This fall, I borrowed a Street Triple from Triumph Canada to ride the streets of Toronto, Ontario in a desperate bid to figure out how to enjoy this city on two wheels. (And yes, as the photos attest it rained on me the whole time. I’m that dedicated.)
And let me tell you – this might be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write about. Anyone who’s even been to this sprawling metropolis that Rob Ford, myself and 2.5 million other people call home knows that Toronto has a big problem; mainly, getting people from point A to point B.
The 400 series highways are a disaster. Rush hour now lasts all day. Construction drags traffic to a standstill. And people are getting really honkey. What is this, New York?
Well, after three days riding in the city looking for ways to alleviate the pain of living downtown, three things became clear. To enjoy being a downtown rider, you needed to do one of two things; stay put at an event or shop, choose specific times and roads for riding, or get the hell out of dodge.
Here are my observations after three days of hard-core investigative journalism.
Good Riding In The City
The first thing I should mention about Toronto is that it’s a city of neighborhoods – lots of tiny little cities with houses and shops all clumped together. Also, until recently, there wasn’t a ton of huge apartments and condos downtown. What this means for us riders is that there are lots of alleyways behind residences. These, like the one pictured above, will get you around some of the more congested areas.
Good riding in Toronto has a lot to do with timing. Overall, Sunday night drives are the best, but Saturday late afternoon can be killer. And with Toronto being the economic capital of Canada, most of its inhabitants are home and in bed by 9pm. So you’ll largely have the streets to yourself by then – except for the dreaded Hockey Night in Canada, where thousands of Leafs fans from the suburbs will clog up the downtown arteries.
There are a couple roads of note in the city. My mother, who doesn’t like motorcycles, has a Zen spot on the Don Valley Parkway (DVP.) When it’s free of traffic, it’s easy to see why – the road is framed by the Don River, passes over and through a good dozen parks with forests rarely seen deep in the concrete jungle, and has some nice long sweepers with good elevation changes.
Parallel to the DVP is another great road, the Bayview Extention. With a few twists and turns, this road has the added benefit of circumventing some of the snarl where the DVP meets the Gardiner and Lakeshore Boulevard.
Speaking of which, Lakeshore Boulevard is another great ride. Views of Lake Ontario dominate here, and there are lots of places to pull over for a picnic. The road gets pretty rough around Sherbourne, but there’s something cool about riding past the barges south of Cherry Beach. As long as you’re not on a real low-rider, you should be OK.
Escape Routes from The City
Lakeshore is also the gateway to what’s probably the best eastern escape route from the 400 highways, Kingston Road. Now this isn’t a great road, and there are tons of stop lights, and it’s pretty much a straight shot through a bunch of strip malls, but it avoids both the DVP and the 401 (which Wikipedia says is the busiest highway in the world – not sure after than nine-day traffic jam in China.)
The northern route out of the city is probably at its best on Black Creek Drive, via Parkside, via Keele, via Old Weston Road (it all feels like one long road with five names.) The alternative is the 427. I don’t know what the city engineers got right, but the 427 is the one highway that seems to keep traffic moving.
There are a whole series of routes designed to help you get the heck outta Dodge at www.EscapeThe400s.com, so check ‘em out if you’re looking for that non-highway based riding experience.
Things To Do In The City
Ask a downtown rider about cool motorcycle shops and they’ll probably say Town Moto. Based on its Instagram following, I’d say pretty much everyone in Toronto feels the same way. But seriously – Town Moto does not sell motorcycles (although it does sell parts.) It’s a gear shop, and it has incredible taste, especially for the urban rider.
It’s also just a fun place to visit and it’s on the vanguard of the Toronto motorcycle community. One of the owners is even on Toronto’s parking by-law committee, working to keep Toronto street parking free for the two-wheel set. Town Moto organizes a number of events throughout the riding season, including the warm-up event to Mods and Rockers.
On the same side of the city, the MotoSocial is a moto meet-up that runs every Wednesday afternoon around 7pm. Started by the Viktor Radiks (his Instagram is pretty good too), this event isn’t brand or crowd specific, but it leans towards the hip, young and BMW set. It’s different every week, though.
And now for something completely different – Lakeshore and Leslie. This hangout has been going strong for a couple years – actually I have no clue how long. It got rained out the night I was supposed to go. But every Thursday for the whole riding season (realistically May to November) I see pics of this hangout play out across Facebook. It’s weird and wonderful and full of drama. If you have a Mohawk on your helmet, like to wear chaps and nothing else, or just want to watch crazy stuff go down, this is the one for you.
In a nutshell, Toronto is still a hellish wasteland of cars and traffic. But there are a few bright spots, and if you pick the right time, route and destination, you can usually make it all worthwhile. For a complete list of motorcycle routes in Ontario, check out www.GoRideOntario.com.