City Guide
Underground City
Directly under the heart of the city, 19 miles long, the Underground City is probably the most famous aspect of shopping in Montreal. It is a web constantly growing, linking many major buildings and multi-level shopping malls in the area, and a shopper's paradise in any season.

Thousands of boutiques, major hotels, restaurants, universities, dozens of office buildings and attractions are all linked together by brightly lit, scrupulously clean passageways. The "city" is definitely the Montréal of Montrealers offering to more than 500,000 people every day a connection to work, shopping, dining or entertainment.

One major section is reached via Peel and McGill metro stations on the green line, and another via Bonaventure station on the orange line. Safe and sheltered from the elements, the Underground City offers a huge range of goods and services as well as a handy way to get from place to place without weather or traffic problems.

I had thoroughly enjoyed my guided bicycle tour with Ça Roule and Bruno, a licensed city guide from Guidatour, really introduced Montreal up close to us. And my own independent explorations of the bicyle trail along the Lachine Canal introduced me to a side of Montreal I had never been exposed to. After returning my bike after a full day of exercise I wanted to find out a bit more about who is behind this operation, Ça Roule, or Montreal on Wheels, as it is known in English.

Montreal, by the way, is a fabulous city to explore by bicycle. The Old Port area, the bicycle path network along the Lachine Canal and alongside the St. Lawrence River, as well as the islands of Ile St. Hélène and Parc Jean Drapeau in the St. Lawrence are eminently bikeable. Of course the trail network on Mont Royal also adds some interesting terrain for cycling enthusiasts and many of Montreal’s quaint neighbourhoods lend themselves perfectly to be discovered en vélo. Montreal was actually voted the number 1 city for bicyclists in 1999 by Bicycling magazine.

Ça Roule is a Bicycle Rental and Touring Shop located on the harbourfront boulevard at 27 De La Commune Est. André Giroux, the owner, created this company 12 years ago. He originally studied law and spent 7 years as a lawyer, specialized in litigation and legal consulting for large real estate developers. As an avid sports person, André plays hockey and tennis and he really enjoys cycling and in 1994 he decided to open a small rental store that initially focused on renting roller blades, a big craze in the mid 1990s. His original stable of equipment also included 12 bicycles. In the meantime his fleet has grown to more than 70 bicycles which include touring bikes, tandems, trail bikes, electric bikes and electric scooters. His store also rents kids trailers and child carriers.

I asked him what the name “Ça Roule” actually means and he explained that this French phrase literally means “it’s rolling”, but is generally understood as “it’s going well”, “it’s running well”. He explained that his store specializes in customer service, his staff is knowledgeable, and they are available to provide advice on all sorts of biking activities in and around Montreal. Everyone gets outfitted with a city-wide cycling map and a free bottle of water is included in every tour.

André Giroux from Ça Roule

His customers come from all over the world including the USA, the rest of Canada and a wide variety of European countries. Even Australian, Korean and Japanese travelers rent muscle-powered equipment from him and many of his clients are referred by hotels and the Montreal Tourist Office. In addition he also offers bicycle repairs and some of his repair clients are part of the 3500 permanent residents that now live in Old Montreal, or employees that work in Old Montreal and commute there by bicycle.

Ça Rule has six staff members: two bicycle repair technicians and four tour leaders. Recently he has started to collaborate with Guidatour and both companies combined have developed an Official City Tour By Bike that is led by a licensed tour guide. This morning I participated in this official city tour and in my opinion exploring a city by bike has to be one of the best ways of discovering a new place.

In any northern country, the bicycling business is seasonal, and the high season at Ça Roule goes from May to October, sometimes stretching into November, depending on the weather. During the winter André works on updating the website and preparing the strategies for the next business years and last year he had a chance to go to Florida for 3 weeks. During the summer the shop is very busy and André and his staff members work very hard, but he tries to go out bicycling himself in the evenings between 7 and 8 pm. He loves to cycle over to Montreal’s islands: Ile St. Hélène and Jean Drapeau Park.

Ça Roule – early in the morning

André also pointed out that Ça Roule is able to offer customized bicycle tours. One time a group of people asked to start a tour on top of Mont Royal. So he rented a cargo van and carted several bikes up to the top of the mountain so the tour group could start their ride at their intended starting point. All sorts of special assignments can be done, they might just require a bit of notice to organize.

With all this exercise I was ready for a very solid dinner, so I thanked André for his time and for putting on the Official Guide City Tour, one of the best ways of getting to know the city and continued my explorations of Montreal on this Canada Day.

Susanne Pacher is the publisher of Travel and Transitions (, a popular web portal for unconventional travel & cross-cultural connections. Check out our brand new section featuring FREE ebooks about travel.


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