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St. Jacobs is grinding toward recognition as a cyclist destination

People enjoying the food and music at the Three Sisters Cultural Centre. [Leah Gerber]

When Matthew Kadey was deciding what to call his 760-kilometre backcountry cycling route from St. Jacobs to Wiarton and back, he couldn’t help but notice how often butter tarts were available along the way.

“We were out riding one day on part of the route before it was published, eating butter tarts. And we were like, ‘man, these are like everywhere.’ I don’t know how the butter tart thing became so popular in Ontario. But it did.”

Cut to last Sunday, and about 120 cyclists from all over southern Ontario and even the United States joined Kadey for the fourth annual BT 700 (Butter Tart 700) Grand Depart in St. Jacobs.

The cyclists planned to bikepack Kadey’s route through back gravel roads, rail trails, and bike paths through forests on a bikepacking route, which is an off-pavement bike route that can take multiple days. Cyclists camp or find places to stay along the way.

So far Kadey has made three bikepacking routes that begin and end in St. Jacobs. 

The BT-700 is becoming a popular and beloved event, with a good mix of returning and first-time riders coming from all over southern Ontario and the United States.

Before they left in the morning on Sunday, many of the riders gathered together Saturday evening for a send-off event at the Three Sisters Cultural Centre in St. Jacobs with beer and live music. This was part of a larger community bike event in the village.

The St. Jacobs Business Improvement Area is working toward certification with Ontario by Bike, a cycle tourism promotion organization, to make the town known widely as a cycling destination.

 “We just want to make the village a more welcoming place for cyclists,” said Schmidt. “And so partnering up with the BT-700 is the perfect thing because they’re an established biking group that runs all kinds of different cycling routes that lead from St. Jacobs.”

To meet the certification needs, Erin Schmidt, the BIA coordinator, said the business organization will be installing bike racks at more locations in the town, installing more signage to help cyclists find washrooms, places to fill their water bottles, and installing a repair station.

Edward Denyer, owner of the Eco Café in St. Jacobs, already holds a business certification with Ontario by Bike.

“(Cyclists) drive a lot of tourism dollars,” said Denyer. “They also drive tourism stays. So if you’re looking to develop an experience-based tourism economy, this is one of the best markets that’s available.”

He says the whole point of certification is to let cyclists know that there is a safe haven available for them, and they are welcome. This is why things like tool kits, bike racks and washrooms are necessary.

“You know, if (a cyclist) walks in and they needed access to a phone, we would provide that because we’re part of that organization and we’re trying to allow them some kind of safety net. As well as it helps for marketing and it helps for becoming better well-known in the communities that you’re trying to reach.”

To be certified, Denyer must make sure his business has a covered space for cyclists to sit outside, a safe place to lock up bicycles, access to washrooms and a toolkit they can use, among other needs.

To celebrate cycling in St. Jacobs, staff with the BIA put together A Cycle into Summer event which included a bike rodeo for kids sponsored by Cycling into the Future, an organization dedicated to ensuring every child knows how to ride a bike, and a community bike ride in the afternoon. The day was capped off by the BT-700 social night at Three Sisters’ Cultural Centre in St. Jacobs.

 “So we really want to support (the BT-700 riders) and just really promote cycling in both the St. Jacobs community and visitors coming to our area,” said Schmidt.

 “There’s never been a better time to get out on two wheels and explore different areas,” said Kadey.

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