commission closed many kilometers of roads for motorised traffic so that people could bike along the canal and the river. Guides of Escape Bicycle Tours & Rentals take tourists along the water bodies and tell the stories of the city.
Being a bike guide may sound like the dream job, but it is much more exhausting than many people realise. Maneuvering a group through a city requires a lot of concentration. If you cycle with a group, you constantly have to keep an eye on safety. So we always give a quick talk on hand signals, safe cycling distance and operating a bike. Our guides also go through first aid training.
Did you know that the residents from countries who drive on the other side of the road have their brakes configured the other way around too? The rear brake (the more important one) in Canada is operated with the right hand while in England it is the left hand. Our bike tour guides know these things.
Hans, who writes a well known cycling blog in Ottawa, remembers two particular instances from this past year. “One time, we returned to our home base and a guest tells me she never liked history in school but when she heard the stories from us, it really made history alive. She said the way we tell it made her appreciate history so much more. That is why we love to be guides, to share our knowledge in a meaningful and fun way.”
“Another time, we’re at the Rideau Falls overlooking the river and the Gatineau Hills. After I briefly explained the 200 km groomed cross country ski opportunities in the Hills, a visitor from Vancouver says: “Wow, I could live here tomorrow, it is so beautiful here”.
“I take that as a compliment”, Hans laughs.
A visiting couple from the Netherlands told one of our bike tour guides that they “noticed a lot of bikes in Ottawa” when they drove into town. One Mexican visitor recently expressed that “you guys have an amazing cycling culture in Ottawa”. Take that, Amsterdam!
Being a tour guide requires people skills, storytelling skills, safety awareness and physical endurance. It is not for everyone, but those who like it really enjoy it.
At Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals our guides love taking you on a tour, showing you this beautiful city, its popular landmarks and hidden gems and telling you about the city’s past and present stories. Book your tour and experience the best way to see Ottawa with one of our amazing guides! There are about four languages to choose from between our amazing bike tour guides.