Any cyclist with a sense of adventure won’t feel foolish taking a deep dive into Ontario’s agricultural heartland. The Farmers Folly is a bikepacking route designed to offer up a bounty of riding surfaces tracing 400 kilometres of cropland, marshes, time-worn bridges, native forests and big-sky views.Start your journey in the village of St. Jacob’s, located in the heart of Mennonite country, and from here strike out into open countryside on sun-smashed country roads before rolling into all the tree-lined barely there roads that a bikepacker could yearn for. Here, in the land of no winter maintenance, there are few signs of human presence. It all seems untamed. A vapid corn-strewn landscape this is not.It is not designed to be the most direct route possible (that would be rather yawny), but instead one that wends through the most enticing locations that this region of Ontario offers up to help inspire a sense of two-wheel adventure. Places that will remain unbent by tourism, the pace of modern world. But this is not a route that requires expert bikepacking skills or carrying pounds of food and water as services come regularly.In the end, you can revel in one of Ontario’s most enticing bikepacking rewards – the chance for a victory photo at St. Jacob’s most famous tractor.
- Mennonite country: Take off in the heart of Mennonite country where you can try to out-pace the horse and buggies. Quiet country roads that are the epitome of gravel grinding.
- Luther Marsh: A big traverse around Luther Marsh, a wetlands area of the Grand River watershed that is known for its biological importance.
- Hogg’s Falls: A glide to the plunging Hogg’s Falls along Lower Valley Road – one of the most picturesque gravel roads in southern Ontario.
- Unmaintained gravel roads: A collection of captivating and lonely unmaintained roads that are one of the routes most enticing rewards.
- Elora Cartaract Trail: A pedal along the Elora Cataract trail, one of the provinces best kept rail trails.
- Grand River: Multiple crossings of the Grand River – the largest river that is entirely within the southern Ontario’s boundaries.
- Woolwich Reservoir: Take a trip around the picturesque Woolwich Reservoir.
- Quaint towns and markets: Wind down in a handful of charming and welcoming small communities. Try something new at a local market. Will it be a traditional or a raspberry coconut butter tart at the Belwood Country Market?
- Hunting season: Route Note: During the fall hunting season cycling access to Luthar Marsh is only permitted on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday and no access during the deer hunt between Nov 1 and Nov 7 ( https://www.grandriver.ca/en/outdoor-recreation/Luther-Marsh.aspx)
- Difficulty: The Farmers Folly is not as demanding as routes like the BT 700 and Hasty Highlander in terms of ruggedness and elevation gain. It can be considered a good option for somewhat novice bikepackers but also one that will satisfy more experienced riders. It’s certainly not the hilliest route around, but there are sections of testy inclines that will work up a sweat. There are also some rougher sections on a handful of the unmaintained roads. The middle section of the route between Flesherton and Hanover (especially between the 145km and 220km of the route) can be considered the most challenging with a few demanding sections.
- Insects: Make sure to carry insect repellant with you. Unless cycling in the hottest part of the summer or the autumn, you will encounter lots of mosquitos, especially around Luther marsh.
- Wind: On the open country roads wind can be your best friend or mortal enemy. The windmills along route are a tip-off you are not riding in a wind-free landscape.
- Heat: The summer months can bring steamy conditions, especially on some of the exposed country roads. Make sure to take appropriate precautions including carrying enough water to beat the heat.
- Closed bridges: There are a few bridges on the route that are marked closed with short barriers. These are easily traversed but be careful hauling a heavy bike over the barriers so you don’t toss out your back.
- Ticks: Ticks are becoming increasingly common in Ontario. Anytime you ride through high grass and weeds be sure to perform a tick check afterward. This means use a mirror or cell phone to inspect your nether regions.
- Unmaintained roads: Unmaintained roads can turn even more testy in rainy conditions.
The Farmers Folly was designed as a gravel-oriented bike trip, so the recommended format is a drop bar bike with 700c, 650b or 29-inch wheels.
- Mountain Bike: Tires in the range of 1.9 to 2.4 will work well on 650b or 29-inch wheels. Anything fatter than that can be overkill. A rigid or hardtail MTB would also be perfectly suitable for the route and a good option on some of the rougher stuff for overall comfort.
- Gravel Bike: If using 700 wheels, it’s advised to use 38mm tires or larger for improved comfort. Tires narrower than 38mm could make the ride less fun, especially on the rougher unmaintained road sections that can be chunky in spots.
- Other Bikes: There have been riders who have also completed large portions of the route on big plus size tire set-ups, but in many cases this is overkill.
- Setup: Good gear ratios will make it easier to tackle some of the punchy inclines when loaded down with gear. Run tubeless if possible to mitigate the chances of flats in some of the rockier areas. You can use bikepacking style bags or old-fashioned panniers. Remember that a lighter set-up allows of easier riding.
- Trip Start: The designated start and end point is the red tractor at Ecocafe in the village of St. Jacob’s, but the route can be started at any point that best suits a rider. The route was designed to run in a counter clockwise direction, but can also be tackled in the opposite direction. If needed, riders can obtain a room discount at the Holiday Inn in St. Jacob’s by using the link on the BT Friends page.
Accommodation options on the Farmers Folly range from established campgrounds, to motels, to Airbnb. Most options are indicated on the RWGPS route file. I have noted several “wild” camping options along the route that could be used for discreet camping. However, I can’t guarantee these, and all riders are responsible for safely securing their own overnight resting spots – and absolutely leaving no trace. There are also a couple of landowners who are offering tenting space.
- Fresh water: Southern Ontario does not have nearly as many lakes and rivers as further north, so there will definitely be stretches of trail where it may be hard to re-fill. Luckily, the route regularly passes by the Grand river, so there are definite opportunities to top up your bottles. Be sure to always use a water filter or purification tablets. It’s also best policy to make sure you use flowing water, as it is less likely to grown bacteria that will make you sick. You can also access fresh water at campsites, police stations, fire stations and most cemeteries.
- Food: With the exception of the section of the route between Belwood and Dundalk, resupply points come at fairly regular intervals.
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