I know this column is rather optimistically titled; winter isn't done yet. This week's windstorm (severe enough that I left my bike at home on Monday for fear of being blown off the Burrard Bridge) and the North Shore mountains capped white with new snow are a reminder that it's not quite time for bike shorts and fingerless gloves. But the calendar has ticked over into March, the evenings are finally drawing out again, and recently there has been just a day or two with enough warmth in the air to remind us that we're edging into that transition between the seasons.
With that in mind, I wanted to take this opportunity to give a shout out to the cyclist's biggest sign that spring is just around the corner: the Pacific Populaire, an annual ride organized by the B.C. Randonneurs cycle club. Ah, you might say, but why would a commuter cyclist be interested in something like that? Isn't randonneur cycling for crazy hardcore riders who like to go 600 or even 1,000 km in a single ride?
Actually, the Pacific Populaire isn't like that at all. As well as being the first major public cycling event of the year, the very essence of the ride, according to its website randonneurs.bc.ca, is "to encourage participation by all cyclists regardless of fitness level, cycling experience, or age."
The Populaire comes in three lengths: 25, 50 and 100 km. The 25 km length in particular makes it extremely accessible to cyclists who aren't used to going long distances; the 50 and 100 km lengths offer additional challenges to those who are looking for an opportunity to test themselves.
The Populaire has been running since 1986, which means the Randonneurs have organization down to a fine art. If you're planning ahead you can register online, or you can simply show up on the day to sign up (just allow a little extra time if you do this.) The route is set in advance, and all cyclists get route cards at the start of the ride. Don't worry if wayfinding isn't your strength, though; it's pretty much impossible to get lost with that many friendly cyclists on the road with you. Of course you can never count on the weather at this time of year, and with the 2012 ride taking place on April 1st, who knows what the notoriously capricious weather gods might decide to throw at it? But something you can count on is that everyone who comes out will shrug off rain or wind and have fun regardless.
Ultimately, the key to the Populaire is that everyone is welcome. When I first rode it in 2010 I'd never participated in a ride with that many people, and I'll admit I was quite daunted by the prospect. I'm not quite sure what I was picturing (carbon bikes that cost more than my car, perhaps? A Tour de France style peloton?) but what I found was a crowd of cyclists from all walks of life and on different kinds of bikes, united in a common goal: to have fun on a great ride. Regardless of your reasons for being on a bike or your personal cycling goals, the Populaire is a celebration of the arrival of kinder weather and the chance to enjoy the company of a big group of likeminded people who love being out and about on their bikes. If you've never ridden it before, it's well worth signing up. Maybe I'll see you out there.
Kay Cahill is a cyclist and librarian who believes bikes are for life, not just for commuting. You can contact or send a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org.