Cyclists are more than ever taking their bikes down roads, trails and paths they previously hadn’t explored. That has lead to an explosion in the popularity of gravel and mixed-terrain events. More cyclists have bikes they go adventuring on with the ability to mount thicker rubber and tackle varied surfaces with confidence. With more bikes than ever built to offer the performance necessary to ride more adventurously, there is a greater selection of events to participate in as well. Ontario may be Canada’s most populous province but it still has an extensive network of unpaved roads, rail trails and paths that are worth exploring on two wheels. The province has a long list of gravel events to choose from that being in early spring right and go right through autumn.
April 6 – KIN Vineyards Spring Runoff – Carp
The spring season in Ontario kicks off with the 77 km ride on gravel and paved roads around West Carleton County. It’s the first event on the Eastern Canada Gravel Cup. The sport course is slightly shorter at 50 km. The terrain is modest and a great event for riders to test their legs in the first event of the spring or just get outside for a fun day in the saddle on some nice roads.
April 14 – Steaming Nostril – St. Jacobs
A 65 km event in Pelham that requires a cyclocross or mountain bike that is 60 per cent gravel, 20 per cent paved and 20 per cent held on farm tracks with flat and rolling terrain. A shorter 40 km ride will still challenge riders enough to earn the warm meal provided for all the participants at the end. The event is OCA sanctioned.
April 21 – Hell of the North – Ballantrae
An early spring OCA sanctioned event where riders should be prepared to battle the elements. Over 90 km, riders tackle dirt roads, rail trails and off-road sections along with some tough little climbs. The 70 km Heck of the North ride doesn’t include any of the off-road sections so can be completed on a road bike.
April 28 – Paris to Ancaster – Ancaster
Celebrating its 26th year, the Paris to Ancaster is a must-do early season mixed surface event in Ontario with a rich history of gruelling racing. It has drawn top-cyclocross racers and this year some UCI pro riders are expected to line up including members of Floyd’s of Leadville. Participants choose from the 70 km full course or the 40 km ride. The course features mud shoots, gravel, single track and an extremely challenging finishing climb.
May 5 – Almonte Paris-Roubaix – Lanark County
Another event inspired by what is often regarded as the hardest day on the professional race calendar takes place the first weekend of May. A cyclosportif with rides of 80 or 40 km, the course includes mud, gravel, sand, rocks, unmaintained roads, woodlots and even a switchback climb.
June 1 – Wheelers Lanark-Liège – Lanark County
The second event of the Eastern Canada Gravel Cup race series leaves from the Wheelers Pancake House for a ride around Lanark using the forest access road to Ranger Camp before finishing back at Wheelers. Riders will need some explosiveness in their legs to get over the continuously rolling terrain of the route.
June 2 – Ride of the Damned – Bullman
Held in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, the Ride of the Damned is a challenging adventure ride that is tackled in teams of four to six in the rural area north of Ottawa in Quebec. The course covers paved and dirt roads.
June 2 – Outspokin Gravel Growler – Ilderton
A charity ride in support of the Fowler Kennedy Clinic, the Outspokin Gravel Growler features courses of 40, 80 and 160 km so riders of all skill levels can participate. At the finish line, there will be a beer garden and food trucks so participants can refuel. Each participant gets a beer with their registration.
June 22 – Wheelers Maple Highlander – Lanark County
The third event of the Eastern Canada Gravel Cup is the Maple Highlander out of the Wheeler Pancake House around the Kingston to Pembroke Trail in Lanark County. Like the other events in this series, the challenge will be the punchy rolling climbs in the area.
July 5 – Sea Otter Scarecrow Gravel Race – Blue Mountain
On the weekend of the inaugural Sea Otter Canada at Blue Mountain, cyclists who want to be part of the cycling festival can participate in the Scarecrow Gravel Race. There is a shorter 40 km route of the more arduous 80 km version for riders to choose from. The races begin in the expo area and hit climbs up the Niagara Escarpment. The route travels through Kolapore Uplands and the Duncan area on top of the Escarpment before returning to the expo area for the finish. The 80 km ride is part of the Sea Otter Canada Road Package and Stage Race.
July 14 – BT 700 – St. Jacobs
A multi-day bike packing route in southwest Ontario, the Butter Tart 700 ride is a 712 km route on 85 per cent unpaved roads which includes rail trail, double track and forest singletrack. It will start in St. Jacobs and take most riders approximately 4 to 6 days to complete. The race is open to all types of riders with participants encouraged to ride gravel style bikes with at least 38-mm tire clearance or a nimble mountain bikes with at least 2.1″ tires.
July 14 – Fretori Gravel Ride – Warsaw
Fretori describes their gravel ride as a social event. Participants can choose between the challenging 170km route with 1,500 m of climbing of the 125 km and 100 km which though shorter take in many of the same scenic Ontario gravel roads. The event will have supported rest stops. Riders are encouraged to use bikes with at least 30 mm tires for the ride.
July 27 – Walsh Wiltshire Renfrew Randonneur
The fourth event of the Eastern Canada Gravel Cup features the Kennelly Mountain climb as the finish. It has the shorter route at 70 km but the final climb will test riders legs. The shorter route is 38 km.
July 28 – The Noble Pursuit – Peterborough
A unique team event where the course changes every year but the opportunity to explore always remains. Self-supported teams of four must navigate the course and cross the line altogether. The ride is long at around 170 km with a variety of road surfaces. Farm tracks, ATV trails, gravel roads are all fair game over the ride. The route is unmarked and teams only have a map to navigate by.
Aug. 10 – Eager Beaver – Duntroon
With 160 km, 100 km and 50 km rides to choose from, this event is a re-birth of the Eager Beaver 100 mountain bike race but with a refresh. Now it’s just a big ride with a lot of gravel and unpaved tracks. You can race it or just come out for a memorable day on your bike.
Aug. 24 – El Bandito – Brimacombe Ski Hill
A 140 km ride that will feature great scenery and sections of lesser-known trails in and around Orono. With a lot of hills, it promises to be a fun, beautiful and challenging ride. The 70 km ride skips two of the longer course’s hardest climbs but you can still enjoy the region’s terrain and scenery but over the course of an easier day in the saddle. There is also a 40 km route.
Sept. 7 – Wheelers Lanark-Lombardy – Lanark County
The final event of the Eastern Canada Gravel Cup takes place on the best gravel roads of Lanark County. The course is 85 km with a challenging 1,000 m of climbing. There’s a technical 9 km ATV trail on Bathurst Line West that will split the race apart. The course finishes in the winding road to the Wheelers Pancake House where the Grave Cup champions will be crowned. A 47 km course is also on offer if you want a taste of the lovely gravel roads around the area.