Ride Coast to Coast to Coast! With the Canadian dollar value currently in the toilet, the time to plan your motorcycle trip to the True North is now! The vast and ruggedly beautiful Canada is ripe for 2 wheel discovery.
When to Visit
Prime riding season in Canada varies greatly depending on what part of the country you plan on visiting. Here is a general rule of thumb:
- West Coast and Southern Ont. / Quebec: Early April to Mid-November
- The Maritimes: Early May to Early November
- The Prairies: Late May to Mid-October
- The North (Northern Ont. /Quebec and Labrador): Mid-May to Mid-October
- The Far North (Territories): Early June to Early September
Official riding season kicks off when the salt and sand are swept from the roadways after the winter and ends when the snow comes back. You can most certainly ride before and after the above dates but you could run into some nasty weather.
What the hell is a Kilometer?
Nothing frightens an American more than the metric system. And while I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, the metric system is the official system of measurement in almost every country in the world. Other than the States, there are only two other Countries that have not officially adopted it, Myanmar and Liberia. So when you are visiting these two countries you’re golden, but for most of your cross border travel there are a few simple conversions you should know.
Speed limits in most of Canada are pretty low compared to the USA. It seems politicians are content on setting speed limits based on complaints from the elderly and soccer moms (oh won’t somebody think of the children) rather than actual data and good engineering practices.
- In towns and cities you will be putting along at 50km/h = 30mph
- Rural and Northern highway speed limits can be as low as 90km/h = 55mph
- The typical highway speed is 100km/h = 60mph
- Some Province’s set speed limits on divided highways to 110 km/h = 70mph
- British Columbia’s government apparently has the highest IQ and has set many expressway limits to 120km/h = 75mph
Generally you can ride 10 km/h over the speed limit or with the flow of traffic, whichever is greater, without being bothered by police.
Much of the imperial system still lingers around Canada. When you are at a diner for lunch, you will not see a 113g burger on the menu; believe it or not you will still be ordering a ¼ pounder. You will however find yourself buying gas buy the liter, 20 L = 5.28 gallons. Don’t let the conversion fool you….. YES gas is that expensive here.
What to Bring
Back in “the good old days” we could move across the largest land border with a piece of government ID. Those days are long gone and a valid passport is required. On the topic of border crossing, Canadians are some of the friendliest people in the world. Unfortunately the only prerequisite to becoming a Canadian Boarder Services Agent is being able to say “Hello Bonjour” and then being a complete jerk to travelers. I have however encountered a few really nice agents, normally at the rural crossings, but I can honestly say that the American side has always been much more of a pleasure to deal with. If you have a bad experience at the border crossing, don’t dwell on it; the people will be a lot nicer as you travel throughout Canada.
DOT, Snell or ECE certified helmets are mandatory in the entire country.
Cold Weather Riding Gear
Canada has hot weather believe it or not. But if you are riding in early spring or late into the fall you will want to pack accordingly. Long johns, heated gear and hand warmers are all great things to have packed away.
Coastal weather in Canada can be fickle. Packing rain gear like the affordable Nelson Riggs WP8000 is essential.
If you are planning adventure style riding in the wilderness you might want to consider bear mace and bear bangers.
What Not to Bring
Unless you plan on hunting, you simply don’t need it. Canada is one of the safest places in the world and hand guns for “protection” are a big no no. If someone tries to rob you just say “what would your mother think?”. The Canadian thief will then apologize and possibly offer to buy you a donut and coffee from Tim Hortons to make amends. In all seriousness, most guns, especially hand guns are restricted or outright prohibited, so leave it at home.
A Tight Schedule
With a few exceptions, Canada moves at a much slower pace than Urban America. Traffic is slower and there is a general laidback lifestyle (especially in the Maritimes). Take your time and stop frequently to enjoy the sights and attractions.
Where to Ride
Canada is full of great riding; here are just some of the places you should plan on going:
The Cabot Trail is arguably the best road to ride in the Country. Located on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, the scenery is outdone by only the mountain ranges in the west. Once you hit the island crossing over the Canso Causeway hang a left onto Route 19 to connect to the Cabot Trail. You will find yourself in the heart of Cape Breton culture - in French Acadian communities eating fresh seafood, at the peak of the Cape Breton Highland’s, the most awe inspiring national park in the east, and carving up the best twisties in the country for days.
The Whale Route
A great starting point for this route is the amazing city of Montreal, followed by the European like old Quebec City. Once you leave the urban centers and enter into rural Quebec you find yourself in the Village of Tadoussac, the official start of The Whale Route. The road runs along the shore of the St Lawrence River for over 1200km ending in the tiny town of Kegaska. Plans are in the works to extend the highway to the isolated towns to the east, but to explore further you will have to settle for a ferry.
Lake Superior: Grand Algoma & The Circle Tour
The Grand Algoma Tour takes you along Lake Superior’s eastern shoreline and then in land to beautiful Algoma County. If you are looking to explore the more rugged northern coast of Lake Superior, you can forgo the Algoma loop and continue past Wawa into the heart of Northwestern Ontario. Here you will find yourself winding along the rocky coast, up and down hills and around sweeping corners. The Circle Tour takes you all the way around Lake Superior, the biggest fresh water lake in the world, from Sault Ste. Marie and back again.
Running from Northern BC, through the Northern Rockies, into the Yukon and then you guessed it, Alaska; this route is an ideal ride for the Adventurer who prefers to stay on the hardtop. The famous Alaska Highway’s mile 0 is near Dawson Creek, BC and takes you through spectacular mountain passes, wildlife galore and too many interesting stops to list. The Sign Post Forest and Liard River Hot Springs are a can’t miss.
The Canadian Rockies is one of; if not the best natural attractions Canada has to offer. Touring through the Rockies you will find some of Canada’s best twisties, it’s most stunning scenery, and visit it’s most famous national parks such as Banff and Jasper. The Golden Triangle is a popular route for a day trip, but don’t limit yourself to one area, take at least a week and explore.
Gravel Travel Routes
Canada’s wilderness will satisfy the most hardcore Adventure Rider. Check out these famous routes listed below and visit Gravel Travel for more details and info on many more routes:
The Dempster begins 40 km’s from Dawson City, Yukon, home of the Sour Toe and Dust to Dawson. The 734km gravel highway takes you through the Ogilvie Mountains, past the Arctic Circle, into the Northwest Territories and ends in the town of Inuvik. It is one of Canada’s most remote and dangerous roads, where you will witness true wilderness, see awe-inspiring wild animals, and experience 24hr sunlight.
Trans Labrador Highway
The Trans Lab is over 1700kms of secluded riding with hundreds of kms of gravel. The road includes Quebec 389 and Labrador 500 & 510. Starting in Quebec traveling east, the highway enters Labrador, “Land of the Big”. Leaving Labrador by ferry will take you to Newfoundland. From there you can explore “The Rock” and get another ferry to Cape Breton, NS (Cabot Trail). The province is working to pave the route and many sections are already complete, so get going if you want to ride it with knobbies.
The North Road
Starting again in the Province of Quebec, this lesser known route takes you all the way to James Bay over 1500kms on the Route De Nord. Much of the unpaved sections are very sandy and logging trucks are abundant. At the end of the road you can dip your tire in James Bay, the southern tip of Hudson Bay, then turn around and do the whole thing again.
Trans Canadian Adventure Trail (TCAT)
The TCAT is for extreme adventure riders. It begins in Newfoundland and runs west through Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and ends in British Columbia. The route runs over 15,000 km and started as a crazy idea in 2007 that has been plotted out by detected riders all across Canada. One thing is for sure, a GPS is a MUST.
If off road is your cup of tea, get your hands on the Canadian Back Road Guide.
Tips for Canadian Riding
- Lanesplitting is illegal
- Helmets are Mandatory
- Radar Detectors are legal in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan ONLY
- It is said that Canada has two seasons, winter and construction. Road construction is common and speeding fines double in construction zones so slow down.
- Wildlife is abundant so always be on the lookout for game crossings.
Come Ride in Canada Eh
It’s aboot time you cash in those dollars for some loonies and toonies, you won’t be disappointed.
The Author of this post rides a Motorcycle and was born and raised in Canada, therefore he is the foremost expert on the subject and all information above should be taken as gospel. Read more at The Perfect Line.