A bicycle. That’s what it all began with. I had been wanting to buy a bike for a while now, given that my boyfriend is a pretty avid cyclist and enjoys exploring the city from this unique vantage point. When I came across the opportunity to join a Leisure Bicycle Sightseeing Tour with the new company Escape Bicycle Tours right here in Ottawa, I decided that it was finally time to make that purchase. $60.00 later, I had my very own bike, courtesy of Cycle Salvation, and although it’s used and rusty, in my eyes, it was brand new and sparkling – ready for the paths, scenic river views, and hidden trails.
The specific tour that I was about to experience is a condensed version of the longer Escape Tour. Since my default answer to everything is “yes”, it was a no brainer that I would happily participate. But, what exactly was I getting myself into? According to Founder and Tour Operator, Maria Rasouli, “bicycling is the best way to experience Ottawa for tourists and to explore the Ottawa Valley and smaller communities close to Ottawa for locals”. And that is exactly what was in store for us.
The starting point was the parking lot next to the Champlain Bridge, and to my pleasant surprise, the tours do include everything you require: the bicycle itself (even though I decided to bring my own), helmet, water bottle, snack, lunch, as well as the full route planning and guiding. Do bring though: a rain jacket, sunscreen, sunglasses, cash, ID card, emergency contact info, and health insurance info. But basically, all you have to do is show up in comfortable clothes and shoes, and enjoy the ride!
We stopped for sightseeing at several places – including the Aylmer Marina, a local farm, a cafe for lunch, and a bakery – refuelling necessary. Maria’s many tours span completely different locations such as the Cool Neighborhoods Tour (the Glebe, Little Italy, and Westboro), another that brings you all the way to Petrie Island in the suburbs of the East end, and even ultimate weekend getaways.
Maria Rasouli grew up in a small village in the north of Iran, where her greatest joy was riding her bicycle every day, until the age of eleven. That’s when her parents forbade her from this activity as she was becoming a grown up woman and had to behave in a more proper and appropriate manner for women in her culture. After receiving a scholarship from Carleton University to complete her PhD, her first order of business upon arriving in Ottawa was embracing the freedom of being able to cycle once again. So, she started Escape Bicycle Tours in order to share her passion, and the joy and freedom of bicycling in nature.
With the belief that a smaller group offers a more relaxed experience, tours are designed for groups of 5-20 people, and include magnificent scenery, museums, local landmarks, traffic-free routes, unique local eateries, farms, and welcoming accommodations. One of the aspects of the tours that I am so happy is included is a love of food, as they select quaint restaurants that feature tasty regional cuisine. Another great thing to remember is that there is no need to be worried about your speed. Their flexibility allows for those of different cycling abilities to share the same trip.
If you’re ready to explore some nature, culture, and heritage from the seat of your bicycle, any other questions you have can all be answered by checking out the Escape Bicycle Tours website here, including a calendar filled with tours to match your schedule – so strap on that helmet and enjoy the ride!