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We were out at Mountain Equipment Co-op’s Bike Fest earlier this summer, where we met a GreenHero and bicycle champion named Justin LaFontaine.

Once upon a time, Justin dreamt of leaving the city to tour Ontario’s countryside, but without a drivers’ license, he was out of options. So, he founded the Bike Train, an innovative project that makes space for bikes on VIA Rail trains, enabling urban dwellers like us to make a quick escape from the city, and enjoy the countryside by bike.

It’s sustainable tourism at its finest, and it serves as an important reminder that bikes aren’t all serious city business; you can have fun with them too!

By Justin LaFontaine, Bike Train Founder

The Bike Train Initiative started simply out of necessity. Impressed with the many trails, diverse landscapes, towns, cities and attractions in Niagara from a previous trip, I began planning a cycling weekend there in 2006.

That’s when I found out that at the time there were no convenient transportation options for cyclists between Toronto and the Niagara Region. The existing train service did not have baggage space, and buses usually required bikes to be boxed prior to loading.

I began speaking with VIA Rail about the Bike Train concept, and they agreed that it was a good idea. Over six months, I travelled back and forth meeting with as many tourism representatives as possible, including lead partner Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce. I eventually wrote and submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Tourism, and funding for a pilot project was approved in 2007.

The Toronto-Niagara Bike Train launched to great success. To make it happen, a baggage car was added to select trains with 56 bike racks onboard, allowing passengers to “roll on-roll off” the train, making cycling holidays easy and accessible. Passengers enjoyed the region’s natural beauty, as well as attractions and bicycle paths.

In 2008, we were awarded two Ontario Tourism Awards: Innovator of the Year and Best Tourism Marketing Partnership.

Since then, over 2,000 passengers have travelled on the Bike Train, which has expanded on routes that span Ontario. Our destinations now include Toronto, Niagara, Windsor, North Bay, Muskoka, Eastern Ontario and Montreal.

With a provincial scope, the Bike Train Initiative is now a project of Transportation Options, a non-profit organization dedicated to stimulating sustainable systems of transportation. Check out www.biketrain.ca for more info.

Remember – in the battle to save the planet, exercising your pedal power is key. Enter our contest to nominate a bike riding hero, highlighting the challenges they face and how they overcome them. Let us know about your ride to work, how you envision a better biking future, or your efforts as a bicycle innovator, using bike-powered solutions to change the planet. Contest details, prizing, and more information can be found here.

GreenHeroes.tv is all about saving the planet, one story at a time. Do you have a great story to tell about how you’re helping to make the world a greener place? Enter the contest to nominate a friend or yourself – you could be one of Canada’s next GreenHeroes!

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