I know for myself cycling the Cabot Trail is in the top five reasons to visit the Island, but if you don’t have the right bike it could be much harder than you like. As an example my first tour of the Trail was on a CCM Ice. It was all steel only had 18 speeds and thick knobby tires which sounded like a horde of angry bees, not ideal in the least. The biggest problems are weight (because of the mountains) gears (again the mountains are steep) and rolling resistance. So, you throw all that into a mixing pot and you come out with a 27 speed thin aluminum framed slick-tired hybrid.
That is of course if you don’t plan on going off road. Once you are on dirt then the game changes again. If you are driving to the trail then you can pick whatever off-road knobby tired wonder that strikes your fancy. Its when you need to ride on the pavement and then take to the dirt that you run into trouble. This is where you have to make compromises in some areas to be stronger in others. For example slicks will be helpful in low rolling resistance meaning the pavement will be easy, but when you leave the road and hit dirt you will be spinning wasting energy. Knobbies are better for the trails but on pavement they are loud, heavy, and feel like you are riding on a beach. My solution: semi-slicks. They have much lower rolling resistance but have knobby edges and slight grooves on the tread. Now be careful coming down North mountain even on semi-slicks, the corners can be…fun, yeah lets go with fun. You can hit 80 km/h so when you reach a corner you will be leaning quite heavily putting you on the knobby edges which will make you squirrel badly and if you aren’t careful, i.e. using the brakes abruptly, you could lose it! Also be careful when using extreme narrow tires as you’d see on a race bike. The Cabot Trail is not nice to those what with random sharp edged potholes and the like. Then there is the forks. Shocks or no shocks. The Cabot Trail is quite bumpy even though it is asphalt. I recommend shocks, but just low travel 2″ to 4″ max, anything more and you will be wasting a lot of energy. Stiff forks will be easier energy-wise, but be prepared for a bone-shaking journey. I would say for a regular rider, 27 speeds is a must, you could get away with 24 speeds but make sure you have a ‘cheater’ gear, which is just a tiny front cog, or an extremely large rear cog. Obviously you want the lightest frame you can afford, those mountains punish extra mass.
So to sum up, if you are doing straight pavement i.e. the Cabot Trail, then go with a hybrid, but if you are doing trail, try driving to the trail and using a dedicated off-road mountain bike, preferably with excellent shocks and disc brakes, or put semi-slicks on your ride. Either way you should have a blast. Let me know in the comments your Cape Breton biking experience, or any questions you may have.