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Explore Ottawa’s landmarks with Escape Bicycle Tours And Rentals

One of the best ways to kick off a visit to the Ottawa-Gatineau region is by bike. With its well-maintained, multi-use pathways, iconic monuments and picturesque parks and waterways, you can pack in more in a couple of hours on a bicycle tour than you would all day on foot—and have more fun doing it. 

Whether you’re visiting an unfamiliar city or want to explore your hometown in a different way, a guided bike tour is economical, entertaining and, with an informative guide, you’re bound to discover new tidbits about your destination. The fresh air and exercise is also guaranteed to put a smile on your face as you soak up the scenery. 

I recently took the two-hour Ottawa Express Bike Tour with Escape Bicycle Tours And Rentals Ottawa, an established company located on Sparks Street, a few steps from Parliament Hill. After arriving at the office and signing in, I was fitted for a bike to make sure I was comfortable in the saddle and that my helmet fit snugly. The company, which boasts a wide selection of bikes, electric bikes and scooters suitable for all ages and skill levels, offers small, guided bike tours and rentals daily from April to November. 

Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals

As our group gathered outside, I knew we’d be in good hands after being introduced to our guide Sparky, whose lively personality matched her nickname. After a brief explanation about how to change gears and apply the breaks, Sparky provided an overview of local safety measures, and then our group—made up of visitors from Denmark, Virginia and Hong Kong—headed off for our first stop. 

The 12-kilometre cycling route was a leisurely, mostly flat ride that took us in and around downtown Ottawa and across the Ottawa River to Gatineau, Que. We cycled across two bridges, rode along the majestic Rideau Canal, a designated UNESCO world heritage site, and through the quaint neighbourhoods of New Edinburgh and Lowertown. We enjoyed several stops at historic sites, including the National War Memorial, the Château Laurier and Rideau Canal Locks, Major’s Hill Park, the National Museum of History, and Rideau Hall, the official residence of the governor-general of Canada since 1867. 

Sparky’s enthusiasm for the region’s celebrated past and present was infectious as she recounted tales about Lt.-Col. John By, who in 1826 supervised the construction of the Rideau Canal between Ottawa and Kingston, Thomas Mackay, a founding father and laird of Rideau Hall, and esteemed Indigenous architect Douglas Cardinal, who designed the Canadian Museum of History, which opened in 1989. 

We cycled past embassies, government buildings, the official home of the prime minister—24 Sussex Dr.—which sits empty due to despair. We stopped for a washroom break at Rideau Hall and were later introduced to one of Ottawa’s most beloved monuments—an impressive, nine-metre, bronze-and-steel statue named Maman, in front of the National Art Gallery. 

One of the most poignant moments of our ride took place during our final stop on Parliament Hill as our group gathered in front of the Peace Tower and Centreblock Building. It was here that Sparky introduced us to Maria Rasouli, the founder and owner of Escape Bicycle Tours & Rentals. An immigrant from Iran, Maria spoke about her love of cycling as a child and the sense of freedom she felt. However, after she turned 12 and was going through puberty, she was forbidden to ride her bike. Throwing herself into her studies, she earned a scholarship to Carleton University in 2002 to undertake a PhD in organizational psychology. One of the first things she did when landing in Ottawa was to borrow a colleague’s bike and go for a ride. 

“I’m so fortunate to be living in this country. When I came here, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a bike path. I called my family and said, ‘You have no idea, there are lanes just for bikes!’” 

Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals
Janet Wilson | CAA North & East Ontario

She began her company as a way to share the joy and freedom of riding a bike and discovering a slice of Canadian history and culture. Today, her company’s headquarters backs onto the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council. The irony isn’t lost on Maria, who noted: “Dreams can come true. I’m a girl from Iran who operates a business just a block from Parliament Hill.” 

Escape Bicycle Tours And Rentals offers a wide range of bike tours and packages, including private tours for families, solo travellers, and corporate and school groups. The company, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, is offering a new ride called Ottawa Electric Bike Tour, which provides more comfort to individuals who require assistance while cycling. 

“What I’m most excited about is offering inclusive, accessible products. Occasionally, over the years, I’ve been asked if we had biking options for individuals who have mobility issues. Due to the high cost of these types of bikes, we couldn’t offer this type of service. This was a pain point for me. I started the company with the vision that everyone is welcome and should enjoy biking,” Maria says. 

The plucky entrepreneur applied to Ottawa Tourism’s accessibility fund and was fortunate to receive it. As a result, she’s adding an electric cargo bike to her fleet, which will benefit individuals who have accessibility requirements.  

Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals
Janet Wilson | CAA North & East Ontario

As much as I enjoyed discovering Ottawa’s renowned sites, fantastic views and hidden gems, the tour forced me to slow down and focus on the ride. I felt immersed in the city’s sights, sounds and smells, which provided the type of genuine experience I was looking for. I left feeling recharged and relaxed after our two-hour tour in the warm, spring sunshine.  

To find out more, visit escapebicycletours.ca. Tours can be offered in English, French, Spanish and German. Don’t forget to check your CAA Reward partners’ discounts and save 10% on rentals and tours. 

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