How to: Ride in the fall

Monday is officially the first day of fall. The weather is changing.

That’s no reason to bundle up in a cardigan and start swilling pumpkin spice drinks. The temperature might be dropping, but there’s still plenty of time before we have to winterize our motorcycles. This  could be the best time to go riding in Canada.

What’s great about riding in the fall?

The best part about riding in the fall is, by far, the absence of tourist traffic. In other countries, this isn’t such a big deal, as their tourism isn’t as seasonally based. In Canada, it can be frustrating to be jammed in a long line of RVs and other slowpokes, all headed for the beach. It’s especially noticeable on ferries, and in national parks. Fall means you can ride more freely on back roads, especially in areas like the Cabot Trail or rural Quebec. Even if you aren’t a speed demon, wouldn’t you rather enjoy the scenery on your own terms, instead of being stuck in a line of cars?

With the tourists gone, the roads are clear for mega fun.

This holds true for riders who are tootling about their local haunts, but is especially noticeable for touring enthusiasts. In fact, fall is especially great for motorcycle touring; the crappy restaurants that only exist to hose summer traffic are also closed down, and only the best places stay open year-round. You’ll find accommodation prices have lowered, too, especially in places like the east coast and New England. If you want to ride through PEI, or the Rockies, or Quebec’s Cote Nord/Gaspe/Mont Royal regions, this is the time to go. And remember that much of the US will see warmer temperatures than Canada for a few weeks yet, so just like springtime, this is a good time to ride south.

The scenery is amazing in the fall. Riding in the Canadian spring, you’re going to see a lot of slowly decaying snowbanks, garbage bag trees, and general yuckiness. Sure, summer’s great, but it can’t match up to fall’s contrasts, especially if you’re riding in farmland, or in areas with lots of hardwoods changing into fall colours. The weekends might get a bit busy with leaf peepers taking in the foliage, but that’s not a major problem mid-week.

You also get cooler daytime temperatures. This might not please you if you’re the type who likes blatting up to Tim Hortons in your T-shirt, but if you wear a full-face helmet and proper jacket and pants, it’s nice to have a little less heat. If you’ve wired in a heated vest and heated grips, you’ll barely notice the cold at all, at least for a few weeks.

The scenery tends to be more interesting than summer, even if the temperatures are cooler.

Another great thing: the pavement should be in good shape. Spring motorcycle touring means you’re going to be cruising through endless potholes, left by the freeze-thaw cycle. By now, work crews have been patching and re-paving all summer, and the roads are as good as they’re going to get. Enjoy it while you can, because the vicious cycle starts again in a few months.

Finally, fall weather means the end of black flies, mosquitoes, horseflies, and so on. This is great news for adventure riders, especially if they’re headed out to remote areas like the Trans Labrador Highway or the Trans-Taiga. There’s nothing like a thousand mosquitoes buzzing around your tent to make you ponder the benefits of DDT. The cooler temperatures are also nice if you get your TW200 stuck in a bog, and you need to pull it out. Don’t ask how I know this.

What’s not so great about riding in the fall?

There are some downsides to riding in the September-November window, of course, starting with the temperature change.

The cooler air isn’t as big a deal for shorter rides, especially if you’ve got decent heated gear, but longer rides and multi-day trips can be challenging. The biggest problem is the temperature change over a day. You might leave your house in balmy 15° temperatures at lunch, only to see the air considerably cooler once the sun goes down. Watch the weather, plan ahead. You’ll find it wise to pack extra clothes this time of year.

Not everyone enjoys bundling up like the Michelin Man to go riding in the fall. Of course, not everyone is crazy enough to ride Toronto-Saint John in the last week of November, either.

Often the fall is more rainy than summer, and once November rolls in, you’ve also got to keep an eye out for snowfall, especially at higher elevations. However, using common sense will help you avoid most dangers here, at least if you’re riding close to home. On longer trips, you’ll have to exercise more caution.

Another danger that tends to worsen in fall, at least in rural Canada, is farm traffic. While farmers and their harvesters don’t usually clog up the road like tourists do, their equipment often leaves big clods of slick mud that can cause problems for the unwary rider. If you’re motoring through farm country, keep that in mind. Same goes for wet leaves, once they start to fall from the trees.

Finally, you’ve got a much shorter timespan for riding than in the spring. Instead of 16-17 hours of daylight, you might have 12. It gets dark early, especially after Daylight Savings Time kicks in.

What gear is good for fall riding?

As stated above, a good set of heated gear (grips and a vest, at least) will extend your riding season comfort by several weeks. A Pinlock visor will stop your helmet from fogging up in the frostiest temperatures.

Even if a full-face helmet isn’t your thing, a full face shield like the one on this Shoei J-Cruise will keep you warmer. Photo: Richard Seck

Speaking of helmets, ditch that micro-beanie or 3/4 hipster lid you’ve been using for rides to the local coffee hangouts. At minimum, get an open-face helmet with a full face shield, although a full-face helmet is going to be better as temperatures drop. Wear a neckwarmer underneath it, to keep the wind off your skin.

You’ll want a good rainsuit, or good waterproof jacket and pants. Aerostich gear is at its best this time of year, especially the one-piece suits.

If you can fit a windshield to your bike, it will increase your comfort, and a set of Hippo Hands or similar wind-blocking guards will also be beneficial.

8 thoughts on “How to: Ride in the fall”

  1. I am just completing a Montreal to Tofino tour as I ride back to Montreal (completing a solo coast to coast for 2019 on my 2015 Spyder ST). I’ve been slowed down by rain the past week (and managed to keep ahead of the snow in the prairies) but trying to savour the ride during this last week. Heated vest and grips are keeping me comfortable and I hope to be home by the weekend.

    All of those benefits of a fall ride ring true. The last 4 + weeks have been awesome!

  2. Good warning on farm equipment coming home from work the other day I came up behind a manure spreader that took up 3/4 of the road. it was not fun dodging the clods flying off the thing.
    1 thing I can add about farm country in particular is that some wildlife is more active in the fall, stocking up for the winter. Deer and turkeys are hopping from field to field gleaning after the harvest.

    1. Thanks, Trane. I think she’s a pretty good-looking machine, too. Currently half apart in the shed for installation of heated grips and some other maintenance. I really missed riding it this summer.

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