This long ride through gorgeous scenery on the Saanich Peninsula will give you a good workout — along with three ideal “hydration stops” at local breweries.
I’ve always enjoyed cycling, but I’ve definitely taken it up a notch in recent years, both because of the exercise and stress relief the activity provides for me and also because I’ve been trying to use my car as rarely as possible to cut down on carbon emissions.
Every year, I look forward to the Tour de Victoria, which usually takes place in August. I’ve been doing it for several years now — I started off with the entry-level 45km route which ran from Sidney to downtown Victoria, and then graduated to the 60km loop a couple years ago. Last year, I made the jump to the 100km level, which definitely was a big challenge. Best of all there is always a beer garden serving Spinnakers Kölsch at the finish line! Unfortunately, this year’s ride has been cancelled because of COVID-19, but as you can see from this Instagram post I replaced it with a 100km round trip to Sooke.
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As I’ve written here before, I love to cycle between breweries. I am able to do that easily and regularly here in Victoria because there are simply so many breweries spread around the city. Actually, I’m spoiled with options: with four brewpubs and another seven breweries in the city itself (soon to be eight when Herald Street Brew Works opens) I barely even get warmed up before an optional “hydration stop” presents itself. But when you consider several more breweries in smaller communities around Victoria, including View Royal, Langford, and the Saanich Peninsula, there are some excellent longer ride options that will let you build up a bit of a sweat before you reward yourself with a flight of samples or a pint of your favourite beer style.
One of my favourite longer rides involves visiting a unique trio of breweries located around the Saanich Peninsula north of Victoria. There are many different ways to approach this ride, including dedicated bike paths, busy roads with bike lanes marked by painted lines, and quieter back roads with less traffic. All told, this ride is a loop of about 70 kilometres from downtown Victoria so it’s not for beginners, but much of it is on flat terrain so it’s not too challenging, and it’s definitely do-able by e-bike too.
Cycling the Saanich Peninsula
Starting off in downtown Victoria, take the Galloping Goose trail north and turn right (east) at the Switch Bridge (unless you want to go to Sooke, which is also a great ride!). You are now officially on the Lochside Regional Trail, a 29-km multi-use trail that opened in 2001 and runs all the way up the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal.
Along the way, it runs past beaches and through farmlands, sometimes sharing roads or laneways with residential or farm traffic. Horseback riders are a fairly common site, too. Like most independent bike trails it was once a rail line, which means it is generally quite flat. If you want to stop for a beer sooner rather than later, you can make a side trip to Twa Dogs Brewery within the first 10 kilometres, but I usually save it for last on this ride. As you ride north on the Lochside Trail, you pass the Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary and Blenkinsop Lake, with an optional turn-off for Mount Douglas Park, and through the shady suburban streets of Cordova Bay into farm country.
Stop to say hi to the big pigs around the 17km mark just below Michell’s Farm Market at Island View Rd, which is a great rest stop thanks to the produce they sell along with the Harvest Rd. Farm to Table Grill, a food truck-style restaurant that is situated right next to the market with an open air seating area. You might also consider a side trip to Island View Beach here, but be warned: you have to first climb and then descend a steep ridge to get to the water, and there are no other roads to or from the beach so you’ll have to do it all over again on the way back. Category 12 Brewing is directly west of Michell’s Farm Market, but if you choose to cross the highway there you will have to climb a steep hill so I recommend saving it for the way back down the peninsula when you can approach it from a different angle and avoid that major climb.
Continuing north on the Lochside Trail will lead you towards the town of Sidney — which, unfortunately, is one of the few communities in BC without a brewery of its own — but, good news, your first destination is just north of the Victoria International Airport, which is across the Pat Bay Highway to the west of Sidney. You have a couple of options for crossing the highway. One is to take the pedestrian bridge or the double-roundabout at McTavish Road, while another is to ride along Bazan Bay into Sidney (which is a beautiful stretch of coastline) and then cross the highway at Beacon Avenue. There is the Flight Path, an excellent, paved cycling route that circumnavigates the Victoria International Airport. It runs 9.3 kilometres total and you can easily join it wherever you approach the airport. If you follow it counterclockwise you will finally reach our first brewery stop directly north of the airport on Mills Rd.
Located beside the Fickle Fig Farmer’s Market, Howl Brewing opened in 2018. It is a tiny operation run by a couple, Dan Van Netten and Alayna Briemon. Dan has been a bartender at Spinnakers for years and took up homebrewing on the side before they decided to open Howl. Its small size means you pretty much have to visit it in person to try the beer — which makes this ride even more enticing!
The tiny tasting room at Howl is closed right now because of the pandemic, but it has a picnic area so you will still be able to rehydrate there. The Fickle Fig has a bakery and bistro if you need to fuel up with more than just beer.
Apart from its location, another thing that makes Howl Brewing unique is its focus on historic and obscure beer styles. Van Netten loves to recreate old beer recipes that have disappeared, including Gruits (beers made without hops that feature herbs and other botanicals) and other beers that you will likely never have heard of — or tasted — before. He always has something unusual on tap along with a range of well-made staple styles, and he often uses ingredients sourced from nearby farms, such as rhubarb, berries, plums, and other fruit.
Once you’ve rehydrated at Howl, return to the airport trail and continue around the loop towards Patricia Bay, a picturesque spot on the west coast of the Saanich Peninsula. More experienced cyclists will enjoy taking West Saanich Rd down the peninsula, but less vigorous riders should continue around the Airport Trail and ride south down East Saanich Rd instead (it’s less hilly and more direct). To get to Category 12 Brewing you’ll need to switch to either Veyaness Rd or Central Saanich Rd at some point — whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of riding down the steep hill towards the highway!
Category 12 Brewing is located in an industrial complex on Keating X Rd, which runs across the Saanich Peninsula from Brentwood Bay to the Pat Bay Highway. Founded by Karen and Michael Kuzyk, C12 thoroughly embraces Michael’s pedigree as a PhD biochemist with its “mystery science” marketing. The brewery’s tasting room has a kitchen that prepares a tasty range of delicious dishes to go along with the excellent beers, and if you’re a cyclist who perspires a bit (an understatement for me) you will be happy to cool off on the patio set up in the parking lot in front of the brewery. There is always something interesting on tap, including a range of staple styles, juicy/hazy IPAs, sours, and barrel-aged beauties.
After catching your breath and getting refreshed at C12, it’s time to head south back towards Victoria. Again, you have two options for getting to the third brewery on this tour: you can return to the Lochside Trail by coasting down the big hill at Island View Rd or you can take Oldfield Rd to Old West Saanich Rd to West Saanich Rd (again, more experienced cyclists might prefer this winding, hilly route, but be warned that West Saanich Rd can be very busy with traffic, including big trucks).
The final “rehydration stop” on this tour is Twa Dogs Brewery at Macaloney’s Caledonian Distillery located in an industrial area beside the Pat Bay Highway just off Glanford Ave. Founded by a transplanted Scots named Graeme Macaloney, the focus here is equal parts whisky and beer. The tasting room serves sample flights of its whiskies as well as flights or glasses of beer made on site. There is an outdoor patio space next to the bike parking area, and although the highway is visible, it’s quite a peaceful spot. The name Twa Dogs is a reference to the 18th century Scottish poet Robbie Burns; indeed, each beer’s name comes from a Burns poem as well. If tours are being offered, they are highly recommended — the tour guides are very entertaining, and with both a distillery and a brewery on site, it is a unique facility.
Afterwards, it’s a short ride back into Victoria. Whether or not you choose to continue your brewery tour at any one of many breweries within the city limits is up to you, but needless to say, stay safe and be sure you are not getting back on your bike if you are over your limit. Actually, good advice for any beer-cycling tour is to drink water along with beer at each stop.
Note: This ride might be a bit too ambitious for some readers, but don’t be deterred if you don’t own cycling shorts (OK, I admit I do) or a $5,000 road bike (I don’t — my ride is a commuter bike that is a “Livestrong” edition, which tells you how old it is since Lance Armstrong hasn’t been in vogue for a looong time). So try something shorter. From Victoria, you can make it to Twa Dogs fairly easily, and even Category 12 is pretty do-able with some rest stops along the way. If it’s too far for you to ride all the way up to Howl Brewing, you could always transport your bike by car or bus and then do the Flight Path loop with a stop at Howl.
See you on the bike paths!