Here's how to tackle Bowen Island's hills on a bike

Tips to help you get peddling around the rock this summer, even if it means walking your bike

There’s nothing that can prepare you for the leg-grinding, lung-busting, brain-kicking agony that is road biking on Bowen.

I’m at the bottom of Tunstall Boulevard, in my granny-gear, staring upwards at an endless incline.

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Everything in my body tells me to stop peddling.

Above me, a turkey vulture hovers, curious about whether or not I’m going to make it, or whether I’d make a nice meal.

And just then, a plucky man with grey hair passes me smiling, comments jauntily on the sunny weather. I watch his pedals disappear ahead, rounding a corner into the sunshine. 

I get off my bike and push it to the top of the hill.

Even for a regular rider like me — I’ve done the Whistler GranFondo three times, in three years — moving to Bowen, and conquering the island’s hefty hills, well, it kind of terrified me at first.

The angles on this island are steep.

The road shoulders? Non-existent.

The potholes are deep.

And there’s often no one else on the road except for you and a few unsympathetic deer, rolling their eyes at your cardiovascular shortcomings.

So even though this 52-square-kilometre island has glorious views, plenty of sunny days, and stretches of seriously nice pavement, I didn’t bike here at all my first summer.

I took the ferry over to the mainland, looped Stanley Park or even headed out to Iona Beach in search of blessed flats.

But last summer, I broke down for some on-island adventuring on wheels.

My first attempt at road biking Bowen was a complete bust.

The endless inclines and sharp corners bested me. 

I had to unclip, walk up a bruiser of an incline on Bowen Bay Road, and then repeat the process trying to get home in one piece.

Forty minutes later, I was red in the face, had tire grease crisscrossing my legs, grass matted in my cleats and felt emotionally and physically defeated.

“Never again,” I told my husband. 

“This island is for e-bikes and scooters only!”

Eventually though, I found people who ride locally and learned ways to move my wheels more successfully around “the rock.” 

Like how Mount Gardner Road past Killarney Lake is a nice ride full of rolling hills with minimal traffic and great views. 

Now I love a good island spin. 

Here’s some of what’s helped me get on the roads here. Hope it helps you to get out there and bike Bowen. 

 

Tips:

  • Park and ride. If you live a at the bottom of a bonkers hill — like me — put your bike in your car’s boot, park someplace central, like the Cove, or even at one of the Park n’ Rides. Then head out from there. It’s easier to ride mid-island, and the hills are less intense than some hillier routes that might discourage you from even trying.
  • Plan a mid-ride treat. It’s amazing what a chocolate croissant or a side of fries can encourage you to do.
  • Find a bike buddy, or three. Riding with a group is just more fun, even if you’re in the rear watching them scoot ahead of you.  
  • Pack some nourishing snacks, plenty of water and dress in layers. Basically, plan for weather shifts. Bowen Island may be small, but there’s many weather systems, or microclimates here. I’ve left one side in the sun, to end up riding on wet roads, soaked on the other side.
  • Prepare! You never know when you’ll get a flat tire. I bike with a spare tire tube, pump and bike tools. Also, it means if you stumble upon a fellow rider in need of help, you’re ready to lend a hand.
  • Have fun and don’t be embarrassed to get off, push your bike up that hill. I do it all the time. Getting outside, rain or shine, and enjoying the island on your own steam, well, you won’t regret it! (It’s good for you too.)
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