On the open green road
It’s called La Route Verte, 4000 kilometres of bikeways through some of the most beautiful regions of Québec: countryside, small towns and villages; even urban areas.
It is a cyclist’s dream destination.
And the organization that brings it all together is a not-for-profit and green tourism association known as Vélo Québec.
What’s a bicycle?
Sure, everyone knows what a bicycle is; a vehicle, a form of transportation consisting of a light frame mounted on two wire-spoked wheels one behind the other and having a seat, handlebars for steering, brakes, and two pedals. Oh and a sometimes greasy bicycle chain that when you were a kid and you didn’t either roll up your pant leg on that side or wear a bicycle clip, you got it caught in the chain, much to your Mom’s dismay because she was usually the one who had to get the grease marks out. Mind you it may have been your Dad who had to come to your rescue and release you.
What’s a vélo?
Well … vélo is to bicyclette as bike is to bicycle. Each is a short form, but each also is one of those words that has a kind of intimate, personal meaning to it, a sense of ownership if you will. One tends to have a slightly more “bonding” relationship with a vélo or a bike.
I doubt for example that the Queen of England would say, “We shall now go for a quick circuit around Windsor Great Park on our bike.” No, I suspect she would say bicycle. (Actually of course she would be more likely to go once around the park on one of the beautiful horses given to her by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. But that’s a whole other story.)
However, when you were a kid did you hop on (a) your bicycle or (b) your bike to zip over to the corner store to get some hot dog buns (which your mother had forgotten to buy) even though she had promised you hot dogs for lunch?
When you were trying to impress that cute thing who just moved into the neighbourhood, did you go cruising past his or her house (nonchalantly of course) on your bicycle … or on your bike?
So for the etymologically inclined in the room, vélo is a colloquial term and an abbreviation of the French word vélocipède. Now the Latin scholars in the house will recognize velox meaning “swift” and pedem the accusative case of pes, meaning “foot.”
By the way, this is on the exam.
Passionés de vélo au Québec
To say that the Québécois are passionate about everything they do is like saying that travel is the most experiential form of learning; it kind of goes without saying.
The people of Québec are generally considered to be the most sportifs in Canada; and to a great extent this has to do with history, geography, and topography.
As the original European (French-speaking) settlers in what was called “The New World,” the Québécois (and their kissing cousins Les Acadiens) lived in what at times was a harsh climate and a land that was not only huge but a challenge to navigate.
Well, if you really look closely at the nature of sport, you will discover that it is “play” in the most comprehensive sense of the word. We humans enjoy interacting vigorously with a challenging physical environment (and/or the laws of physics), and when we are successful in achieving a balance with the forces of nature, we also achieve an individual and collective sense of self and self-determination.
Well in a nutshell this is the Québécois spirit; as well as the relationship they have always had with the land. So I am not surprised that cycling and cyclotourism have become so popular in Québec as well as becoming part of the province’s cultural ethos.
The bicycle as a cultural object
Human culture generally is considered to be composed of a number of principal components or elements such as: a common belief system; rites, rituals, and traditions; language; learned behaviour patterns; symbols; social values; and attitudes that are shaped by the physical environment in which a culture evolves.
Culture is of course also a universal concept and a complex human experience; and it is constantly evolving. But at the same time, it is important to note that every distinct culture has its own valid and authentic version of the nature of human society.
Furthermore, many cultures are also known for their cultural objects. If you remember the delightful film Grease you will recognize that Danny Zuko’s much-loved car “Greased Lightning” is not only a cultural object but a sub-cultural object; that of the world of adolescence — freedom, revolt, identity.
Well, what about the bicycle?
I’m glad you asked because there are numerous classic films that have been produced in which the bicycle plays a central role, and might even be considered to be a principal character.
Here are my favourites:
Anyone want to contribute others?
“The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets.” — Christopher Morley
Cyclotourism Resources in Québec
Special thanks to Vélo Québec for contributing the bicycle photograph.