A bit of history
Get an overview of the evolution of Vélo Québec.
Origins… and name changes!
Vélo Québec was founded in 1967 by Gabriel Lupien, under the name Fédération cyclotouriste provinciale. Inspired by French initiatives, the group started by organising bicycle trips for adolescent boys, in Québec City and Montréal. In 1973, it changed its name to the Fédération québécoise de cyclotourisme, and then in 1979, Vélo Québec. Not all of its members were in favour of this name change as the term “vélo” was not very common in Québec at the time. How times have changed!
Vélo Québec's different dwellings
A simple apartment on Basile-Routhier Street housed Vélo Québec when it was founded in 1967. Then in the early 1970s, the organization moved to 1415 Jarry Street East, the location of all sports and recreation federations recognized by the Québec government.
In 1985 the Québec government, in a bid to find new uses for the Olympic Stadium, had the idea of moving all these federations to the site. As a result, part of the stadiums underground parking was converted to office space for the Regroupement loisirs Québec.
Vélo Québec came to realize that the Olympic Stadium offices were not the most accessible for cyclists. This lead to the decision to leave the stadium in 1990 and relocate to the Balfour on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, at the corner of Prince-Arthur. From the Olympic catacombs to the Main, the goal of getting closer to cyclists was becoming a reality.
Vélo Québec’s project to create a bona fide Maison des cyclistes was taking shape, and the quest for a building located on a cycling path began. After two years, the building at 1251 Rachel Street East was selected, primarily due to its location at the intersection of two major cycling paths.
In August 1994, after six months of work, the Maison des cyclistes was inaugurated with great ceremony by cyclists participating in the first Grand Tour, which ended at La Fontaine Park. In order to better serve clientele, the café and boutique of the Maison des cyclists underwent a major transformation in the winter of 2007. In 2010, an addition was put on the back of the building in order to accommodate Vélo Québec’s growing team.
Bike boom of the 70s
The oil crisis in the 70s created a veritable bike boom in North America, and for the first time, bicycles were outselling cars. Adults were getting back into cycling and many did not know what kind of bicycle to buy. As a result, Vélo Québec got involved in consumerism and published in 1978 Le guide de l’acheteur (buyers guide) and the very popular bicycle market study in Cyclo-Nouvelles.
The quality of the bicycles available in Québec at that time left much to be desired: many people were riding $79.95 10-speeds, with freewheels offering 14-24 tooth gear combinations on 48 and 50 tooth chainrings… imagine the effort it took to get uphill! Never mind the seats that were rock hard. Le guide de l’acheteur, a first in the Québec market, provided tips for choosing the right bicycle based on its intended use: urban cycling, bike touring, sport cycling, youth bikes, etc., along with information on accessories and equipment. As a result, for the first time, ordinary cyclists were influencing bicycle manufacturers, importers, and retailers!
First market study on bicycles
In 1978, in addition to Le guide de l’acheteur, Vélo Québec also published a market study on the bicycles sold in Québec. Appearing in Cyclo-Nouvelles (our newsletter at the time), this study was very popular in a context where the bicycles available to adults were often of poor quality. This analysis of three categories of bicycles (“3-speeds”, “10-speeds between $150 and $200” and “10-speeds between $200 and $275”) helped identify the few models that constituted a good buy based on the quality-price ratio, for a total of six recommendations. The study (renamed Guide d’achat) is still published annually in the magazine Vélo Mag. It now analyzes 1,000 road bikes, triathlon bikes, cyclo-cross bikes and touring bikes, as well as 600 hybrids and city bikes and 600 mountain bikes. Cyclists can no longer complain about a lack of choice!
Cyclist safety has consistently been one of Vélo Québec’s main preoccupations. Road safety reports in the 1960s left much to be desired, with over 70 deaths a year. As the years went by, publicity campaigns asked motorists to reduce their speed and refrain from drinking and driving. This, along with cyclist safety campaigns develop by Vélo Québec in partnership with the Department of Highways, and the development of bike paths infrastructure, contributed to a vastly improved safety record. Even with the ten-fold increase in the number of cyclists and the doubling of automobile traffic, there are now three times fewer deaths among cyclists. Cyclists now have the best safety record of all road users.
Revision of Highway Code in favour of cyclists
Were it not for Vélo Québec’s lobbying, you would still not be allowed to ride a bicycle out of the saddle!
In 1979, Vélo Québec participated in the Parliamentary Commission mandated to revise the Highway Code. A substantial brief, containing more than fifty recommendations, was tabled. The latter were so well received by the Minister of Transportation at the time, Lucien Lessard, that the organization was invited to sit as a consultant on the editorial committee, then under the responsibility of Jocelyn K. Laflamme, of the now-defunct Motor Vehicle Bureau (MVB).
The original section devoted to cyclists in the Highway Code, which was to become the Highway Safety Code, was likely written by people who did not ride bicycles. Imagine a rule obliging cyclists to keep both hands on the handlebars at all times, while at the same time another rule obliged them to indicate their intention to turn or stop using arm signals (sic). Such rules also didn’t make it easy to change gears (at the time, the shifters were attached to the bicycle’s down tube) or use a water bottle.
Likewise, cyclists were required to always remain seated on their bike. Imagine tackling a hill and not being able to pedal out of the saddle! Vélo Québec proposed the concept of “riding astride the bicycle” which was accepted and written into the Highway Safety Code.
From International Bicycle Day to the Tour de l’Île
International Bicycle Day is celebrated around the world on the first weekend in June. In the 1970s, and then in the 1980s with the support of Vélo Québec, Le Monde à bicyclette organized a demonstration to mark this special day.
A procession of 1,000 to 1,500 cyclists set out on city streets at 10 km/h to cover the few kilometers separating La Fontaine Park from Dominion Square to show the city and motorists that cyclists also have their place in Montréal. The most popular slogans of the time were “ We want bike paths”, “I am my bike’s fuel”, “My bike is paid, but not your car” and of course “Vive la vélorution”, coined by Bob Silverman, which translates roughly as “Live the bike revolution!”
This day inspired Vélo Québec to organize a family bicycle gathering that would bring together cyclists of all ages. The Tour de l’Île de Montréal was born in 1985 out of a desire to get people back into biking, as well as to demonstrate to different government authorities just how popular cycling was becoming.
The first Tour de l’Île took place under a torrential rainfall, with 3,500 cyclists. To the delight of its participants, the Tour de l’Île was back again in June 1986, attracting 15,000 cyclists. Over the following years, this number rose to 26,000, then 32,000, reaching 45,000 in the early 90s. As a result, it became the largest cycling event in the world (Guinness World Record), a testament to the immense popularity of the bicycle and the rich cycling culture in Montréal and Québec.
Strength in numbers was to become Vélo Québec’s tool for change.
Cycling as a mode of transportation
For a long time, the use of the bicycle as a mode of transportation had been under discussion in Québec. In 1977, the Ministère des Transports du Québec published a flagship document: La bicyclette, un moyen de transport. This thought-provoking work, emerged from a department previously concerned mainly with the road network.
The document explained the benefits of the bicycle as a mode of transportation. It recommended formally recognizing the bicycle as a vehicle in its own right and proposed the construction of bikeways and the improvement of road safety for cyclists. Guy Rouleau, Executive Director of Vélo Québec at the time, had access to the document circulating in the Department’s offices and decided to distribute it to journalists and politicians in order to support Vélo Québec’s efforts. The document was warmly received by the media, which led to its official publication by the Department.
From one transportation plan to the next
In 1988, Vélo Québec presented a brief at public consultations held by the City of Montréal to establish its priorities vis-a-vis the development of the downtown core. Vélo Québec proposed that the main thrust of the Planning Program include improving the quality of the urban environment, reducing the number of cars in the city, and increasing the quantity and quality of public transportation. The brief also advocated the creation of an extensive cycling network, with an east-west bike path in the heart of the city, as well as the addition of safe bicycle parking.
Nineteen years later, in April 2007, the City announced the completion of a bike path on De Maisonneuve Boulevard, between Berri street and Green avenue. A few days later, on May 17, the City of Montréal presented an ambitious Transportation Plan, which focused significantly on biking and revisited the arguments put forth by Vélo Québec over the last 35 years. The virtue of patience, something any cyclist that has pedaled into a headwind can attest to!
Creation of the Grand Tour Desjardins
The Grand Tour Desjardins, the bicycle touring and cyclosportive event of the summer, introduces Québecers to the joys of bike touring. It also helped them to realize the disadvantges of riding bikes inappropriate for the terrain: at the event’s first edition in 1994, two-thirds of participants rode mountain bikes!
At the time of this first edition, the organization was not sure of being able to get 1,000 cyclists to participate. However, that spring, the 1,000 places available were snapped up in less than five weeks. The message was clear: Québec cyclists yearned for longer cycling trips. Therefore, since 1994, the Grand Tour Desjardins, and then the Petite Aventure Desjardins, have helped get more Québec cyclists travelling. From the Tour de l'Île de Montréal to the Grand Tour Desjardins, Québecers have been logging some serious milage on their bicycles!
The idea of the Route verte dates back to the late 80s, when Vélo Québec was already crafting a plan for the future of cycling in Québec.
Inspired by other famous major cycling routes, mainly in Europe and the U.S., Vélo Québec used the Conférence Vélo Mondiale in 1992 to publicly present the Québec Plan for Cycling and Green Corridors for the Year 2000.
In 1994, in the context of a youth action plan which was breathing new life into the regions, Vélo Québec had the opportunity to submit the concept of a province-wide bike path network to the Québec government. The idea was accepted and in June of that year, the big launch took place: the cycling route would take shape over a period of ten years and extend for 4,000 kilometres, criss-crossing Québec from north to south and east to west. The Québec government, through the Ministère des Transports and the Secrétariat à la jeunesse, entrusted the coordination of this project to Vélo Québec, which was to establish the final layout in cooperation with the regions.
In 2007, 12 years after work began, the Route verte was finally inaugurated. In 2012, the first phase of the project is 97% completed and the second phase 68% complete, meaning that the Route verte is now 5000km long!
Conférence vélo mondiale
In September 1992, Vélo Québec organized the first international cycling conference to be held in Canada, inviting the world’s two largest cyclist conferences: Pro Bike (U.S.) and Velo-city (Europe).
The Conférence Vélo Mondiale brought together 630 participants from 30 countries and provided a forum for representitives of cycling organizations, elected officials, and urban planners to meet and discuss a varity of cycling-related issues. The conference focused not only on transportation issues, but also with the concept of the bicycle as a mode of recreation and tourism.
For the occasion, the City of Montréal built a temporary bike lane on Saint-Antoine Street and installed 350 bicycle stands in front of the Radisson Hotel (now the Delta Montréal), so that convention delegates could park their bikes. It was just like being in Amsterdam!
First Québec magazine for cyclists
It was in 1981 that the Vélo Québec team created the first Québec magazine for cyclists: Vélo Québec, the predecessor of Vélo Mag.
Publishing this first magazine - 24 black and white pages enhanced by a two-colour cover page - was a big deal. Compared to the Cyclo-nouvelle, the newsletter of the Fédération québécoise de cyclotourisme (Vélo Québec’s predecessor), this was real progress. Over the years, the magazine was refined, its content diversified and its quality improved.
In 2010, Vélo Mag celebrated its 30th anniversary. Today, it is still the largest cycling magazine in Canada, in addition to having a younger sibling, Géo Plein Air. These two publications, as well as numerous others, including the magazine Québec Science, are part of our publishing company, Vélo Québec Éditions. And to think that it all started at 1415 Jarry East, with a group of cyclists who knew nothing about magazine publishing!
Urban development in favour of cyclists
“The more bikeways there are, the more cyclists there will be.” This is one of Vélo Québec’s mottos and explains the organization’s on-going efforts to work with authorities to ensure that Québec is equipped with plenty of well-constructed bike paths.
In the late 1970s, some members of the Vélo Québec team crossed the Atlantic to observe European bikeways, and what they witnessed is that they are efficient, well designed, and very popular!
Inspired by the European approach, Vélo Québec decided to take actions that remain at the heart of the organization’s mission: convincing the public authorities of the importance of creating quality cycling facilities, creating effective reference tools and developing technical expertise for designing bikeways.
Vélo Québec started sharing its technical expertise on bikeway design with urban planners, engineers, and politicians by organizing the first forum on bikeway design, which took place in 1979. This initial meeting, in both Montréal and Québec City, was followed by many others throughout Québec in the 80s and 90s.
In May 1990, the organization published its first Technical Handbook of Bikeway Design. This guide, reprinted in French in 1992 and 2003, was also translated into English. In 2009, the guide Planning and Design for Pedestrians and Cyclists was published and inspired urban development professionals in designing bikeways and pedestrian facilities. Since then, training courses based on this guide have been given by Vélo Québec throughout Québec and Canada.
Evolution of cycling since 1967
In 1967, at the initiative of Vélo Québec founder Gabriel Lupien, twelve cycling clubs comprised primarily of young touring cyclists, converged upon Montréal to present the keys of their cities to Montréal Mayor Jean Drapeau, on the occasion of the opening of Expo 67.
There is no doubt that cycling has evolved significantly since then. Today, Québec has over 100 cycling clubs comprising 10,000 biking enthusiasts, mainly adults. These clubs offer their members mainly bike touring or sports excursions, a trend that didn’t really exist 45 years ago.
On the competitive side, there are now at least 200 clubs and 6,000 bicycle racers. Whether by road or mountain bike, the latter participate in over 400 events throughout Québec each year.
Whether participating in cycling events, bike trips, excursions or sports competitions with cycling clubs, family or individual outings or commuting to work or to school, Québecers love biking. After all, 4 million of them do it!
For 45 years, Vélo Québec has been a driving force on the Québec cycling scene. The organization continues to activily promote cycling, whether for recreation, tourism, or commuting, in order to enhance citizens’ environment, health, and well-being.