Although it is not clear when the first bicycle reached Canada, the Toronto Globe of 6 March 1869 reported on the "Grand's Riding Academy," where pupils were instructed in the art of velocipede riding. The first "high wheel" bicycle (also known as the penny-farthing") was imported in 1876 by A.T.

Muenzer, Lori-Ann
Lori-Ann Muenzer at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Her gold medal win for sprint cycling was Canada's first-ever gold medal in cycling (photo by Tom Hanson, courtesy CP Archives).


Bicycle racing comprises many events, from short-distance sprints on banked velodromes to road races covering distances of 30 to 3000 km.

Early History of Bicycles and Cycling in Canada

Although it is not clear when the first bicycle reached Canada, the Toronto Globe of 6 March 1869 reported on the "Grand's Riding Academy," where pupils were instructed in the art of velocipede riding. The first "high wheel" bicycle (also known as the penny-farthing") was imported in 1876 by A.T. Lane. The mayor of Montréal was so impressed that he proclaimed a half-day holiday so that citizens could see Lane ride through the city. Interest in cycling quickly grew among both men and women.

Bicycle ownership significantly affected the social mores of the day. It allowed the owner to travel farther, to socialize with greater ease (especially at the parks and places where cyclists congregated), and, in the case of women, to travel unchaperoned. Mainly a Sunday activity, it suffered the wrath of many ministers of the church, who attacked this freedom as a pastime of the devil, referring in particular to its liberating effect on women. They were further incensed by the "rational dress" adopted by those daring women who refused to cycle in voluminous ankle-length dresses and instead wore bloomers. Despite persistent harassment, women continued to cycle.

The first bicycle club in Canada, the Montreal Bicycle Club, was formed in 1876. The Canadian Wheelmen's Association (CWA)--later renamed the Canadian Cycling Association--was formed at St. Thomas, Ontario, in September 1882 to protect cyclists' rights, promote bicycling, and organize championships. It was a founding member of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the world governing body which now represents over 170 National Federations and millions of cyclists, both amateurs and professionals. The Wheelmen's Association launched a campaign to improve roads--a struggle that involved members in political activity at many levels--and produced a series of travel guides and road maps, which were the first of their kind in Canada.

Canadians in Competition

The 1880s and 1890s were boom years for cycling. Racing on outdoor tracks attracted large crowds and produced many notable performers. The Dunlop Trophy Race, instituted in 1894, ran for 33 years in Ontario and attracted the leading Canadian and American competitors of the time. The World Cycling Championships were held in Montréal in 1899, drawing more than 30,000 spectators, according to contemporary newspapers. In 1912 the first Canadian six-day race was held at the Arena Gardens, Toronto. The six-day race was a track cycling race held over six days and nights. In the 1920s and 1930s, the six-day race was a regular promotion throughout North America, and lucrative contracts drew the best amateurs to the professional ranks, including the famous William J. "Torchy"PEDEN of Vancouver, who amassed a total of 38 wins between 1929 and 1948, a record unbeaten until the mid-1960s.

However, the sport of cycling itself had to compete with a new entry: the automobile. Early in 1900, the arrival of the automobile diverted public interest from cycling with a consequent drop in attendance at meetings and in membership of the CWA. Much of the enthusiasm generated by cycling was transferred to AUTOMOBILE RACING, and innovations that appeared first on bicycles found their way to the automobile. Overall, the popularity of bicycle racing waned, although competitors and crowds continued to be attracted to six-day races.

International Success

The cycling boom of the 1960s revived interest in bicycle racing. Road racing, always strong in Québec, grew apace with the introduction of "tours" modelled on the Tour de France. In 1974 Montréal once again hosted the World Cycling Championships, in which over one thousand amateur and professional riders and officials participated. During the 1970s, Jocelyn LOVELL of Toronto was virtually unbeatable in Canada. He won gold medals at the Commonwealth and PAN-AMERICAN GAMES and a silver in the 1978 World Championships. Lovell's career ended tragically in 1983 when he was seriously injured in a collision with a truck, an accident which paralysed him from the shoulders down. Gordon Singleton of St. Catharines, Ontario, emerged as a world-class sprinter in the late 1970s, winning a gold medal at the 1978 Commonwealth Games, two golds at the 1979 Pan-American Games, a silver at the 1981 World Championships, and gold and silver medals at the 1982 World Championships. Women's cycling was in the ascendant, with Karen Strong of St. Catharines winning a bronze medal at the 1977 World Championships and dominating the women's events at the Canadian Cycling Championships from 1975 to 1982.

In the 1984 OLYMPIC GAMES, Canadian competitive cycling achieved world recognition when Canada won its first two silver medals. Curt Harnett of Thunder Bay, Ontario, captured the silver in the 1000-metre time trial; and Steve Bauer of Fenwick, Ontario, narrowly missed taking the gold medal in the 190-kilometre road race. Bauer then turned professional and, one month later, went on to win the bronze medal in the 250-kilometre World Professional Road Cycling Championships road race.

In the 1987 Pan-American Games, Canadian cyclists won gold, silver and bronze medals. Curt Harnett won a gold medal in the 1000-metre time trial and a bronze in the sprint. Kelly Anne Carter of Edmonton won a silver medal in women's individual pursuit, and Patrick Beauchemin of Montréal and Sara Neil of Vancouver won bronze medals in the men's individual pursuit and the 57-kilometre women's road race, respectively. In 1986 Alex Steida became the first North American to lead the Tour de France, capturing the yellow jersey on the second stage (he would relinquish it the following day). In 1988 Steve Bauer won the first stage of the Tour de France, and wore the yellow jersey for five days in total, finally finishing the race in fourth. This success compensated for a disappointing Olympic Games in 1988 in which no Canadian cyclists medalled.

The Olympic Games of 1992 and 1996 were more successful. By this time, Harnett was focused on the sprint event, and he won bronze medals at both the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona and the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Other Canadian cyclists won medals at Atlanta as well: Brian Walton won silver in the men's points race, and Alison Sydor captured the silver in the women's mountain bike race (a new event). Outside the Olympics, Sydor won three world mountain bike championships (1994, 1995, and 1996), two gold medals at the Pan-American Games (1995, 2003), and multiple silvers, bronzes, and top-five finishes. At the 1996 Olympics, Clara HUGHES won bronze medals in the women's road race and the women's individual time trial. In 2003 Hughes won gold, silver, and bronze medals at the Pan-American Games. That same year, the Road World Championships were held in Hamilton, Ontario.

In 2004, Lori-Ann MUENZER won Canada's first Olympic gold medal in the sport, placing first in the match sprint. Muenzer has accumulated 13 National titles and 11 World Cup medals and has become Canada's most decorated cyclist. Tara WHITTEN has gained success both nationally and internationally, beginning in 2009 when she won the National Time Trial Championships and took silver medals at the Track World Cup in Copenhagen and the Track Cycling World Championships in Poland. In 2010 she won gold medals in the omnium and the points race at the Track Cycling World Championships, and also won the gold medal in the road time trial as well as three bronze medals in track cycling at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Whitten retained her world championship title in the omnium at the Track World Championships in 2011. The following year, she and teammates Gillian Carleton and Jasmin Glaesser won bronze medals in the team pursuit at both the World Championships and the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Also in 2012, Ryder Hesjedal won the Giro d'Italia, becoming the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour.

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Further Reading

  • Kenneth V. Smith, The Canadian Bicycle Book (1972); William Humber, Freewheeling: The Story of Bicycling in Canada (1986); Ted Harper, Six Days of Madness (1993); Bill Mallon and Jeroen Heijmans, Historical Dictionary of Cycling (2011); G.B. Norcliffe, The Ride to Modernity: The Bicycle in Canada, 1869-1900 (2001); Craig Forcese and Nicole LaViolette, Every Cyclist’s Guide to Canadian Law (2014).

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