Photos: Ed and Rach, unless otherwise specified or unknown.
With the troubles of Ontario motorists behind us it was time to hit La Belle Province!
Note: this article could appear overly negative, and it is not meant to be. Tone of voice can often be lost with text so I advise imagining that I’m telling you this down the pub with a jokey voice and a pint of beer in my hand.
With that said, let’s find out what happened in Quebec …
QUEBEC – ‘Je me Souviens’
We entered Quebec province from the South side of the river from Ottawa and rode into Montreal sans issues, where we found a very cheap B&B and did some touristy things for the next two days. We toured the city on foot, metro and bus, ate our own weight in poutine, and even went to the butterfly exhibition.
All was well, and as we left Montreal we thought our trouble were behind us. In five words; no, no, no, no, non!
We’d just made it off the island and over the bridge when my sat-nav suggested a route that involved 30 km of highway to avoid an extra 70 km detour through tiny backroads. Well I had run my new engine in by now, so I now had a minimum cruising speed of 80 km/h. In fact GPS indicated nearly 90! So 30 km of highway would be fine. Or so we thought.
It turns out that a SWAT team no less, travelling on the same highway saw two smaller motorcycles travelling in the same direction and phoned us in to the police. I guess when your job role is to treat the whole world as a threat and regularly deal with the lowest forms of life, you eventually start to hate everything, and today they hated us.
Now this wouldn’t be problem, because surely the police that turned up would be the same as the logical and friendly police we’d met in all the other English-speaking provinces? Oh no (x5) …
Canada is the 36th country that I’ve ridden through on my little 90, and the first 34 countries were all non-English speaking, so it’s safe to say that I’ve learnt how to deal with cops. Almost all of them are humans and as long as you act calm and massage their egos if required, all will be fine. But not in this case. Right from the word go he was very arrogant and hostile – not enough to allow you to make a complaint, but enough to assert all of his authority.
He immediately called for a tow truck to collect the bikes and take them off the highway in perfectly fluent English. However, the second that I — as tactfully as possible — told him that standard Quebec rules do not apply to us, and tried to explain why, he would promptly switch to French and start arguing with me.
Now this particularly annoyed me. My French is passable for everyday use, but my vocabulary is somewhat lacking when it comes to traffic law. And as one of us is paid to know traffic law and obviously was fluent in English, it just stank of arrogance. He would selectively switch to French whenever he wanted to ensure I couldn’t argue back.
Sure enough the tow truck arrived and we were forced to pay $200 for the truck to take us to the inspection centre, even though it was only 3km away and we were basically on the off-ramp. But that didn’t matter, anything I said would have just been met with a torrent of French. So on the truck we went.
At the inspection centre we were ordered to put the bikes through an inspection to pass the Quebec safety test. It’s worth noting that because of different country requirements, even a brand new UK bike won’t pass a Quebec test. But once again, let’s not apply logic here, let’s just bark French at the travellers who just love spending $170 on a test that no foreign bike will pass anyway.
Of course the bikes failed and then they were taken away on the same truck to an impound yard where, despite a now reduced rate of $100, we were still a total of $470 worse off, and trying to find out what we do now. The policeman had left by this point, which to be honest was a good thing as his mere presence made my faith in the human race lower.
So now I’ll do the helpful thing and explain Quebec traffic law, as there’s a chance it’ll help you if you decide to ride through there in future (it’s worth noting that I never will again out of principle).
The Vienna Convention on Road Traffic states that a vehicle must meet the technical requires of the home country (that’s the UK for us). Therefore the Quebec test does not apply to our vehicles. I do not need an original chain guard because not only do I have a rather large pannier covering the entire chain, but I also do not have rear footpegs therefore no pillion can accidentally put their foot in the chain. Likewise, I also do not require amber reflectors on the forks and loads of the other things they failed the bikes on, because they are not legally required in the UK!
Now the question should have been, what does apply to our bikes? Common sense really. A conversation would have been nice, for example: being asked to show him that all of our controls worked fine, brakes, steering and smooth throttle. Showing him that we both had working riding lights and brake lights.
And at the end of it maybe a stern warning that our bikes don’t “look” acceptable and we should avoid the highway, even if we are keeping up with traffic. I would have even understood an escort off the highway to the back roads (we were already at the off-ramp), or even to the inspection centre where the policeman could be satisfied that our vehicles were safe to proceed. And if there was a safety critical fault, he could even have said that we can’t leave until we fix it.
I’m a fair guy. Yes our bikes look daft and we draw attention, but we also meet everyone with a smile and this experience in Quebec is the worst I have ever had in any country – even Switzerland (it’s a long story, but they act the same).
I’m sure this experience will draw a lot of opinions, some that agree with me and some that don’t, but the thing that I think is inexcusable, is switching from perfect English to French, raising his voice whenever his authority was challenged, just so I couldn’t argue against his absolute power. It left a very sour taste in both our mouths.
To add insult to injury, we were told that our bike were now banned from Quebec roads and our number plates were on the database of banned vehicles. Technically I know that our bikes aren’t actually banned, but I’d had enough of dealing with arrogant police and didn’t fancy another arbitrary $500 fine that couldn’t be contested due to lengthy court battles.
So what happened next? Well we turned to Facebook of course. I put a post up saying that our bikes were now banned from Quebec roads and we needed help to leave Canada and get to the U.S.A. What followed was mostly Canadians saying “We’re so sorry about Quebec, we hate riding there too” and “please don’t leave Canada because of Quebec, go to the east coast , they’re much friendlier”.
These comments made us laugh and made us feel better at the time, but there was also quite a few comments from Quebecers saying “We hate the police too”. And that helped us get a different view of the situation and not hate the entire province. There were also some Quebecers who wanted to help us out. One guy called Gabriel even crammed our two C90’s into his car and took us all the way to Quebec City in the hope that’s we’d have a better experience there.
Once in Quebec City we were dropped off at a friend’s house. We’d met Alain at a bike show a few months previously and he’d asked us to stay. Alain and his family were amazing and they made us feel very welcome. The hospitality was awesome and due to being without transport he even dropped us into the city in the morning and picked us up in the evening to allow us to explore the sights ourselves.
Quebec city was beautiful and reminded us of European cities, plus we both agreed the food was the best we’d had on the trip so far. However, there was one thing that really, really bothered me about Quebec, this:
I was just about ready to accept that this province wasn’t for me, but every time I saw one of these signs, I wasn’t so sure. I eventually found out they’ve banned all bikes because of biker gang problems in the city around 30 years ago. And while there’s a particularly strange form of logic that can be drawn there, I can’t help but think that if car gangs became a major problem, they’d never ban cars because too many voters drive them. But maybe I’m just cynical.
Anyway, I kept telling myself “it’s just the police and the government, it’s not the people” and eventually after some more lovely food, my anger subsided and I was ready to enjoy myself once more and also leave Quebec province. But how to do it was an issue as we were still illegally declared as illegal. Oh no, I’ve gone cross-eyed.
Luckily Alain’s son came to the rescue. He not only borrowed a truck, but gave us a 300km lift to the border of New Brunswick! We said our goodbyes to our lovely hosts and enjoyed a farewell meal before loading the bikes into the truck and heading for freedom.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where I will leave this article. I will also issue a word of warning for the comments section below:
I do not like blanket racism or Xenophobia, if you have also had a bad experience in Quebec then feel free to detail it below if you wish, after all, the truth has never hurt anyone and it might even help instigate change. But please do not tar all Quebecois with the same brush. All the civilians we met were lovely, in fact even the towing guy felt sorry for us and let us stay in a trailer in his impound for free.
Will I be back to Quebec? In a word, no. I’ve learnt my lesson and it’s clear that neither us or our little 90’s are welcome by the officials. We’ve even heard the same from a lot of other travellers who rode through the province with foreign plates – even the shiniest of big bikes.
But like I said before, our experience of the actual people was nothing less than lovely. Okay, we’re $470 worse off, but we’ve still got our health and we’ve now got another story to tell. I’ll leave you with a photo of us in our lovely accommodation in the impound lot.
See you next time folks as we explore the Maritimes, and keep smiling.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.