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Tour of Greater Victoria Pre-ride
Vancouver Island Spring Series 200
by Holland Gidney
photos by Dave Campbell, Holland Gidney and Lorraine Nygaard

This year, the Vancouver Island "Spring 200" is scheduled for April 5th. Since we are now past the vernal equinox, astute randonneurs will recognize that it is now officially SPRING. Due to myriad spring flowers and wildlife sightings, not to overlook mild temperatures and ample sunshine, this change of seasons was obvious when Dave Campbell, Lorraine Nygaard, and I pre-rode the "Tour of Greater Victoria" (aka Permanent #16) this past weekend. This route has been used many times over the years for brevets so among veteran randonneurs the route has its fans and its naysayers. On Sunday, March 23rd, we set out to see what the "hype" was all about...

This brevet conveniently starts in the heart of Cook Street Village, where there are plenty of options to get caffeinated before heading out on the ride, including the Moka House, which will serve as the official starting point at 7AM on April 5. The first few kilometres took us through Beacon Hill Park, which is awash with daffodils. New traffic-calming measures make navigating the park on a bike much easier - provided you don't mind dodging a few bollards (and the occasional peacock). Upon leaving the park, we headed up quiet Vancouver St. along a signed bike route to twist and turn our way up to Cook Street just before it meets Cloverdale to enter a lovely residential area where the houses are tucked in between rocks and trees (deer sightings are likely in here).

While the first control is in Metchosin, the route to get there is not a direct one -- in fact the distance covered is twice what you would expect. Which meant that after riding past Swan Lake and Christmas Hill, we cut across Highway 17 via a ride-able pedestrian overpass and zig-zagged our way to and through Strawberry Vale, a lovely farming area just before Colwood. After that, we rode parallel to the Galloping Goose along Atkins Road (keep an eye out for the miniature llama farm), which crosses the out-of-service E&N Railway line. Some "dipsy-doodling" through Langford delivered us to the base of Triangle Mountain, where a steady 2.5km-long climb led to amazing views of Victoria and the surrounding area. Rewarded for our climbing prowess, a fun, twisty descent spat us out onto Latoria Road, where recent repaving has dramatically improved things for cyclists as they follow it to Happy Valley Road. Once again, in the spirit of scenic byways, the route chooses what Metchosinites will recognize as the Bilston Creek Bridge rebuild detour, which goes around the golf course (first rabbit sighting!) before joining Metchosin Road.

In front of the Metchosin Community Hall, Metchosin Road turns into William Head Road, which we could have followed as far as the prison, but instead we chose to stick to the route and test our legs again on another scenic climb, this time passing through the poplars Metchosin pioneer Hans Helgesen planted way back when. On the other side of Rocky Point Road, we were introduced to more climbing but also roads so quiet that we surprised a bald eagle and watched as the majestic bird spread his wings and led the way down the road. Control #1 in "Downtown Metchosin" (54.3km) offers a choice of calorie replenishment options; we chose the Broken Paddle coffee shop, though with just 10 minutes to spare before the control closed, we opted to skip coffee and the Soup of the Day (lamb stew with local mutton) in favour of scarfing down homemade snacks and getting back on route.

After a spin along sunny and scenic Lagoon Road and a jaunt through heritage-homed Esquimalt, the section through Downtown Victoria offers the opposite of quiet country roads, especially if you are passing through at lunch time as we were. But it does set you up nicely to follow the ocean all the way to Cadboro Bay. For anyone familiar with this classic local ride, this means you can ignore your route sheet for a while (just don't forget to do the Cattle Point scenic loop!) and focus on picking up speed, which landed us at Control #2 (96.1km) with sufficient time to sit down and enjoy a Starbucks coffee. Carried onwards by caffeine, the next part of the ride flew by. We completed the remainder of the Seaside Touring Route and then traced Royal Oak Drive to the other side of Highway 17 to eventually find ourselves on Old West Saanich Road. The winding, shady 6.5 km stretch here is so lovely that we almost abandoned our bicycles to go wine-tasting but sadly all of the wineries were closed (though that may not be the case on Saturday, April 5th).

The logical transition from Old West Saanich Road to West Saanich Road was a bit of a letdown scenery-wise but WSR gets the job done and 30 minutes later, we were back on fun roads circling the Ardmore Golf Course and contemplating real estate purchases in Deep Cove. The prospect of baked goods in Sidney kept us spinning past Pat Bay, along Land's End Road (watch out for dinosaurs), and past the ferry terminal for another worthwhile "dipsy-doodle" before assuming a more direct route to Beacon Ave, Sidney's main drag and home to the Red Brick Cafe (a Ken Bonner favourite), which we used for Control #3 (156.1km).

Seeing as the last brevet the three of us pre-riders had completed was the cold and rainy Chili 200 on March 2, it was positively delightful to be warm and dry to start the final 44 km of the Tour of Greater Victoria. Again, it's not a straightforward ride back to Cook Street Village after the last control but it's lovely to avoid the highway and instead take quieter roads nonetheless. The stretches along Seabrook, Oldfield Road (lined with farms and orchards,) and Santa Clara are particularly peaceful. Of course, the speed bumps (!!!) in the parking lot for Beaver Lake will slow you down in a different way. Yes, one of the more unique parts of this route is that it crosses two parking lots, but these decisions are made a reason. For instance, after we bisected the Tillicum Mall parking, we were perfectly set up to take side streets all the way back to where we started. After our slowish pace at the beginning, we were happy to finish in 11h22, conveniently right at dinner time, so we immediately tucked into post-race burgers, fries, and beer at Big Wheel Burger, which will be the brevet finish location on April 5.

Ultimately, there are a lot of turns but the extra effort required for navigating the Tour of Greater Victoria is well worth it. This route is an old-school randonneur's route designed to avoid as much riding on busy roads as possible and to incorporate some of the loveliest roads that Greater Victoria has to offer instead while avoiding the Galloping Goose and the Lochside Trails. There is no highway riding, only quiet back roads that mostly weave their way along the water, through forested areas, and past farms. Plus the controls are regularly spaced out and conveniently located so that every 50km or so, you can sit down and have a coffee or a proper bite to eat and use a real washroom. (You will not visit a single Shell gas station!) It's not a flat route but you do get most of the climbing out of the way in the first 55km. Here's hoping that holding this ride the weekend following the Victoria Populaire will lead to a good turnout on April 5 because with the weather we've been having, it will be the loveliest of brevets.

Go to: Tour of Greater Victoria route & info page


March 27, 2014