From Humble Beginnings to Canada's Premier Cycling Event, How the Tour Evolved and Thrived Over the Decades
Organized by the Ottawa Bicycle Club (OBC), the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour (RLCT) is one of Canada’s most iconic cycling events. The tour has come a long way since its inception in 1972, with thousands of riders participating in this two-day, 360 km ride through the scenic Rideau Lakes region every year. As the RLCT approaches its 50th anniversary, it’s worth reflecting on how this event has evolved over the years. The RLCT is an annual cycling event in Eastern Ontario, Canada and is considered one of the country’s oldest and most challenging cycling tours.
The first RLCT was held in 1972, attracted less than 100 cyclists. The early years of the tour were marked by a sense of adventure and camaraderie. The event has grown in size and popularity over the years, with close to two thousand riders participating most years. As the tour grew in size, however, it became more organized and professional, with the introduction of support vehicles, more rest stops, and a dedicated team of volunteers.
One of the very first riders, Bob Hicks of the OBC, recaps: “I rode the first RLCT in ’72 when I came up from Toronto. I had ridden the National Road Championships the summer before in the Gatineau Park, met many of the club officials then, and made quite a few friends. I came back in the winter to ski and then to ride the RLCT.”
Today, cyclists start in either Ottawa or Perth and ride to Kingston on Saturday, then return on Sunday. There are four routes with one-way lengths of 106km to 220km, taking riders through beautiful countryside, charming towns, and historical sites along the way.
Over the years, one of the most significant changes to the RLCT has been the increased emphasis on safety. The organizers have implemented a range of measures to ensure the safety of the riders, including the use of police officers, medical support, and a team of volunteer amateur radio operators who are stationed at key locations along the route. In addition, the tour has also evolved to include a range of options for riders of different skill levels and interests, with a one-day option for those who can only commit to ride to Kingston.
The OBC was founded by both racing and touring riders and having an event like the RLCT to look forward to would give its club members something to prepare for and a reason to get out on their bikes even when the weather might not be so favourable. Organizing the tour would help build the community and strengthen friendships. In recent years, the RLCT has become a fundraiser for the OBC youth programs, providing the next generation young athletes with quality coaching and programming, exposure to high quality events and competition, and supporting youth where cost is a barrier to participation.
As the tour celebrates its 50th edition this year, it’s clear that it has come a long way from its humble beginnings. But despite its growth and success, the RLCT remains true to its roots, with a strong sense of community and a commitment to promoting cycling and the beauty of the Rideau Lakes region. Here’s to the next 50 years!