Cycle Simcoe was born back in 2013 when the working group of the Barrie Cycling Club, the County of Simcoe and the Township of Oro-Medonte applied for (and received) an Ontario Trillium Fund grant. Then they hired Moonstone-born Brendan Matheson to take the reins (aka handlebars).

“I was a cycling advocate and I thought it was a great gig,” he says. “The grant was two parts. One was that there are cyclists already coming here, so we need to create some kind of safety and infrastructure around it, awareness campaigns, share the road signs. That was one part of it. The other part was to grow cycling tourism in the region, to invite cyclists here to generate revenue for stakeholders.”

That funding gave Matheson two years of work. During the first year, he’d do a pilot project with Oro-Medonte. So, he created a map of the townships with proven cycling routes that included cycling-friendly businesses and installed ‘share the road’ signs along designated routes. In the second year, he was tasked with getting one more municipality on board. Matheson went above and beyond.

“It was so well received after the first year,” he recalls. “Everyone was so excited I ended up expanding into 11 municipalities in that second year.”

After the contract was up, it was clear Matheson and Cycle Simcoe were an integral part of the county, so they hired him.

“Tourism Simcoe County hired me full time to run Cycle Simcoe in 2015. Which is great, because now we have our own marketing budget and we’ve basically been building on Cycle Tourism year after year.”

Those early maps were very road cycling focused as it was hugely popular at the time. Centurion, road events and road racing were huge. But over the years, Cycle Simcoe’s focus has evolved.

“Our maps now include gravel riding, multi-use, multi-day tours, as well as promoting mountain biking. Basically, it’s evolved as the cycling community has evolved.”

That evolution includes products like the Simcoe County Loop Trail; a 160 kilometer loop that travels through nine municipalities, touches Georgian Bay, Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching and is mostly on off-road, multi-use rail-trails. It launched in 2016.

“Getting nine municipalities to unite and develop one loop was a huge, huge success,” says Matheson. “Each municipality has their own trail strategies, their own planning staff, their own park staff, so the idea that they all came together to create one route was monumental.”

He’s also working with local businesses to enhance the cycling experience in Simcoe County.

“I go to businesses and tell them we want to promote them on our cycling map. So, we’ll promote something like a hotel; but it’s only going to work if a cyclist can bring their bike into the room. So I worked with Ontario by Bike and we developed a checklist for businesses. It’s a lot of coordinating but we have over 80 cycling-friendly businesses now. There’s no cost for businesses as long as they’re cycling-friendly we’ll incorporate them into the mapping. All we ask is that they offer a memorable experience for the cycling tourist.”

How has that approach been working for local businesses? Well, according to Matheson’s research, the pre-pandemic economic impact of cycling tourism in 2019 was estimated to be about $500,000. In 2022 that number nearly tripled to $1.3 million.

“My long-term plan is to develop a route around Lake Simcoe,” he says. “There are a  couple gaps we need to fix, but I’d love to connect a 220 kilometer multi-day route around Lake Simcoe.”

He’s also working on more regional connections.

“We have a vision of having someone getting off the Go Train in Barrie and being able to bike the Simcoe County Loop Trail, or connect to the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail in Collingwood and beyond. So really connecting regionally and encouraging more multi-day cycling tours.”

And mountain biking is also on Matheson’s list of things to build on.

“Think about Vermont’s Kingdom trails,” he says. “You can go to a bike park, but then connect to all these community trails and get lost for over 100 kilometers. We’re right there. We’ve got Hardwood Ski and Bike, an amazing facility and a great location. We’ve got the Simcoe County Mountain Bike Club with 200 kilometers of trails, then we’ve got Horseshoe Resort that is just killing it with their enduro and downhill stuff. It’s all right there. How do we connect it all?”

There’s no doubt Cycle Simcoe will find a way. Between Matheson’s endless enthusiasm for cycling and Cycle Simcoe’s current momentum, watching them grow and evolve for the next decade should be an exciting ride. Hop on!