This is a primarily offroad, unofficial, self-supported bikepacking ride that begins and ends in the Ontario village of St. Jacob’s, the heart of the province’s Mennonite country. There is no registration (other than on the website), no support and no prizes – it is simply a ride where a group of bikepackers will gather together near the summer solstice to explore some of the most exciting riding terrain in the region. In an attempt to minimize the amount of time riders spend with the rubber side down on pavement, the route utilizes roughly 85% unpaved surfaces. It should be considered a challenging mixed surface route and more mountain bike/adventure riding oriented than a pure gravel ride. Highlights include grand views in escarpment country, riding the shoreline of sunny Lake Huron, photogenic waterfalls, plenty of backcountry-style riding and all the butter tarts you can stomach. Some riders will ‘race’ against the clock and some will simply leisurely tour the route to soak up the scenery. Last year’s fastest finishing time was 48 hrs and 36 min. Along the route, there is plenty of accommodation, re-supply points and other services including aid stations set up for the grand depart. But don’t let the fairly modest overall elevation gain – about 8,000 meters – fool you. There are plenty of steep sections that will challenge even the fittest of riders.
Make sure to check out Trevor Browne’s, Taryn Davis and Martin Lortz event recaps from the 2019, 2020 and 2021 Grand Departs, respectively—all include a selection of photos so you can get a sense of the terrain that awaits riders.