Make Life a Ride to Remember: Unlocking New Adventures on Two Wheels

As a librarian by trade, getting my motorcycle license was the start of a new chapter. Find out how you too can get yourself out on the road.

Think back to when you were a child, maybe when you felt the thrill of riding a bicycle. Did you ever make a light fist with your hands, palms down, and rotate your wrists forward and back a few times while making a distinct vroom vroom sound?

If so, you’re like many people who know and use this universal gesture for motorcycling (it is also the official American Sign Language gesture for motorcycle!)

But how many people actually commit to riding a motorcycle?

For me, I was determined to ride, knowing that yes, it may take a while because of life’s responsibilities, but also knowing it’ll open a whole new adventure category (beyond my usual water adventures!) And when there’s no shortage of ways to explore outdoors (especially in Ontario!), I was excited to see it from a new perspective and discover the motorcycle world—the community and culture.

So, for anyone who’s ever thought motorcycles are cool or was curious about what vroom vroom really feels like, this is my moto story (so far!) and your sign that it’s never too late to hop on one and how you too, can experience the joy of being on two (motorized) wheels.

A motorcycle parked at the side of a gravel road, surrounded completely by a wall of lush green forest.
The start of a love for motorcycles. // Photo credit Diana Lee

Before two wheels, there was 4WD

Before the thought of riding a motorcycle ever came to mind, I rode everywhere on a bicycle. When it came to getting an actual motorized mode of transportation, I was thrilled to get my dream car, a two-door Jeep Wrangler.

The Jeep was prioritized out of practicality, as my active and outdoorsy lifestyle meant constantly carrying a lot of gear (e.g., camping, paddling, snow sports), and road trips often took me away from city centers and onto less travelled, unmaintained roads. I also chose a standard transmission Jeep, not just because I was always fascinated with driving manual, but in anticipation of operating a motorcycle one day.

My love for Jeeps led to joining a Jeep club and unlocking off-road/wheeling adventures (another story for another day). Little did I know that all the off-roading experience with clubs that were part of the Ontario Federation of 4WD Recreationists laid such a good foundation for all the other dirt adventures to come!

a cluster of jeeps parked in a rough, grassy field dotted with trees. A person stands on the roof of one jeep, silhouetted against the sun with their arms raised above their head.
My Jeep camping days paved the way for a 2-wheeled passion.

All the time spent Jeep camping, learning to navigate rocky terrain, and helping with trail maintenance, increased my proximity to dirt bikes and adventure motorcycles, which served as little reminders of my motorcycle goals.

Levelling Up the Vroom Vroom Skills: Learning to Ride a Motorcycle With SMART Adventures

While I won’t bore you with the academic and financial responsibilities of finishing grad school to become a librarian or the costs of acquiring motorcycle gear (that actually fit me) in preparation for just the M2 course, spending time on a dirt bike kept me excited about riding a motorcycle.

I figured that signing up for half-day or full-day dirt biking courses would not only be fun but would also help build some transferable skills in preparation for getting my motorcycle license.

Before I even signed up for my M1 test, SMART Adventures was my go-to spot every year to ride a dirt bike under the guidance of experienced and amazing instructors. Clinton Smout, the owner of SMART Adventures, was my first moto-related instructor, and I’ll never forget how encouraging, inspiring, and FUN he made everything on two wheels (I know many others in the motorcycling world would also agree that Clinton is awesome).

Above: Ten years ago at Smart Adventures with my friend, Yael. This is the first time on a dirt bike! And now...

two motorcyclists pose in front of their motorcycles on a cloudy autumn day. One crouches on the ground in a deep side lunge, the other is kicking one leg up high in the air. Both are smiling and laughing.
 Yael and I now ride motorcycles!

When it was time to officially tackle the graduated motorcycle licensing process, I signed up with Rider Training Institute (RTI). They truly set you up for success in every stage— from the 2-day M2 course to the M exit test. I liked that their instructors really focused on building safe motorcycling habits (applicable to driving a car), reinforcing my belief that learning to ride a motorcycle and taking moto-related courses makes you a better driver and a more conscious motorist on the road.

While yes, you can read The Official Ministry of Transportation (MTO)’s Motorcycle Handbook (also available in your public libraries 😉) and schedule a test directly through Service Ontario, I highly recommend taking the training courses with RTI’s Ministry-certified instructors who all ride motorcycles themselves for years (and it’ll help reduce your motorcycle insurance!) Learning in person, in small class sizes with experts, is much more helpful than practicing the skills alone or just reading about it online or from a book.

Officially a Moto-librarian: After I Got My Motorcycle License

When people find out you’re into motorcycles, their next question is almost always about what kind of bike you want or currently ride.

When I was younger, I thought a cruiser-style motorcycle was the coolest (I thank the Terminator movie for both the Jeep and moto influence 😊), but an adventure bike made the most sense for me as I already enjoyed off-road adventures on my Jeep and spent most of my pedal-powered time on mountain biking trails.

A motorcycle driving down a leaf-covered road in the autumn.
It's all about choosing the right bike for you. // Photo credit Diana Lee

As a librarian, it wasn’t hard to find all the motorcycle inspo books—from stunning coffee-table books that gave a year-by-year overview of the different motorcycle brands to compelling biographies that chronicled the best tours by motorists who rode around the world.

Reading about anything and everything related to motorcycles only fueled my interest, so when I finally got my first bike, a preloved BMW 2009 F800 GS, I was ecstatic (slightly in disbelief that it had taken so long) but spent some time just looking at it (read: swooning over it) in my garage, examining all the different parts (and yes, I also read the owner’s manual!)

A motorcycle parked at the side of a smooth paved road under a pink, blue and yellow sunset. The flat country field next to the road is a very lush green and there are low misty purple hills along the flat horizon.
Motorcyclists get the best views. // Photo credit Diana Lee

But what made the motorcycle chapter official wasn’t getting the bike but getting my M license. This not only meant that I, officially, on paper (and not just because of what was sitting in my driveway), had finally unlocked this skill and can fully embrace all the new adventures and perspectives on two (motorized) wheels!

The familiar and quiet gravel roads I had travelled on with my Jeep not only looked different from sitting behind the handlebars of a motorcycle (yay, finally!) but also felt different. Even though I get to drive with the doors off my Jeep in the summer (which is also an incredible feeling), being on my motorcycle gave me a totally different experience of feeling free when travelling on the road.

Two motorcylcles parked at the side of a forest road, surrounded by dense green forest on a sunny day.
Going off the beaten path. // Photo credit Diana Lee

What’s Next: Adventure Touring, Dual Sport, and More

Getting my M license only meant I wanted more out of my adventure bike, so I returned to SMART Adventures and took their Dual Sport course. Clinton, who is also a certified BMW Motorrad GS instructor and teaches off-road courses, has a way of helping you upgrade your riding skills because I never thought I’d ride a motorized bike off a teeter-totter! Thank you so much for inspiring me from the beginning, Clinton!

While it can seem overwhelming, I’m excited about all the motorcycle-related things to learn, skills courses to take, and experiences unique to two wheels! Here’s a quick list of what’s on my moto radar in Ontario so far (and I know this will also take a few more years to work through, especially with the short riding season in Ontario, but I’m in no rush!)

Thinking About Riding a Motorcycle?

If you’re curious about motorcycles or have been interested in motorcycles but haven’t gotten into gear yet, you’re not alone! Even as a newbie rider still, many people shared that they were always interested but never pursued their motorcycling dreams. Below are some of the common reasons I heard and my response in case it helps you find your way onto two wheels:

“I’m not as brave / not sure if I can handle a motorcycle.”

I’m a big believer in “You won’t know until you try” and recommend going to SMART Adventures, where they teach you how to ride a dirt bike and provide all the gear. A dirt bike has been such a helpful, indirect and non-committal way to get a sense of a motorized bike while building confidence. Just bring your enthusiasm and openness to have fun! RTI also offers an Intro to Riding Course, which requires some motorcycle gear but that can always be rented.

“I don’t know anyone else who rides. Who will I ride with?”

As someone who loves solo adventures, riding alone is different and can take some time to get more comfortable (and riding with others can increase visibility and safety). I also did not know a lot of motorcyclists when I started out, but it’s almost guaranteed you’ll meet more riders when you get into it!

Two motorcycles parked at the side of a dirt road next to a very green, lush forest.
Getting started with motorcycling will introduce you to other riders. // Photo credit Diana Lee

Riding a motorcycle also led me to meet someone who’s now one of my closest friends, always adding the extra vroooom in my moto life—John, thank you for being so supportive and patient (especially for all the times I thought I was “stuck” in those roadside ditches, extreme backyard gravel pits, and questioning if certain trails were Narnia portals). And for being the most wonderful moto expert to learn from.

When I was looking to improve my riding skills, I signed up for RTI’s private, one-on-one training sessions. These sessions helped me address riding alone when I was starting out.

In Ontario, we’re so lucky to have so many different entry points into the world of motorcycles:

  • Communities—specific to the type of bike or by geographic areas with monthly meetups like The Moto Social, a global motorcycle initiative dedicated to building community, connecting people where everyone is invited—riders and non-riders, and motorcycles of all types!
  • Events—e.g. International Female Ride Day, themed charity rides like The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride
  • Supportive businesses—e.g. motorcycle cafes that host workshops, dealership demos
  • Camp for kids - specifically for Deaf or special needs children, that combines the joys of summer camp with access to motocross training and a track!

“I ride too! Any suggestions on where to go?”

There are endless places in Ontario to explore by motorcycle! Here are some fun places to check out that only got me more excited to explore more by bike:

  • Farmers markets and bakeries with patios where you can enjoy a delicious snack or meal.

TIP: Stop at all the bakeries and local general stores and check out their frozen goodies—they often have walk-in freezers that will cool you off in seconds!

a hand holding up a butter tart in a paper wrapper, outside in a parking lot on a sunny day. Two motorcycles are parked in the background. A hand holding up a piece of pizza. The background shows a road, two motorcycles with riders, a gravel parking lot and green trees. A hand holding up an ice cream cone. The background shows paved parking lot, a parked motorcycle, and clear blue sky.
Ice cream and butter tarts make great road food: there are so many motorcycle-friendly restaurants to discover around Ontario!
  • Beaches where you can park and take a quick dip to cool off from wearing all the moto gear on those hot summer heat alert days!
  • Ontario Parks—to break up those long rides and visit for the afternoon or spend a night moto camping!
Two motorcycles parked at the side of a paved road next to a stretch of white sandy beach under a grey-blue sky. A sign made of tall metal rainbow coloured letters reads "Wasaga".
Wasaga Beach—a great place for a rider to cool their heels! // Photo credit Diana Lee
A smiling woman with her black pants rolled up to her knees standing in clear lake water at a Wasaga Beach. She is holding her motorcycle boots, helmet and jacket in her hands.

Check out the Northern Ontario Travel website on Motorcycle Touring for suggested routes like Simcoe County’s Saints & Sinners Loop and other destinations and resources.

“I don’t ride yet…but contemplating it. Where else can I go for more inspiration?”

While there are big shows like the Toronto Motorcycle and Powersport Show and International Motorcycle Show, I’d highly recommend the Vintage Road Racing Association (VRRA) events.

A motorcycle with a race number "123" mounted to the back.
two motorcycles race down an outdoor track at a motorcycle raceway a motocycle racer leans into a turn on an outdoor race track on a summer day. A row of spectators standing on green grass next to a band of green trees are in the background.
Going to racing events can help you get inspired and learn more about motorcycle riding. // Photo credits Diana Lee

Last year, after seeing my friend race a Rudge motorcycle (produced between 1911-1946!) at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, I discovered sidecar racing in Ontario!

And this year, I signed up for sidecar school (you don’t even need a motorcycle license for this!) and had the most thrilling experience to date! The VRRA community was so warmly welcoming and a fun way to experience track events (even if you’re not into racing). There are also charity track rides where you can see what it’s like to be a passenger (or “monkey”) on a sidecar!

More Moto Fun to Come: What's Next For Me As a Motorcycle Rider

With the riding season being so short in Ontario, I feel like I’m going to be a new rider for a very long time (it doesn’t help that I have competing summer interests like paddling, camping, and road trip adventures with my dogs—which can be a bit of a challenge to haul two German Shepherds around without the Jeep).

But as a lifelong learner, I’ve come to terms that learning will be a forever journey and always excited to learn new things, especially with anything related to motorcycles!

I really do believe that learning to ride a motorcycle not only unlocks a (cool) skill that makes you a better motorist through increased awareness of the road by providing you with a different perspective, but it is a transformative experience that feeds the adventurous side of your soul and our curiosity to explore our world.

Learning how to ride here in Ontario can also help build safer motorcycling skills and knowledge in advance of travelling somewhere outside of Canada where you may be considering renting a motorcycle where there may be less (or more) licensing requirements (just different road rules and motor cultures around the world).

So, if you are one of the many people interested in motorcycles, know that in Ontario, there are so many ways to hop on one and see where it takes you. Go beyond the twist of the wrist/vroom vroom gesture. 😊

Happy and safe moto adventures! 

A rider on a motorcycle drives down a dirt road in the autumn under a bright blue sky. The camera lens causes the yellow trees and road to appear bent around the rider, giving a beautiful tunnel effect.
Watch this trip on Instagram. // Photo credit Diana Lee
About Diana Lee

Diana Lee lives for adventure, the great outdoors and SUP! She is a certified ISA and WPA SUP Instructor, a librarian, and a reporter for Get Out There Magazine. Find out what she’SUP to @only1phoenixx on Instagram and Twitter.

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