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British Columbia general info

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British Columbia general info


I'm travelling to British Columbia this summer and I have a few questions. I hope some local or anybody in the know can shed some light.

The general idea is a 4 week, one way trip starting in Vancouver and getting back there by trip end, cycling north to the Bella Coola valley and taking the ferry down to Port Hardy. Then more cycling southwards if there's time to eventually take a bus to return to Vancouver. On to the little questions:

Hwy 99 Vancouver to Lillooet through Whistler: I believe it's very scenic but busy, is it worth it cycling it?

Backroads (those that are a thin, un-numbered line in a general BC road map at 1:250.000): any general word on these? Paved, good quality dirt, muddy when wet? Are grades doable for a loaded bike? Are junctions signed at all? Like, for example, the backroad along Harrison and Lillooet lakes (a reasonable alternative to the Whistler road)

I know everything is painfully beautiful in BC but I wonder about the inland, highland area between, say, Lillooet and Williams Lake and just west of Williams Lake, is it somewhat monotonous to cycle?

Helmet law: I know it used to be mandatory, I also read recently this law was recalled... how is the situation? is it actually mandatory? Urban streets, just out of towns, everywhere? Is this actually enforced for non-racing riding (like touring)?

Ferry from Bella Coola to Port Hardy: website advises to book in advance, how important this is? We could book a few days before the actual trip when we actually know when it'll happen, is it advisable to book earlier than that? Is it reasonable to expect to find tickets on the same day?

Same question for the Port Hardy to Vancouver Bus, is advance booking needed/advisable?

I understand taking the bicycles (we are two) in the Bella Coola Ferry will be no problem but I welcome specific info on this. I'm more concerned about the bus ride from Port Hardy to Vancouver: Greyhound says bikes are welcome in a cardboard box: I'd also welcome first hand info on how easy/difficult it is to take your bike on this bus.

Other than that, any information that could feel useful is welcome. Thanks a lot in advance!

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Vancouver Island

We live in Mill Bay about 25kms north of Victoria. BEWARE of Greyhound - they are very bicycle un-friendly! They have been the subject of both petitions and complaints about their insistence on bikes being in a cardboard box. Just how is a cyclist expected to find a box in some tiny town such as Bella Coola? Having found a box, how does one carry it to the Bus Station? I needed to cover some ground and had to take Greyhound from Thunder Bay. Had to get 3 cardboard boxes and duct tape, cut up the boxes to make one box big enough for my bike! Even having done that, paying cargo will take preference over your bike, and there is no guarantee your bike will arrive at the destination with you – could be several days later! If possible, plan to cycle down to Victoria from Port Hardy – quite a nice scenic ride, but beware speeding logging trucks until after Campbell River – and often little or no hard shoulder!

WS Member WS Member's picture
Re: Vancouver Island

Maxine, thanks much for your contribution. I somehow expected Greyhound would be more accomodating than that but anyway... we'll see how it goes. I'm quite positive we won't have time to cycle all the way down to Nanaimo but may be if the winds are with us :)

Thanks again for the info, cheers,

WS Member WS Member's picture
British Columbia General Information

Just a few responses to your questions;

1. Hwy 99 to Lillooet. Its definitely worth cycling and most of the time is not too busy. Much of the road was rebuilt for the 2010 Olympics and there is now a good shoulder to use most of the way to Whistler. After Whistler it is a lot quieter and we have cycled some of it in the summer with no problem.
Once you cross the Lions Gate Bridge then you should take Marine Drive to Horseshoe Bay and you will then join Hwy 99 a few Km after that. You should also be aware that the road from Pemberton to Lilloet has, I believe, the steepest climb in British Columbia.There are also very few services between the two places.

2. Backroads are very variable. Most maps will tell you if it is paved or not -often a solid line is paved and a dotted is not. Again generally the smaller the road the steeper the grades but as per my note above there can be steep main roads. Most junctions should be signed but there are not usually many of them so if you have some approximate distances then that would be hlpful. I would definitely take Hwy 99 over the Harrison backroads; scenery, road, services are much better.

3. I think the road from Lilloeet to Williams lake has its beauty - you go buy the Thompson river and there is an amazing canyon along much of it -but I don't recall howm much of it you can see from the road but I would take the smaller roads closer to the river.

4. Don't know about Williams Lake to Bella Coola. Its pretty remote with very limited services and there is not much at all in Bella Coola. I don't think you would want to spend a lot of time there - and its a huge,challenging hill into the place. Taking the highway to Terrace has some interesting and scenic parts, is paved and has more towns etc on the way.

5. Helmet law in my experience is randomly enforced. I always wear a helmet but have certainly seen quite a number of cyclists in downtown Vancouver without helmets. The more remote you are the less I could see it being an issue.

6. In the summer I would book on the ferry as you don't want to be stranded in Bella Coola.

Good Luck with your trip.

Ps If you find you don't have enough time due to ferry constraints or getting to Terrace is too far you can cycle beyond Williams Lake to Prince George and then take the train to Terrace. I think there are also intermediate stops. Again you may need to book in advance - but we just had WS guests who took the train with their bikes the other way. Actually, it may be easier logistically to do the trip in reverse as the transport options are probably greater ( although I'd go to Terrace not Bella Coola)

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Re: British Columbia General Information


Great info, so appreciated.I didn't mention in the opening message but we chose Bella Coola precisely because of the relative remoteness of the place and the road that takes there. Coming from Europe, it's something we appreciate and I understand the logistics would be much easier going the other way around but it just feels enticing to ride into Bella Coola. I guess we'll take the chance with the ferry.

Thanks again for all the great info, cheers

WS Member WS Member's picture
Trip to BC

You will be going through some of the most beautiful and challenging roads of the province on this journey. The Duffey Lake Road out of Pemberton is a heck of a climb, and in the other end of the spectrum, heading to Bella Coola, the Heckman Pass is regarded as one of the most dangerous stretch of road in British Columbia. The road drops from 4,500 feet above sea level to near sea level over a distance of about 20 km.; This translates into grades as steep as 18%. I believe most of it is still gravel, so will be very difficult on a loaded bike. Ferry reservations are probably ok a few days in advance - I think it is more of an issue for vehicles. They can usually squeeze bikes on. I too have heard bad things about Greyhound - it's a shame they cannot be more accommodating.
Have a fantastic adventure!

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How'd this go?

I know it's a been a while but was hoping to find more feedback on this loop I too am contemplating from Victoria. I am thinking of doing this CW instead of CCW but would love to read any other firsthand reports.

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Not First Hand Cycling ...but

OK so this is not from a first hand cycling perspective ...for the most part. But I do live in the area and have travelled extensively along that route by car and dual sport motorcycle, as well as bicycling some of the sections on Vancouver Island. I also drove for Greyhound for a few years and dealt with bicycles along the way.

If you're taking the bus to Port Hardy see my notes about Greyhound at the end (The route has actually been contracted out to Tofino Bus but they operate similar equipment). Cycling is a nice option for a total of around 500km's from tip to tip on Vancouver Island. I've cycled the stretch from Victoria to Merville (a bit north of Courtenay). The main highway is very busy but it has good shoulders almost all the way. Your biggest climb will be the Malahat out of Langford heading north. It's 11km's of mostly climbing until you reach the summit. Grades are 7 or 8% in some sections and the shoulders are narrow during the main climb at the beginning. I've done it several times and actually quite enjoyed it. Others may see it differently and you can bypass the climb by taking the Brentwood Bay to Mill Bay ferry. On a bicycle you can just show up and get on the next sailing without any problems.

Once you get to Parksville you should stay on the seaside route for services. The inland highway has no services, has a 120km/h speed limit, but has a very wide shoulder all the way. It would be quite monotonous and you'd have to constantly detour back to the seaside route anyway for services. There is a short section with no shoulders along the seaside route near Bowser and it is a busy road with RV's and boat trailers. But people are generally not too aggressive around there.

North of Campbell River you're entering more remote terrain with more limited services. But you can easily space your days to make use of facilities in Sayward Junction, Woss, Telegraph Cove Junction, Port McNeill and Port Hardy. This is a section with a reasonable shoulder except for about 55km's between Woss and Telegraph Cove Junction. There you'll be sharing the road with RV's logging trucks, etc. There is a ramshackle meandering campground on the road to the ferry terminal but it doesn't seem to show up anywhere in travel information or Google Maps. For other services you have to go past the ferry turnoff and right into Port Hardy.

This is not from personal experience but BC Ferries policy. The northern long distance routes require reservations for everyone, including foot passengers and bicycles. It's not simply a matter of whether there's space for your bicycle but a matter of whether or not the vessel is at capacity for individual passengers as per Transport Canada rules regarding life boats, etc. On the shorter routes cars sometimes (rarely) get left behind even though there is physical space on the car deck because the vessel's passenger capacity has been reached. On the southern routes it means a 1 hour delay in the summer, on the northern routes it means a multi day delay.

From Bella Coola you will go through a pretty and fertile valley surrounded by mountain peaks. Then comes the dreaded Heckman Pass. It has grades up to 18% for 6km's and it's all dirt/gravel but generally well graded. As with any dirt roads it can change from one day to the next, especially when it rains. You can Google some pictures of the road if you want to. It's considered an "extremely dangerous" road but I beg to differ. It's definitely challenging and you need to be careful but what the hey!

Most of the Chilcotin Highway to Williams Lake is now paved and I seem to remember a section of about 70km's or so (aside from Heckman Pass) that was still gravel when I went through there in 2013.

The Harrison West Road from Mount Currie to Harrison Mills is a two wheel drive gravel/logging road to the northern tip of Harrison Lake and then it becomes a 4x4 (or very skilled 2x4 driver) road with some steep hills covered in loose shale rock. Doable on a mountain bike but be prepared with food and spare parts and be prepared to wait a long time for someone to come along if you need help.

The road from just north of Cache Creek to Lillooet is quite beautiful and relatively quiet. From Lillooet you will head towards possibly the most challenging paved road for bicycles in all of BC, but the scenery will blow you away. You will climb very steeply out of the dry sagebrush country up into the mountains and then drop down towards Mount Currie and the temperate rain forest as you head to the coast. There are almost no flat sections.

The highway down from Whistler to Horseshoe Bay (West Vancouver) has been dramatically improved but it still has some narrow sections and it's very busy at times. From Squamish to Horseshoe Bay you'll be treated to amazing vistas of Howe Sound and the mountains on the other side. You'll even be on the correct side of the highway for photo stops when heading south. I cycled Vancouver to Squamish before the improvements and found it to be not too bad. I ended up giving up on the second half to Whistler due to extremely narrow roads with no shoulders and reckless drivers. But that was then and this is now with a much improved road most of the way.

Greyhound can indeed be tough on luggage and boxes. Unlike airplanes, which mostly make point A to point B trips and luggage compartments are only accessed at either end, Greyhound makes multiple stops and luggage compartments are accessed multiple times during trips. So the chances of something getting smacked against your bicycle are that much higher. Aside from the main depots such as Vancouver, there are no dedicated luggage handlers and it's the driver who has to load and unload everything ...along with dealing with passengers, sometimes selling tickets, making sure she actually gets to have lunch, winding down from a stressful drive get the picture.

Generally speaking, a regular bike cannot stand upright in a Greyhound luggage compartment, so it has to lay flat. That takes up most of the luggage compartment and leaves very little room for suitcases or freight. The bike will also slide quite furiously from side to side on the slippery metal floor underneath the bus. Those are the reasons a bike needs to be in a box on most buses. To want your bike being tossed around against metal walls on curvy mountain roads is simply asking for trouble. There used to be exceptions on the Squamish/Whistler/Pemberton route where we took unboxed bicycles if space was available. Those exceptions may still be in place (ask locally since head office will probably not know about this). I always had to roll my eyes when the cyclists arrived in Whistler and insisted on unloading their own bikes so that I wouldn't damage them, knowing full well that they probably had been slammed against the side of the bus a few dozen times already on the way up. There may not be bike boxes available where you are but there's pretty much always cardboard and packing tape to be found. We had no problems finding large quantities of cardboard and tape at the end of our trip in Romania and many others do the same all over the world.

Whatever you decide to do, have lots of fun on your trip.


WS Member WS Member's picture
Went reasonably well

Never thought of commenting after the trip but now that you ask...

The trip was fantastic overall. We had a great time. Cycling into Bella Coola was a dream come true. CCW comments:

West Vancouver to Whistler was technically fine but not nice riding. I remember the constant noise of the traffic and the endless straight, uphill sections that get so tedious in a bike. If I'd do it again, I'd consider the gravel roads along Harrison and Lillooet lakes. Then, we rode a short section of the Lillooet lake road southbound from Pemberton (looking for a quiet camping spot) and it was a dust & mosquito hell.

North of Whistler it was great riding. The Duffey Lake road was a great, fun climb in awesome scenery. North of Lillooet it was hot and more monotonous but otherwise fine. Hwy 99 ended in style with a very nice section of limestone country east of Pavilion.

Hwy 97 was meant to be a formality but it wasn't too bad. Traffic was similar to the Vancouver-Whistler stretch but for some reason it wasn't so bothersome. The shoulder is wide and good for riding. The scenery is not spectacular but quite nice. It was warm but dry and bearable. We took the side roads when available (like around Green lake) and these were great, super quiet and through occasionally great landscapes.

The Chilcotin was not as remote as we had imagined. It was a nice, quiet ride with regular services, albeit very basic. The one thing we didn't like is that the road was fenced on both sides most of the way between Williams Lake and Tatla Lake. It was all tarmac until just west of Anahim Lake, then it's gravel all the way down to the foot of the climb in the Bella Coola valley but good quality gravel all the way to Heckman pass, a bit rougher on the way down. We were riding 32" tyres with no problem anyway.

The climb down into the valley was steep for road standards but nothing dramatic. We were going downhill but we'd have had no problem climbing up if we'd been going that way, it'd have taken a few long hours though.

The rest of the Bella Coola valley was a dream ride: a gentle downhill in fantastic scenery with endless forests, the powerful river and flanked by incredible mountains. We saw two bears, black and grizzly.

With a couple more days, we'd have cycled all the way down from Port Hardy but we had not enough time and took the Greyhound. It wasn't nice. We arrived in Port Hardy in the very early morning and the bus was leaving before any store opened so we had no chance to find boxes. The only nice move from Greyhound personnel was that this particular driver agreed to take us (our bikes) un-boxed down to Campbell River, where we agreed to find boxes during the stopping time. This was stressful and downright ugly but we made it just on time, got boxes from a super-nice bike shop nearby and nearly fit our bikes in them. It was MTB boxes and there was no room for our touring bikes so we had to leave 2 wheels out that we packed separately.

The worst part was the Nanaimo ferry terminal: we had to carry the boxes, wheels pack plus our panniers along the terminal. We'd have assembled the bikes and it'd have been much easier but we had to take a final Greyhound bus to Vancouver! Horseshoe Bay was a similar nightmare. Then we met a super-unpleasant coach driver that started by saying we could not travel with the bikes, no way. At that stage I was pissed-off enough to feel entitled to sound scary when I claimed our rights to travel. It sure worked.

In hindsight, the best strategy would have been to buy Greyhound tickets to Nanaimo only. Then assemble the bikes (no problem on the ferry, easy carry on the terminals) and take local transit from Horseshoe Bay to Vancouver with the bikes on the front racks. Or ride into Vancouver (but it was late for that)

A final word about Greyhound, despite we were eventually able to travel we were not happy. We had to pay extra for the bikes and I still don't know what we paid for: we had to handle the bikes everytime, we had to provide the packaging and to top it off we had to deal with a very rude driver. I'd gladly ride the bike next time.

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Generally, I've heard

Wow, this thread actually is old and I noticed it only now. I guess it was bumped up to the top by a recent reply.

Generally, I've heard Greyhound be unkind to luggage, of all manners... they drop them, kick them... who knows what else. Bike stores are the best places to find boxes... you could try phoning one ahead of time to ask them to save you one.

I don't have much cycling experience on the route you are taking, but I would say the route up to Whistler is scenic and there are several cyclists who do it regularly as a training ride. The backroads are not paved. If you're lucky, they may be gravel. I haven't done the Harrison to Lillooet Lakes, but I have come down by car from Lillooet to Skookumchuck Hot Springs and that is gravel, no signs. Generally, I am told the Harrison to Lillooet is a 4x4 road. The backroads tend to be logging roads, most of the time. If they are active logging roads, then they would be graded and in good condition but never paved. The junctions on logging roads will not be signed except for kilometer markings, you would likely need a GPS.

Helmets, yes mandatory... but enforced is, like someone says, random. It's more like if an officer sees you and has nothing better to do that s/he will tell you about it. If s/he's not in a good mood, then a ticket will be issued.

Most of the time, foot passengers won't have too much trouble on the ferry and the advance booking on the website will only be for cars... most of the time. It's best to phone BC ferries to check whether they even accept bookings on the route you're interested in.

Just throwing one more monkey wrench in route planning... if you're in Bella Coola, you can take an overnight ferry (likely to require bookings) to Haida Gwaii , then fly back to Vancouver from it. My friend was recently telling me about his bike touring trip right now, and in his words, "That place is magical." Personally, it would be the first place I would choose to explore by bike in BC.

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