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Ride Manitoulin - A Road for Every Rider
Exploring the roads of the world's largest fresh-water island
This summer I had the good fortune to spend sixty days on the road as part of the Ultimate Northern Ontario Road Trip, a rolling road show that brings the incredible highways of Northern Ontario to the rest of the world using the power of the internet. We were fortunate enough to spend five whole days on Manitoulin Island, the world’s largest freshwater island, to cover the Ride Manitoulin event, and all the great riding there was to be done on the island, on- and off-road.
Our voyage began in earnest in Espanola, on Highway Six, which is one of the regions great roads and makes the ride over all that much nicer. On our way to the swing bridge to Little Current, we passed the legendary Willisville Mountain Road, which we declined to ride this time around. If you’re into some really technical riding, try this short ride before heading over to the island – it follows the contours of the mountain, around to the tiny town of Willisville and is quite an adventure.
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The swing bridge which separates Manitoulin from the mainland is a unique feature in Ontario, built in 1913 as a rail bridge that swings sideways to allow larger boats to pass through the North Channel. Today, the bridge serves as the only road link to the island.
Once we crossed over, we wasted no time getting to our accommodations at the Mindemoya Court Cottages and Campground where we would be staying for five magnificent days on the shores of the turquoise waters of Lake Mindemoya.
Owner/operator Greg Adams knows the roads of Manitoulin backwards and forwards and is more than happy to make recommendations to riders. He can generally be found out on the roads every Sunday afternoon. Though he hails from Florida, he says that Manitoulin is where he wants to spend his time – if only it weren’t for the winter!
We arrived the day before Ride Manitoulin was scheduled to begin, and we were lucky enough to explore part of the island before the event itself. Colin Wilson and Steven Fox-Radulovich, two of the islands most well-versed adventure riders, took time out of their busy schedule getting the event ready to show me around some of the backroads on the island. While we only had three hours to pack in a tour of the best dirt within a 70 mile radius, we saw things that most cruiser riders will never get to see.
In our pack was two BMW R1200GS motorcycles and a 2012 BMW F650GS. We took a turn off Bidwell Road (a great paved road through some backcountry) down a long gravel lane through seemingly endless split rail fences over rolling hills to McLean’s Mountain, which overlooks the North Channel and Georgian Bay. The road down from the mountain was pretty hairy but we all managed it with a bit of dirt bike finesse (aka rear brakes and standing up!).
Next we took Mud Crik Road (this is how the local pronounce creek, according to Steven) to a small wooden bridge over the creek to Lake Kagawong. This single lane gravel road wound around the shores of the lake and was the highlight of our off-road adventure, with scenic vistas of the lake rewarding us for braving these low-traction areas.
That first evening happened to be the birthday of a member of our crew and we celebrated at one of the island’s better known fine-dining establishments, The Schoolhouse in Providence Bay. The restaurant is actually a retrofitted schoolhouse and is decorated with all kinds of turn of the century bric-a-brac. The packed dining room is a great indication of how cozy the place is, and how delicious the menu items are. We sampled nearly everything on its weekly menu and there wasn’t a complaint among us.
The next day we arrived at the fairgrounds to take in the sights, sounds and smells of Ride Manitoulin, the island’s big motorcycle event. This is the second year for the event, and everything seems to be getting bigger and better. This year I was resolved to participate in a type of motorcycle game that I’d never played before – the poker run. For those who don’t know, a poker run is an event where a rider hits five places on a designated route where they pick up cards to form a poker hand. The people with the highest hands at the end of the run generally win a prize.
We arrived at 10:30am and picked up four tickets before racing out onto the island. We took the Government Road to Tekumah and Ward’s General Store for our first stamp and were welcomed with rolling farmland with massive hay bales dotting the fields, and some good forested twisties. Our route took us to the Manitoulin Espresso Bar in Mindemoya run by a chopper rider named Lloyd, Gore Bay, Kagawong and the delectable Manitoulin Chocolate Works, and finally Spring Bay. We were half an hour late for the close, but they let us play our losing hands anyway. Ah well, the ride more than made up for our poor hands.
We grabbed some sausages and headed over to the Biker Rodeo where we saw a Kawasaki KLR trounce the field of shovelheads, ironheads and all other ilk of Harley-Davidsons in the barrel push, the weiner gulp and other hilarious feats of slow speed maneuvering.
That night we stopped in at the Lake Huron Fish and Chips Co. for another dinner on the town. I’ve been all over Ontario and am used to seeing pickerel (or walleye) dinners at every crossroads, and stop often enough to consider myself an expert in the early stages of his career. I’ve had Herbert’s Fish and Chips in Killarney, which is routinely named as one of the best around, and the deep fried goodies at DNA Fish and Chips on the Bruce Peninsula which seems to be the latest up-and-comer, and can honestly say the whitefish sandwich at Lake Huron is in the top five province-wide. We took ours down to the rocky flats on the shores of Lake Huron and munched while the sun went down.
Listing all the roads and places we visited over the next three days would take a dog’s age – needless to say, the highlights were Highway 542, the Meldrum Bay Inn, and Bridal Veil Falls – we even went for a swim under the falls. Pure relaxation.
On our final day on the island, we saddled up at the break of dawn and rode Highway 6 out to South Baymouth. No trip to the island would be complete without a ride on the Chi-Cheemaun ferry. Its policy of first-on and first-off for motorcycles made the trip all the more enjoyable. We took the opportunity to lounge out on the Algonquin chairs during the hour and a half long voyage, staring out at the azure waters, islands and lighthouses that dotted the trip south to the Tobermory.
Arriving on the Bruce Peninsula, we climbed to the top of the observation deck at Bruce Peninsula National Park to take in the view. Our night was spent at the Taylor Made Bed and Breakfast where our bikes rested safely in its massive garage. The breakfast we feasted on the next day gave us ample fuel to make it back home and to the city, if only to wait for the next time we could break free from the traffic of the city and get back to the country roads of Manitoulin.
For help planning your trip to Manitoulin Island, check out the Georgian Bay Coastal Route on http://www.gotourontario.com/. And for information on everything related to riding in Ontario, check out Ontario’s home for motorsports http://www.gorideontario.ca/.