Canada Moto Guide’s new head honcho, Mark Richardson, is an insensitive blowhard.
In a recent display of his showboating, he posted a Facebook selfie in front of his Harley Low Rider with Rice Lake as a backdrop, boasting about his late-February ride. Temperatures in Southern Ontario that day peaked at about 17 degrees Celsius, so it’s entirely understandable that he would dust off his Dyna and fire it up for a spin.
However, he unsympathetically posted this knowing that even if the sun is shining and the thermometer inches its way well into the double digits here in my home province of Quebec (it was 15 C the next day), you can’t ride your motorcycle in winter without risking a hefty fine of between $200 and $300.
This is because of the province’s winter tire law, which came into effect in 2008. It states that between December 15 and March 15, “all passenger vehicles registered in Quebec must be equipped with winter tires.” And this includes motorcycles.
If you’re unaware, a winter tire is officially identified by a pictogram that shows a snowflake outlined by a three-peaked mountain, and moulded into the tire’s sidewall. Winter tires not only have more aggressive tread patterns to deal with snow and ice, but they are also made from special rubber compounds that have better grip below 7 degrees C.
I’m in support of this winter tire law for cars – just not the way it applies to motorcycles. I remember noticing how traffic immediately flowed better during a snowfall that first winter the law came into effect. Cars actually accelerated away from intersections rather than sitting there spinning their tires uselessly. I’d noticed fewer cars overshooting stop signs and red lights. This improved traffic flow, at least within the city. It most certainly also helped reduce collisions and single-car crashes on snow-covered roads.
But (and I can’t really substantiate this claim), it did nothing for motorcycles other than take them off the road for three months, which is really a government rip-off because motorcyclists pay for 12 months of use when renewing their registration.
Now before you cry foul, Quebec isn’t the only place with a winter tire law, nor even one where that law extends to motorcycles. In fact, much of Europe has such laws in effect. In some countries, like Austria, Finland, Sweden, Norway and in northern Italy, winter tires are mandatory, and some of those countries threaten heavy fines if the law is disobeyed. Austria, for example, can fine a driver up to 5,000 Euros and seize their vehicle.
Other countries, like Germany, have a situational law in effect, meaning that winter tire use is mandatory only if the situation calls for them. A driver found to have caused an accident while driving in wintry conditions without winter tires, for example, will be fined accordingly, and the vehicle’s insurance will be void. It is therefore possible to operate a motorcycle any time of the year, as long as conditions allow it.
If more tire manufacturers made winter tires for motorcycles, Quebec riders would be able to take an occasional spin on their bikes in winter. Right now, there is a proper winter tire available in Canada, made by Anlas. The Anlas Winter Grip Plus has the aggressive tread pattern, the ice-gripping sipes, and the appropriate pictogram on the sidewall. The only problem is that it comes in very limited sizes — a 19-inch front and 17-inch rear — meant to fit large adventure bikes like the R1200GS. Although I’ve never tried these tires to see if they actually work on snow and ice, at the very least they probably work better than standard tires in cold temperatures, and they’d allow an occasional sanity-preserving motorcycle ride in winter without the risk of getting fined.
There is a section of the Quebec law that stipulates that studded tires are also acceptable for passenger vehicles, and it doesn’t specify that they must have the winter pictogram. Unfortunately, no one makes such a tire for bikes, at least not for the street (Trelleborg once offered a studded off-road tire, but no longer does), and such a tire would be impractical on pavement, probably even dangerous. You could probably get some automotive tire studs and stick them in knobby tires, but those studs are designed to be inserted into holes already made to accept them, in winter tires with rubber that remains relatively pliable when cold, preventing the studs from falling out.
Ideally, if Quebec’s winter tire law were amended to parallel Germany’s situational law, at least in regards to motorcycles, then I’d be able to ride on fair-weather days in February, just like the insensitive blowhard Mr. Boss.