Opinion: Reaching higher

Motorcyclists have been ignored by government for so long that it jumps out when we’re mentioned by name on a policy document.

Here in Ontario, we’ve been moaning about HOV lanes and lane filtering and loud pipes and the like for years, mostly just griping inside our helmets, but now, it’s almost like Premier Doug Ford actually read my open letter to him last year. The province is going to open the HOV lanes to single riders, and told us so in a news backgrounder, titled “The Getting Ontario Moving Act Will Keep our Roads Safe, Protect Frontline Workers, Schoolchildren, and Motorcyclists.”

Curiously, though, there’s no mention in that backgrounder of another piece of motorcycle legislation, which is mentioned in this press release instead.  “Regulatory changes will put people first by amending motorcycle regulations to allow for high-styled handlebars,” it says.

High-styled handlebars? Are we going to see this bike wobbling around Ontario’s roads?

Huh? Did you ask for this? What’s all this about? There are no details in the wording of Bill 107 about this because it’s not part of the proposed Act – it’s just legislation that needs a regulatory amendment – but the proposal is to change the current rule to allow handlebars to be no higher than the rider’s shoulders when seated. At the moment, Ontario’s legislation requires them to be no higher than 380 mm (15 inches) from the top of the seat when the rider is seated.

“Removing regulatory burden on motorcycle handlebar heights will give industry access to a new market of motorcycle handlebars,” said a spokesperson for the Ministry when I asked about this. “Motorcycle riders will also be given more choice and a greater number of options to retrofit existing vehicles or to customize new motorcycle purchases.”

Handlebar height regulations vary across North America. B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan say the bars can be no higher than the shoulders, while the Atlantic provinces have a height limit of 30 cm (12 inches) from their attachment at the frame. Manitoba specifies no more than 390 mm above the depressed seat, while Quebec lets the bars reach for the stars at up to 600 mm above the seat. Newfoundland doesn’t seem to have a regulation – at least, not one I could find.

For reference, the ape-hangers on this bike are 24 inches, which is about 600 mm. Sort of legal in Quebec but nowhere else in mainland Canada.

In the U.S., according to the AAA, more than half the states have no height regulations at all, while of those that do, 12 call for shoulder height and only seven have a maximum of 15 inches. So maybe Ontario really is getting with the program, after all.

“In 2009, Ontario introduced a motorcycle handlebar height restriction of 380 mm. At the time, measurement-specific handlebar height restrictions were common in Canada and Ontario was consistent with that national approach,” said the Ministry spokesperson.

“As with all road safety policies, the ministry continued to monitor the need for measurement-specific rules and found that less prescriptive regulations could be used while still achieving the same road safety objectives.

“There is still a restriction on height, however it is no longer numerically based. The new amendment will allow motorcycle operators to operate motorcycles with handlebars that are at the top of the operator’s shoulders or lower while seated. As a result, the restriction is subjective, as it is dependent on the rider.”

The guy at the back has bars to his shoulders, the guy at the front might not quite cut it in Ontario. Either way, they’d better wear helmets if they’re coming up to Canada.

The spokesperson could not say where the idea for this proposed amendment came from. Nor did anyone else know. “We certainly didn’t ask for it, nor have we had any requests from our member companies to change the regs,” said David Grummett, Director of Communications for Canada’s Motorcycle and Moped Industry Council. “We asked our contact at MTO and they didn’t know where the request came from.”

Neither Premier Doug Ford nor Minister of Transportation Jeff Yurek have licences to ride a motorcycle, but they do seem to have our best interests at heart. This new regulation amendment doesn’t allow ridiculous (and dangerous) apehangers, but it does give a little more freedom of style choice, especially to taller riders.

The proposal to make the amendment is posted here for public comment. If you have a problem with it, you’ve got until June 1 to let the government know.

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