Touring Ontario: Exploring the Near North and Rainbow Country

An inspiring November ride in Ontario


Living in a climate that experiences four distinct seasons, I have come to realize that while some fair-weather riders are content to put their bikes away at the first sign of autumn and a precious crazy few ride nearly all year long, my riding preferences reside somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Once Back to School specials arrive in the mail, I recognize the shrinking window of opportunity and ride every day of the week. Once October rolls around and Halloween displays take over the supermarket, I normally keep the battery tender on standby and give the bike a good wash down after every ride in case it happens to be the last of the year. Every so often, if we’re lucky, the riding season might stretch into November. At this point commuting on the bike isn’t an option because of morning frost but each sunny temperate weekend day is a gift and should be appreciated in no other way but to spend it behind the handlebars.

Luckily this November in Ontario was unseasonably mild, so when I headed off to North Bay for the Vintage Road Racing Association’s (VRRA) Annual General Meeting, I left the cage at home and took the two-wheeler. Located at a different location in Ontario every year, this year’s event was located at the Best Western North Bay Hotel and Conference Centre.

Considering I rarely go directly from point A to point B when a sunny Saturday afternoon and a bike are involved, my route would make it a decent day’s ride from Toronto. Heading out of the city, I decided to ride up Yonge St. (The world’s longest street) far beyond city limits to avoid the monotony of Highway 400 until I rolled into Barrie. Normally preferring the fast food hot spots of Bayfield Street for a quick bite, I was in no hurry and opted to have lunch with a view of Kempenfelt Bay. While most riders will wave and be friendly around the gas pumps during fill ups, there is a distinct bond between riders who make the decision to embark on a journey at this time of year in Ontario. Sitting on the patio having a coffee to warm up my insides, I got to talking with Don and Nancy from Illinois who heard about the wide open stretches of tarmac in Ontario and decided they had to experience our roads for themselves before the snow started flying and were glad they did. “These heated vests were the best damn money I ever spent,” bragged Don as he unzipped his riding jacket to expose his newly acquired gear. The deeper into each season you ride, the more you appreciate quality gear. It’s really something you don’t think about until you really need it.

Bidding Don and Nancy safe travels on their Electra Glide as they headed for home, I set out once again towards North Bay. Getting as far as Powassan on Highway 11 before getting bored with riding in a straight line, I decided to get off the main drag and tackle some twisties. The number of fellow two-wheelers I crossed paths with dwindled as the sun began to set and the chill set in. I then hopped back on Highway 11 to make up some time to the Bay. The great thing about riding up here is that there is always a direct route for those with places to be, and a fun route for those who want to sight-see and take their time.

I unpacked my saddlebags in a parking lot scattered with a truly eclectic group of bikes and checked in, enjoyed a nice hot shower and made my way down to the conference room for my first VRRA Gala. The term ‘gala’ may be more of a subjective term to some than others, so I quickly loosened my tie as I realized that I was the only one wearing a suit. Previously worrying about having to spend an entire evening with a pretentious group of wealthy weekend racers, I instead encountered a group of friendly, down-to-earth and hospitable people who all have one thing in common; they are crazy about bikes. Expecting stuffy owners of vintage BSAs and Vincents, I learned that the racing association welcomes rides and riders from all walks of life. Emceed by veteran writer and motorsport enthusiast Max Burns, the evening consisted of speeches and stories as well as trophies and awards of both the satirical and legitimate variety, proving that this is a tight-knit group with an undeniable feeling of mutual respect and community.

After imbibing a few pops the night before, waking up to the alarm on a weekend morning was a difficult proposition at first. Instead of heading home, I still figured I better take advantage of another favourable weather forecast while it lasted and decided to ride what is known as the Lake Nipissing Circle Tour, stopping in Sudbury to visit a motorcycle dealership that I have been told deserved to be seen in person. Without another vehicle or even streetlight in sight for miles, I was able to embrace the sweeping curves and crack the throttle of the Suzuki C90T I was riding. One of the great joys of riding in what is known as the Near North is the constantly changing geography; around every turn is an unexpected rock formation or picturesque body of water that the road you are riding on was forced to snake over, around or through.

Not only does it have tourist attractions like the big nickel, Sudbury is also home to the Science North. Whether you are waiting out the rain, want to give the gluteus maximus a rest, or heaven forbid, just want to learn some interesting new things, the Science North centre is worthy of your time.

Regardless of the fact I was riding a Suzuki, the aforementioned dealership in question was that of Sudbury Harley-Davidson. The dealership was built from scratch and owned by Ron Karnerva, who is a great ambassador to the hobby and a real character to boot. Not only did Karnerva personally survey the location for his store and hire the team himself, he designed the building and acted as project manager - ensuring that each and every aspect of his vision for the perfect dealership would be acknowledged. Without giving too much away, as this will be the topic of an upcoming feature, he certainly achieved his goal. While I could have listened to his stories all day long, there was riding to be done. You can read all about it next month on Motorcycle.com.

Had I more time to spend, Sudbury is an amazing central location to set out on a variety of riding tours through what is known as Rainbow Country. Circling Lake Nipissing, doing the Sudbury Tour, or exploring Manitoulin Island all offer distinctly different yet rewarding riding experiences. Unfortunately I had to head back to reality in the not so near future so I shot down Highway 69 and lasted about fifteen minutes before getting bored of the straight and narrows so I ducked off going East on Highway 522. Perhaps my favourite pastime while riding is getting lost simply for the sake of it. Constantly finding new, interesting roads to ride is one of the many things that makes riding so much fun – the search for that elusive perfect road that exists somewhere. Heading through towns I had never even heard of, like Restoule, I continued past Commanda Lake and onto Highway 534, eventually getting spit out onto Highway 11 again. Pointing the bike South, I headed back towards Toronto, a hot shower and a comfortable bed.
 

My personal prerogative is that I generally ride until frostbite becomes an all too real occurrence or the snow plows start spreading salt like it’s free – on this particular trip I wasn’t far off from experiencing either. With the right preparation and the right gear, riding in the early winter can be a rewarding experience, free of both tourists and traffic. For now it’s time to head back to the city, back to reality and back into the garage for the bike. I guess I’ll just have to wait until the spring for my next adventure, which will no doubt find me exploring the many roads the near north has to offer as soon as the snow melts.

For more information on how to plan your Ontario riding adventure, visit:
http://www.gorideontario.com/
http://www.rainbowcountry.com/traditions/motorcycle-touring
http://www.ontariosnearnorth.on.ca/motorcycle.php

Related Reading
Touring Ontario: Muskoka and Rainbow Country
Touring Ontario: Algoma Country

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