Ah, la belle province. We love riding motorcycles here. From 2010 to 2015, the province led Canadian motorcycle sales: we have 25 per cent of the country’s population, but we buy 30 per cent of the country’s new bikes. Don’t ask me why. Our provincial government certainly isn’t helping. In fact, I think there are some underhanded efforts by government agencies to discourage people from riding.
These efforts aren’t flagrant (well some are, like the outright motorcycle bans in Old Quebec City, Old Montreal, Mount Royal, St. Denis, Longueuil – the list goes on), but are instead subtle nuances of law that discourage motorcycle use, or make it difficult for new riders to maintain an interest in motorcycling.
I’m not talking about bans on loud pipes and such. I’m talking about simple things like the winter tire law that extends to all passenger vehicles in the province, including bikes. From December 15 to March 15, you must have winter tires installed on your vehicle, with the appropriate snowflake symbol embedded in the sidewall. Unbelievably, this includes motorcycles. There are no such tires available for bikes, but that’s of no concern to lawmakers. Motorcycles used as emergency vehicles (read cop bikes) are exempt; all others can – and do – get ticketed, with fines of up to $300.
But who rides in the middle of winter anyway, you ask? Well, last December 24, the temperatures in eastern Canada reached record highs, topping at 16 degrees C in Montreal. But if you were caught on the road on a motorcycle by the local constabulary, you might have ridden home with a rather regrettable Christmas gift. Spotting bikes on the road after Dec. 15 is like shooting fish in a barrel for ticket-hungry cops, and they really do issue tickets.
Then there’s the whole “high-risk” motorcycle category, which applies to supersport machines, and allows Quebec’s ministry of transport, the SAAQ (Société de l’assurance automobile), to charge more than $1,300 annually for a licence plate compared to $567 for a normal bike. This also provides some medical insurance, but you must still purchase regular, costly collision insurance, just like most other provinces.
What constitutes a high-risk bike? You’re going to love this. These “guideline” descriptions are taken directly from the SAAQ:
- Streamlined fairing to improve aerodynamics, covering the sides of the engine, with a low windshield
- A crouched-forward driving position
- Low, short handlebars
- Footpegs placed higher up and farther back
- Muffler placed at the rear and angled upward
- Two disc brakes in front and one disc brake in the back
- Chain-driven rear wheel
- Power-to-weight ratio of over 0.5 hp/kg
- No centre stand
- Oversize frame
Yes, if you ride a bike that has those “visual and technical characteristics,” you’re considered at a higher risk of having a motorcycle accident. Why? Hell if I know. Maybe it’s their extremely efficient brakes, nimble handling, and newfangled technologies like ABS and traction control.
Of course, if those guidelines are too ambiguous, the SAAQ publishes an annual list of offending two-wheelers.
You’d think the powers-that-be would try to promote motorcycle use, especially downtown where bikes can actually help alleviate some of the traffic; Montreal has created free parking spots downtown for a hundred-or-so motorcycles, but they fill quickly. Everywhere else, metered parking spots must be occupied by “no more than one vehicle at a time.” This includes bikes. Why? Because this is Quebec.
If more than one motorcycle is parked in a paid parking spot, the additional bikes will be ticketed. How is it determined who gets the tickets? It’s not random: you must park your bike in the centre of the parking spot. Any bike not in that spot can receive a $52 welcome-to-Montreal tax.
But I think the sneakiest deterrent introduced by the SAAQ is in the change incorporated last year to the mandatory rider-training program. I’m a certified riding instructor and have seen how this subtle change has affected new riders.
According to the previous curriculum, a person who wanted to get a motorcycle licence had to first register with a riding school, and attend a nine-hour theory course before writing the mandatory theory exam at the SAAQ. Once that exam was successfully completed, a learner’s permit was issued that allowed you to continue with the practical portion of the training.
Under the new rules, it is no longer necessary to register at a riding school or attend a theory class before writing the “knowledge test.” A potential motorcyclist can head straight to the SAAQ and write the exam, which still gets them a learner’s permit when successfully completed. Now, however, the onus is on that person to study ahead of time, on their own. In theory, this sounds great. Less government meddling in our lives!
The problem is the exam has been revised and is more difficult, and without the benefit of the pre-test theory classes, the pass rate has apparently dropped from more than 80 per cent to just over 50 per cent. At least, this is according to reports from various riding schools.
The sneaky subtlety of this change (and this is purely my conspiracy theory) is that because people have committed very little time and almost no money before taking the test, there’s little motivation to continue with the mandatory training program if they fail the test — nipping potential motorcyclists in the bud, so to speak.
There was no reason given why this change was made, and the system worked just fine before it was implemented. However, the riding school I work for saw a 30 per cent drop in enrollment immediately following this change – it’s easier for these demoralized potential riders to just drop the training altogether with minimal financial loss, rather than to wait another 28 days (the minimum waiting period after a failure) to retake the test.
Even so, despite all of these discouraging factors, Quebecois riders are a resilient bunch. I won’t be surprised if motorcycle sales continue to grow in the province in 2016. Let’s hope the government’s surreptitious scheme isn’t working after all.