Bridges on the River Fraser: a bike tour of Richmond, New Westminster, Burnaby, and Vancouver

When I was training for the Vancouver-Seattle ride last year, my Sunday training usually involved a really nice loop from my house, over the river into Richmond, along River Road, back over the river to New Westminster, and then back through Burnaby on the Central Valley Greenway bike path. I loved the route, but was too focused on keeping my average speed up to really enjoy it to its full potential. I kept thinking how nice it would be to come back and do the same ride at a much more leisurely pace, with a camera to capture all the interesting things I was passing. However, a long bike ride was the last thing I wanted to do once the ride was over, and it took 13 months and a nice sunny day to find the motivation to go back, which I finally did yesterday.

Here’s my route, screencapped from the Cyclemeter iPhone app:

You're all in my "no, I'm NOT going to show you exactly where I live!" circle

(all other photos in this post were taken on my iPhone 4, with the native camera app and no filters or other kinds of processing).

The first time I trained in lovely flat Richmond (on a different loop to the one I did yesterday), I went with a friend who brought us back along the highway (which has a nice wide shoulder, but no protection when crossing on- and off-ramps / slip roads), and over the scarily busy Knight Street Bridge (we missed the entrance to the separated pedestrian and bike path and rode on the very narrow, glass- and gravel-strewn shoulder with drivers honking at us the whole way). Before my next ride, I checked the map and planned a route that would avoid the highway and use the fantastic purpose-built bike/pedestrian/SkyTrain bridge instead, and I’ve never looked back. So the first part of yesterday’s ride was from my house (at almost the highest point in the city) down to the river at Heather street.

Looking north, from the Richmond side, toward Vancouver and beyond to the North Shore Mountains

Once over the bridge, I turned left and followed River Road eastward. The first section is quite industrial, so the lack of any kind of official bike lane can be a little scary when there are trucks squeezing past you. But there are so many cyclists on this route that drivers know to look out for you, and I’ve never had a problem with overly fast or aggressive trucks or cars.

Once the last industrial turn-off – and the associated traffic – are behind you, you enter a seemingly forgotten, lost-in-time landscape with large homes and small farms on your right, reached by bridges over a little stream, and the sleepily rolling river Fraser to your left.

All aboard HMCS Failboat!

I just missed capturing a tug boat coming through. Sorry.

This part of the ride is my favourite, but unfortunately it soon merges into my least favourite: a (non-separated but wide and well-respected) painted bike lane on the side of the highway, and then a (separated but incredibly noisy and fumy) lane on the Queensborough Bridge as you cross the river again into New Westminster.

From this point onward the route follows that of the Millenium Line SkyTrain, which allows bikes at off-peak times, so you can decide you’ve had enough and let the train take the strain at pretty much any point from crossing the Queensborough to the end of the ride.

Both the separated and the painted bike lanes in New West itself are pretty good, but again a little too close to the noise and fumes of the highway. At least I now know where to turn to cross the railway tracks into the Quay area and the official start of the Central Valley Greenway; until I found the unsignposted turn, on my fourth or fifth attempt, I had to dash across the highway and then always got lost in a maze of streets featuring adult book stores and similarly classy establishments before somehow muddling my way onto the official route.

Shortly after I’d started the official Greenway route, I stopped for a sandwich and a smoothie in New West (an unknown luxury on my training rides, where water and a granola bar were all I had time to stop for), then continued on the stop-start traffic light heavy section of the road. As I approached the steepest hill on the whole ride, up past the hospital entrance, I went back and forth in my mind as to whether I should attempt to ride up it or just get off and push (again, not a luxury that was on offer when training), but when I got there the bike lane was closed and I had no choice but to push my bike on the shady sidewalk on the other side of the street, rather than slogging up the hill on my bike in the blazing sun. What a shame…

The Greenway gets considerably more green once it leaves the main streets, taking you through a nice park and then on a riverside path toward Burnaby. When I was training last year the path was newly built and covered in quite fine, but still arduous, gravel; the countless bikes to use the path since then have worn some narrow bare tracks into the gravel, which make this section of the path much smoother and easier.

NOT the mighty Fraser River; this is the Brunette. It's very nice.

The gravel path spits you out onto a very nice section of road, where you’re in an unseparated painted bike path but on a lovely wide, smooth road without much traffic, featuring some rolling hills where the climbs are long enough to make you huff and puff, but the descents are long enough to pick up some real speed and take some good momentum into the next climb. You cross the road and railway tracks at another purpose-built bike and pedestrian bridge at the Sperling-Burnaby Lake SkyTrain station,

There used to be a Bill Murray stencil graffiti on the bridge, but it's been scrubbed off now. Boooooo.

and then take another section of gravel road before reaching the final stage, a smoothly paved bike and pedestrian path under the SkyTrain tracks. This part of the ride isn’t all that visually interesting, with the exception of my favourite of Vancouver’s many murals, just west of the Renfrew SkyTrain station:

The full mural's triple the width of this section, but I had to take this photo by lifting my phone above my head to see over a wire fence, pointing it in vaguely the right direction, and hoping for the best, so you'll just have to trust me on this.

The route ends at Victoria and Commercial, from where I took some of Vancouver’s designated bike route side streets back up the hill to my house, thankful for the bike routes but questioning my decision to buy a house at almost the highest point in the city. Those last few blocks of my 53 km ride were definitely the hardest… but hey, at least I didn’t have to do two loops, or ride again the next day, or any of the other things I had to do during my training! Yay for voluntary bike riding for no particular reason other than to have a lovely day out in the sun!

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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6 Responses to Bridges on the River Fraser: a bike tour of Richmond, New Westminster, Burnaby, and Vancouver

  1. SB says:

    HOORAY indeed for voluntary riding for no particular reason other than to enjoy the sunshine! I have been looking for a long bike route within the Lower Mainland for a while, and this seems perfect; thanks so much for posting!

    There is also a reasonably nice bike path that follows the Fraser River in Vancouver, along Kent Avenue… starting at Ontario Street and extending to Boundary Road. This used to be part of my daily commute, and it was always fun to try to race the tugboats (we were pretty much tied for speed)

    And I do love the picture of the Failboat…

  2. Brian says:

    Great descriptive post of your ride. I like your use of photos to visualize the ride and also breakup the content. I recently went on a similar ride in Massachusetts and Rhode Island following the Blackstone Valley Bicycle Trail and thought I should be writing about the ride the same way you have done in this post. Any interest in guest blogging for a startup website called We’re releasing a new design this week and will be focusing on, besides bicycle tour listings, unique and well written content about bicycle touring and casual rides.

  3. chall says:

    I’m jealous! Beautiful photos!!! sounds very enjoyable indeed. 🙂

    By the way, how long did that ride take? I’m simply curious since I haven’t ridden that long on a bike for a long time. (I did do a mountain bike route in the mountains a few weeks back, but that was up and down as well as 97F….. I did quesiton my sanity after an hour 😉 )

  4. cromercrox says:

    Gosh, Cath, you make me feel guilty. Me and Mrs Crox bought a couple of really nice bikes about a year ago from some friends who were emigrating, together with a handy rig to tie them on the back of the car. I’ve used mine precisely once – Mrs Crox hasn’t used her at all (though Crox Minor has tried but gave up when the concept of gears was beyond her). This is a pity as Norfolk is great cycling country. Much of it is fairly flat (though the environs of Cromer are fairly hilly). Perhaps I should make amends. I’m tempted to simply take off on my own, but family responsibilities pull me back… and when I go our I usually like to take the dogs with me.

  5. SB, I highly recommend it, in case you couldn’t tell! The option to put your bike on the SkyTrain from 30km onwards is particularly appealing; even though I’ve never actually done this, it’s nice to know that I can 🙂

    I haven’t tried the Kent Avenue bike path, but will keep it in mind for my next ride! Thanks for the tip!

    Thanks Brian – this is a one-off for me, as I don’t usually devote much blog space to cycling, so I shall have to decline your kind guest blogging invitation. But please do link to this post if you think it’s of interest to your readers!

    Thanks Chall! It took about 3.5 – 4 hours, including all the stops for photos, lunch, water, loos, etc. When I was training I was averaging around 20-25km per hour, so I know I could have done it much faster if I’d wanted to (and if it wasn’t quite so hot!)

    CC, if it makes you feel any better, I was quite spectacularly lazy for the rest of the long weekend (physically, at least – I did get some writing done). I hope you find a way to enjoy your bike soon!

    I do know some people who take their dogs with them, running alongside the bike, but I think it took a bit of training and practice to master the safe execution of this style of exercise!

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