Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to do a fair bit of riding in Northern Ontario. It was during those times up North that I really grew as a motorcycle rider, and since then I’ve been able to use a lot of those skills along my travels. Not only have I gained some concrete riding skills, but I’ve also learned a few tricks and lessons along the way as I’ve overcome some interesting situations.
Riding in Northern Ontario is pretty different throughout the season, depending on what time of the year it is and where you go. My first trip was a four-day tour through Ontario's Highlands starting in May of last year, when it was still quite cool and the roads were not as clean as I was hoping for. On that tour through Ontario's Highlands, I dealt with rain, frost, sandy roads and a dropped and slightly broken bike. So yes, I learned a lot that trip.
The next adventure was another four-day road trip this time to the New Liskeard Bikers Reunion on a Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special. On this trip, we also dealt with rain, but that was easily overcome by the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen while riding in Northeastern Ontario.
The next journey took me through Muskoka, where I had to regress to my dirt biking days when the road leading to the cottage we were staying at suddenly turned into loose gravel, with massive pot holes, steep terrain and random rocks (just to keep things interesting).
It’s those moments where you just need to grit your teeth, say a few encouraging words (or maybe a few choice words towards the leader) and plow forward. Note to new riders: don’t follow the leader if you aren’t comfortable or confident that you can get through the terrain ahead!
For those of you planning a tour up North, whether it’s a nice fall ride, early spring trip or perhaps summertime jaunt, here are some of the things that riding in the north has taught me:
Be Ready for Anything
This sounds pretty cliché, since you really should be ready for anything while riding anyways. However, it’s important to remember that conditions in Northern Ontario can be pretty variant at times depending on what season you are riding in. Try your best to research, plan ahead, and pack for the conditions. It’s fun to explore, and I’m the first person to throw away any sort of strict itinerary, but it is still important to have a general game plan in place for each day of riding.
Road Conditions May Change
While the majority of the roads are pristine and well maintained, those roads on the map that look like main roads leading to your cottage may be deceiving. It is also hard to judge how steep the roads are based on a map. Before heading out, make sure you research what roads you are going to ride on, and have a backup plan should you take a road that suddenly turns out to be not what you expected.
Sometimes, sandy or dirt roads can be intimidating for the beginner rider. I was put to the test my first time up North, and quickly learned to ride slow through corners, and use only my back brake for easy steering.
Bugs Are Plentiful
Yep, you are going to encounter bugs while up North. It’s just part of the deal, and something that residents have learned to accept. However, if you aren’t from the area, those black flies and June bugs may be a bit of a nuisance. I make sure to pack a soft microfiber cloth to clean bug bits off of my full face visor. For a good bug remover, check out Wizards Bug Remover to clean off your windshield or bike. For those of you wearing an open-face helmet, make sure you wear a good set of goggles, and bring something to cover up the lower part of your face.
Weather Can Change Quickly
Like some of the stubborn riders out there, I tend not to bring rain gear with me. I find it a pain to carry, and I never wear it. However, I saw the need for it while I was up north and we encountered rain when it wasn’t in the forecast. I sure was thankful that my friend had a spare set, and room to carry it. We quickly pulled off to the side of the road, suited up and continued on our ride to the next town (which was a good 40 km away). Since then, I have packed rain gear for longer trips, and also my Joe Rocket Canada gear so I can take out or add layers as needed. The Alter Ego jacket and pants are perfect for variant weather conditions!
Scan for Critters
My first time seeing a moose in person (other than at a zoo) was while riding through Algonquin. The majestic animal was so beautiful and graceful, yet intimidating at the same time. The moose, deer, bears and smaller animals are plentiful up north, and something to be aware of while riding. I found that I was scanning more often.
Beginner riders should remember not to swerve suddenly for an animal on the road. Try braking for smaller animals, and if you cannot stop in time for a larger animal, you will have to swerve to get around it.
Time Stands Still... Kind Of
Maybe it was the fact that I was on vacation, but I found that riding up North made me more relaxed and at ease. My biggest concern was deciding where to ride on a given day, and what route to take. Aside from a tentative plan, my only objective was to explore new twisty roads and see as much beautiful landscape as I could possibly see.
So when you decide to take your next trip, pick a destination but don’t be too concerned with how long it is going to take you to get there. Bring water and snacks in case you need an energy boost and "just ride."
People are Generally Helpful
Of all the places I could drop my bike, it happened in a parking lot near Highway 11. Hundreds of kilometres from home, I was panicked when I realized my throttle and front brake were bent. Within minutes, a local man had approached my group with a tool kit in hand to help bend everything back into place and get me on my way. Nothing beats Northern hospitality!
It was on those great northern roads that I dared myself to twist the throttle a bit more, and lean a bit further into those twisties. My confidence grew with each corner, road and trip I took. I overcame some hurdles, and accomplished some personal goals while at the same time discovered some of the best motorcycle roads that Ontario has to offer.