Serious cyclists want to explore new ground – but with the comfort and familiarity of their own bikes. It's extra work, but if you know what to expect, it's worth every moment. Here's a guide to getting your wheels to the West Coast and what to do while you're there:
Flying with a bike
Most airlines require bicycles be packed in a bike box or case, with tires deflated and no CO2 cartridges packed inside. The era of complimentary-checked baggage for sporting goods are long gone; airlines charge upwards of $50 for oversize or overweight luggage. But there's no limit (presently) on the weight. Once your bike case or box is established as overweight, feel free to pack it with your cycling shoes, shorts, helmet, bike pump, panniers, tools and cycling necessities. My case weighed almost 75 pounds and cost the same as a traveller whose luggage might have been a few grams over.
Arriving in Victoria
The most popular trail in Victoria, amongst locals and tourists alike, is the Galloping Goose. It's good for short rides on its paved portions, and more experienced riders can take their road or mountain bikes on long-distance journeys over mixed surfaces. The Goose starts in the city's core and becomes a mixed gravel and pavement trail, passing through rural communities, farmland, crosses rivers and exposes you to the raw beauty of British Columbia. A word of warning: The Galloping Goose is unlit and gets dark fast, especially in areas where the trees are tall and thick. gallopinggoosetrail.com
Taking the ferry
Pack up your bike again for the ferry from Victoria to Vancouver. Pacific Coach Lines operates a coach bus service in conjunction with BC Ferries. Board the bus in downtown Victoria and drive right onto the ferry. Stretch, enjoy the sights and grab a snack at the onboard White Spot ( whitespot.com) during the 90-minute crossing. The bus is the first vehicle off the ferry and makes stops at the Vancouver airport and major hotels downtown. There is an additional fee for oversized luggage, but like the airlines, once it's over the weight limit, it's over.
Southbound by train
Amtrak's Cascade service runs between Vancouver and Portland twice a day. Take the early train out of Vancouver and catch the sun rise as you cross the border outside of Bellingham, Wash. The train stops in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and an array of other small cities along the coast. Checking your bike is as easy as booking a spot online with your ticket. Luggage cars are equipped with racks for bikes year-round, and staff are on hand to assist.
Portland, a cycling nirvana
Bikes are equal to cars on the road in Portland. Locals commute year round, rain or shine. But if it's a trail you want, the closest to downtown is in Forest Park. About 7 kilometres from the downtown core, the park stretches for 13 km and has a 20-km trail of packed gravel switchbacks. The locals are strict about the use of the various paths and preservation of the habitat. Like the Galloping Goose, the trail is unlit, so heading up the path later in the evening is inadvisable, but the views over Portland, the density of the forest and the great heaps of moss are all unforgettable.
On your way back into town, stop by the northwest location of Kenny and Zuke's Delicatessen. Or, if you're headed back downtown, stop by the food carts at SW 10th and Alder Street. You can't miss the lineups, the smells of ribs, tacos and poached chicken. The latter at Khao Man Gai is a real standout ( khaomangai.com). When you've ditched the cycling shorts and shoes, try one of James Beard award-winning chef Gabriel Rucker's two offerings: Little Bird serves the lunch and office crowd, and his first restaurant, Pigeon on Burnside, offers five- and seven-course tasting menus which are not to be missed.
I went to the West Coast to test my bike (and myself) against Portland and Victoria's trails. Next up: Scandinavia, to seek out panoramic trails, seaports and culinary standouts. I hear they like cycling there, too.
WHERE TO STAY
In Victoria: Harbour Towers Hotel and Suites; 345 Quebec St.; 250-385-2405; harbourtowers.com.
In Vancouver: Sutton Place Hotel; 845 Burrard St.; 604-682-5511; suttonplace.com.
In Portland: The Ace Hotel; 1022 SW Stark St; 503-228-2277; acehotel.com/portland.