Le Festival Go vélo Montréal: The Tour La Nuit
Last month I had the pleasure of attending Le Festival Go vélo Montréal, an annual celebration of biking put on by Vélo Québec. While the festival lasts for an entire week, I was in town just long enough to participate in its two main events: rides on Friday evening and Sunday morning involving thousands upon thousands of riders.
The one that kicks the weekend off is the Tour la Nuit, which, as the name implies, is a nighttime tour of the city. A 21-kilometer ride on car-free streets, it’s short and stress-free enough that it attracts all kinds of people, from hardcore sports cyclists to young kids and everyone in between. And I do mean everyone. Over 15,000 people take part.
It’s almost hard to call the Tour La Nuit a bike ride. “Party” is probably the more appropriate term. Costumes aren’t required, but scattered throughout the throngs of riders are people who truly dress for the occasion.
Even Bixi, Montréal’s bike sharing service, gets in on the act. Twenty-four-hour passes (normally $5 CAD) are only $1, and 72-hour passes (normally $12 CAD) are only $2, making it easy for people to take out a bike for the ride, late charges be damned.
The ride sets off at 8:15 PM, just as the sun is going down. If you’ve never seen 15,000 riders head off into a pink-hued Canadian sunset, you’re missing out.
Being a father, one of the things that struck me most about the ride was the number of kids who participated in the ride, either on their parents’ bikes or on their own. It was truly a sight to see. The pictures can’t do it justice, but there were easily more kids at this ride than at any other comparable bike event I’ve seen, such as Bike New York’s Five Boro Bike Tour or Boston’s Hub on Wheels.
I spoke with Suzanne Lareau, the president and CEO of Vélo Québec, about her organization’s efforts to attract children and families, specifically through the Tour La Nuit and its companion event, the Tour de l’Île. “Our goal is to encourage cycling,” she said, matter of factly. To that end, the Tour La Nuit is free for children 12 and under, and just $15 for kids 13 to 17. Adults are $25.50, although fees vary depending on when participants register, Vélo Québec membership, and other promotions. Compare that to the $92 Five Boro Bike Tour registration fee or the $50 fee for Hub on Wheels.
A few years ago, only children 6 and under were free. About 2,000 kids participated in the Tour La Nuit, still an impressive figure. But making it free for kids under 12 doubled the number of children from one year to the next to about 4,000. And their ranks continue to grow. Free registration for kids, and low prices for teens and adults has yielded tremendous returns for Vélo Québec. “It’s special,” Lareau told me. “When families do this, they realize they can do more, ride more.” Not surprisingly, kids return with their parents year after year.
A 21-kilometer ride takes some people an hour or less, although there are rewards to taking it slow. The real action during the Tour La Nuit comes, of course, during the darkness. The streets of Montréal become a sparkling galaxy of blinky lights, glowsticks, and reflective bike gear. Clarence at Streetfilms captured some of the magic of the 2014 Tour La Nuit in this film, but there’s truly nothing like being there. Think about being this kid, riding through the city at 9 or 9:30 PM — or even an hour or two later! — on streets that are normally off limits to anyone without a driver’s license.
Many thanks to Vélo Québec for bringing me to Montréal for this year’s Festival Go vélo, and to Clarence Eckerson, Jr. of Streetfilms for connecting me with the organization. Feel free to check out my Flickr album from my weekend biking around the city.