Exploring Alberta’s highways by bike

By Susan Anderson

Road cycling is becoming a more popular sport. While some motorists may curse at the cyclists they see pedaling down a highway on the narrow shoulder, the cyclists who are out there know the benefits and enjoyment that they experience while riding on the highway. 

Road cycling has grown in popularity in recent years because it is an enjoyable, yet minimal impact activity. 

Sales associate and bike fitter at Bow Cycle in Calgary, Dave Gruninger is an avid cyclist with over 18 years of experience. He said that there has been roughly a 15 per cent increase in road biking sales at Bow Cycle over the past five years. 

“There’s definitely an increase in sales every season,” said Gruninger. “I think it’s so popular because it’s a safe sport to get into. You don’t need a lot of bike skills like in mountain biking where you could get hurt. It’s minimal impact on the body. People with hurt knees or backs can get into it.”

Based on what they sell, he believes road cycling is becoming more popular than mountain biking.

“Health wise, it’s good for your cardio and everything that comes along with that,” said Gruninger. “If a bike is fit properly to a person, riding a road bike is basically like doing physio and cardio at the same time.”

Riding a bike can help meet fitness goals, while enjoying scenic routes or accomplishing many kilometers in a day. However, cyclists do need to keep some things in mind. 

“The most common injury with riding a bike is your knee, but the number one way to rehab your knee is riding a bike, which is why we stress bike fit so much,” said Gruninger. 

Bikes can be custom fit to match the rider, because there is a lot of variation in body type and size. 

“If we’re standing side by side and we’re the same height, our leg length could be different, and our arm length could be different,” explained Gruninger. 

Gruninger stresses the importance of always wearing a helmet and learning the rules of the road, including how to ride with groups of people. 

Traffic can be a problem, but Gruninger said that he has never felt unsafe. He suggests joining a riding group or club to learn about road safety. Joining a group will let new riders mix with more experienced riders. 

“It’s people learning how to be comfortable while riding on the highway and taking the right highway. Some highways, like Highway 1 are very busy, but other highways are a lot quieter.”

Cyclists need to bring water bottles, high-energy snacks and an emergency kit consisting of a spare tube, multi-tools, patch kit and a way to inflate a tire if it becomes flat. Wearing padded shorts and proper shoes also helps. 

Gruninger recommends cleaning a bike regularly and using chain lubricant for maintenance, but stresses not to use WD-40. Bikes also benefit from a yearly tune-up. 

Road biking can be expensive though, especially for students. 

“A road bike starts at around $1,000 and the sky is the limit from there,” said Gruninger. “You’re probably looking at about $1,500 in start up costs.” Yet once the initial equipment is purchased, not a lot of additional funds are needed to keep cycling. 

However, this initial price might not be affordable for students, so Gruninger recommends getting a used bike at a reasonable price. Road bikes tend to wear fairly well, and can be used for years. 

There are many scenic road rides outside of the city. A popular one is Highway 66 out of Bragg Creek. The route is fairly simple: from Bragg Creek, take either Highway 22 or Highway 758 a short ways south to Highway 66 and follow this highway west until it ends ­— a disance of about 30 kilometres one way. The attraction of this ride is the winter gate, located more than half way along the highway. The gate is closed until May 15, although the highway can still be very busy as hikers, other cyclists and day picnickers flock to the gate or day use areas. Once at the gate, cyclists can lift their bikes through the gate, and continued riding on a car-free highway. Cyclists can enjoy great views of the Rockies and the Elbow River without the noise of vehicles. 

Highway 66 can be a demanding ride if it’s one of your first times out in the season. There is an elevation gain of about 500 metres from the Bragg Creek town site to the end of Highway 66. The route climbs steadily after the winter gate, and it can be windy, but the sense of accomplishment of getting to the end of a ride can’t be beat. The fun part about this ride is that coming back, it’s all downhill and the kilometers fly by. 

Other popular rides include Highwood Pass and Highway 1A from Lake Louise to Banff. Highwood Pass is especially popular before the winter gate opens on June 15 when cyclists have complete domain over the road. If you’re struggling to climb the steep hills, at least the scenery will be awe-inspiring. 

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