Take a cupful of history, mix it with a tablespoon of culture, a teaspoon of politics and another of geology and what do you get? – a Montreal bagel of course! Or rather you'll find all of these ingredients and the end product on one of Ça Roule Montréal's splendid bike tours of the city.
Our bilingual guide Mike's passion for the city of his birth was reflected in his enthusiasm and wealth of knowledge about Montreal and his choice of places to show us during the four-hour morning tour, which started at 9.30am outside Ça Roule Montréal's premises on Rue de la Commune Est down by the quayside.
Before we set off, we were provided with geared bikes, helmets and a bottle of water each and Mike showed us the hand signals he would be using for turning right, left, slowing down, stopping and most importantly changing down to the lowest gear if we were approaching a hill. There were ten of us on the tour of mixed cycling experience from casual to seasoned.
Vieux Port, City Hall, the (Gay) Village, the Plateau district, and James McGill University were the main areas we visited on the tour. We stopped frequently, cycling no more than five to ten minutes at any one time, giving us a chance to look around and for Mike to tell us something about the place.
We covered a lot of ground historically, from the 1700s when the city was a centre for the fur trade, to the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s when the people of Montreal effectively rejected the rule of the Catholic Church and secularism took hold.
One of the more off the beaten track stops was down a back alley in the Plateau district where a resident had secured two adjoining fish tanks to a former garage door, which was overhung with foliage and hanging baskets. This, our guide explained, was an interesting example of the government's Green Alleyways or Ruelles Vertes Programme in action, which was introduced in the late 1990s as a community initiative aimed at creating green spaces between the tightly-packed apartment buildings.
We also stopped at La Maison du Bagel, which gave us an opportunity to watch bagels being made while Mike bought us one each along with some cream cheese, which we enjoyed eating in Mont Royal Park at the foot of the hill which gives the city its name.
When the tour was over we were allowed to keep the bikes until 7pm for our own use - Ça Roule Montréal provides locks to take with you – and Mike was happy to answer questions about where else we could cycle in the city, where to find the best cafes, independent shops and other points of interest.
This is a super tour, giving you a good feel for Montreal's bike path network, which you can explore further by hiring a bike another day, or making use of the city's Bixi bikes, which are part of a public bike sharing scheme.