Making life difficult for motorcyclists

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.

Let’s hope that Ural has winter tires fitted, or it’ll be a $300 fine if a cop sees it in Quebec.

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.

No, your Honour, I never take it out of third gear. And look, it’s got a backrest thingy – that slows it right down.

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.

They’re keen and they’re green – well, actually, they’re purple, and that probably doesn’t help anything, either.

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.

Counter-steering is one of the wonders of motorcycling, and the best way to learn it is at a training course — if you make it that far.

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.

Quebec has some beautiful riding roads, like Hwy. 132 in the Gaspe along the south shore of the St. Lawrence.


  1. We must ban all motorcycles, all motorcyclists are speeders, 90% use illegal loud pipes, none have catalytic converters, none are safe to drive, they promote crime and they kill innocent bystanders. how many more reasons do we need. Call your local MLA and have these useless machines banned ASAP.

    • Most car drivers are speeders too! Tell me with a straight face you have never sped in a car. 90% of all bikes do not have illegal loud pipes (have you used a meter on every bike in Canada), how does a vehicle built for transport promote crime, and cars also kill innocent bystanders and in greater numbers. Stop getting your info from Son’s of Anarchy.

    • Wow, what a selfish comment, not because you don’t like motorcycles that everybody has to get rid of theirs. Wanna come beat me up?

    • Hey, um, I have an electric motorcycle… so of course I don’t have a catalytic converter. It’s dirty old tech. And loud pipes? What pipes? I rack up 20km a year and have never been in any accident. But I guess I’m sorry for lowering my carbon footprint instead of driving a 2 ton kill box.

    • We need your address so we can wake you up little man , oh sorry i see your a big guy, ill bring the rest of the crew with me then and we can have a real party .

  2. So, if I am traveling through Quebec do I have to bypass the said cities? I was hoping to do an east coast ride in the next couple of years but would hate to have to bypass such beautiful places as Old QC.

    • Well, you are only barred from entering certain areas in those cities. When I was coming through Montreal I just parked in one of those free motorcycle parking spots and took a stroll through the old city. The place is relatively tiny, so it wasn’t a big deal, and I always thought that you’re better off taking in all the local flavour on foot.

  3. My Heidenau K60 Scouts are marked “M+S” (mud + snow) on the sidewall. Does that count as an acceptable winter tire?

  4. Two disc brakes in front and one disc brake in the back
    Chain-driven rear wheel,,,,,,Those clowns over SAAQ make me laugh each time. They try to reinvented the wheel and failed each time, problem here is texting while driving not enough penalty, saw a lot of them during my two wheel trip and i know when they texting, they cant see us normally imagine!!
    So beware bikers turn ur head.

  5. There is indeed issues with SAAQ and motorcyclists in the province of Quebec but seeing an editorial about winter tires (really?), a conspiracy theory and not making a difference between the MTQ and La SAAQ is pardon my french – to say the least – weak in the understanding coming from an editorialist. Another proof that twisting the throttle good and hard doesn’t make you knowledgeable and fact based when talking about insurance, safety, politics and costs involved.

  6. Ume chose que les motocyclistes du Quebec et le Canada devrait commencer à penser, c’est de faire éliminer le règlement qui exige le port du casque. Ce reglement existe just depuis 1963 ou quebec…

        • The reason helmet laws exist and are justified, is because of healthcare.

          You want to ride around with no helmet, and concuss yourself or worse? Go to America where you pay for your own f***-ups

          here. you crack your melon, The taxpayer is paying for your recovery.

      • No, just seatbelt laws, they like helmets only affect the user, speed limits and alcohol and driving laws are everyone’s business. Sad really that you can’t see that!

        • No, if someone isn’t wearing a helmet or a seatbelt their ass is more than twice as likely to die or suffer serious life threatening injury in a crash than if they did.

          If they do die, the person on the other end of the crash is stuck with having to live with the realization that they’ve killed someone, even if they are not at fault in the accident, not to mention a possible manslaughter charge, all of which could’ve been prevented if a certain someone had been wearing a helmet.

          If they don’t die, they end up in the hospital for months or even years, taking up space and doctors’ time which could otherwise have been spent helping people whose injuries couldn’t have been easily or prevented with a $150 safety device, not to mention the fact that we all share the costs of their treatment.

          Quite aside from that though, I simply don’t understand why wouldn’t you wear a helmet. Riding a motorcycle at any useful speed is loud, windy, cold, and potentially very painful, what with things such as bugs, gravel, and light drizzles. The fact that the AMA down south actually fights to repeal mandatory helmet laws just boggles my mind.

      • Why, why would you do that, do you like telling others what to do even if you are not affected one bit by the outcome. I never understood the need to dictate otjer peoples actions when they don’t affect me…. Would you be jealous of the riders who have enough confidence in their abilities and you feel you don not? Serious why ? I personally would look forward to the debate!

        • If someone isn’t wearing a helmet or a seatbelt, their ass is more than twice as likely to die or suffer serious life threatening injury in a crash than if they did.

          If they do die, the person on the other end of the crash is stuck with having to live with the realization that they’ve killed someone, even if they are not at fault in the accident, not to mention a possible manslaughter charge, all of which could’ve been prevented if a certain someone had been wearing a helmet.

          Then we have the families of the recently deceased/seriously injured rider. What could otherwise has been a one-time visit to hospital and a couple of weeks of taking it slow is now a life changing event that will continue to exact a heavy emotional and financial toll on everyone involved.

          If they don’t die, they end up in the hospital for months or even years, taking up space and doctors’ time which could otherwise have been spent helping people whose injuries couldn’t have been easily prevented with a $150 safety device, not to mention the fact that we all share the costs of their treatment, even if they are single with no families or friends.

  7. Yup, I can attest to this SAAQ bullshit. The knowledge test is so difficult and for the only reason of discouraging people from getting a motorcycle. Well screw you SAAQ! You won’t stop me from riding. The exam is a series of trick question after trick question and barely any questions with pictures. I failed it twice so far. Got really close on my second try. Failed by one wrong answer. Third time’s a charm? We’ll see in 28 days. This exam is a fucking joke and so incredibly pointless the second you pass it.

    • We just ignored the signs. Parked in front of the tourist info and gendarmes. They gave us s dirty look but said nothing. (Ont. And BC plates)

  8. you can get winter approved motorcyle tires at moto internationale in montreal.

    i dont really understand how it is ”unbelievable” that motorcycles are included in the winter tire law. it would seem much more unbelieveable to me if cars were required to have winter tires but motorycles werent!

    you must be smoking some good chooch if you think its safe to be riding your bike in the middle of winter around here

  9. by the definitions used to constitue a “high risk” bike can also pertain to many cars. Shit ain’t fair all over the world and if were seriously to do anything about it, it will require a massive reconstruction of our governement to actually fix anything. The systems in place now are corrupt and self serving (the governement) and not about safety. This is about allowing the governbement to control nearly every nuance of our daily lives.

    • I disagree completely with your fatalism. The SAAQ policy is the result of failed lobbying by the organized motorcycle community, which would rather seek abolition of helmet laws or legalization of lane splitting than things that can be practically accomplished – like a sensible test and sane criteria for determining what constitutes a high-risk motorcycle.

  10. Costa should have mentioned some of the reasons for these policies.
    They may not have been the most well thought out, but they are at least some justification.
    Charging extra for a moto licence, and increasing registration costs were aimed squarely at baby boomers.
    Why? Because if you earned your drivers license in Quebec before 1980 or so you automatically had a motorcyle licence.
    This was not a big deal until 2000 when the province realized boomers had more dollars than sense, and were buying massive Harley Davidsons and promptly crashing them.

    The sportbike guidelines are a joke, but this is Quebec: the only thing that matters is the official list.

    And as for the winter tire law, again, the target was moron drivers who didn’t think about safety, and the number of winter crashes has dropped since it was implemented.

    There is one quasi positive ministerial move in Quebec: last summer the Transport minister promised to examine filtering. Of course, that was 3 transport ministers ago…

  11. Brought to you by the leaders who would rather import blood oil in a tanker across the ocean than use “dirty” Canadian oil shipped via a pipeline. How is this surprising?

  12. You forget the cost to renew the license. They government separated the motorcycle class on the license, treating the motorcycle class as is it were a separate license, but ONLY for the fees. Therefore doubling the cost of a license for motorcycles only. Truckers have no such extra fee.

    And if you suffered demerit points while driving your car, penalty fees are added to BOTH license renewals, in essence doubling your penalty. It’s a punishment STRICTLY for owning a motorcycle license. If that’s not outright discrimination, I don’t know what is.

    This story is giving me hemorrhoids.

  13. Sask. Is also hell on riders these days. Newbies must take a $500.00 safety course and if all goes well, might have a full licence two years later. Also, my plates are now $180.00/month and many bikes are more than that.

  14. The fact that they charge us more for the motorcycle class on our permit and do this to no other class of driver in the province is cause for a revolution…. We need to protestby parking in front of Saaq’s and denying access to the buildings except for motorcycles….

    • Real thiefs they are, when i think tthat my driving license is valid for 10 years in the UK and it only cost £14 to renew it online and this i sonce every 10 years and nothing to pay every year during that period while here i must pay a ridiculous amount every year + an extra for my motorcycle class. Not to mention that road tax for abike over 600 cc are £82 ( $142 ) per year and this mean you can actually ride al year. I understand that the population is lower here but still prices are way over the top.

    • Protesting in the street gets you nowhere. Motorcycle associations need to hammer together a joint policy and lobby the province, both administratively and politically, until there’s movement. Sometimes it takes a long time, but it’s the only way to go. I know. I’m retired from a career as a lobbyist!

  15. Since march
    We got over 16 dead on our road in qc
    2 whit sport bike
    14 know it all

    Baby bommers buy the first bike
    They got money
    No experience
    They want to live the dream
    They buy the big one
    Money buy bike only
    The dont need learning
    ” hey im 50-55-60 and i know everything ”
    And they crash the big bike whit the moma whitout wearing protection
    ” hey im a true biker for 3 month and i know ….”

    Im 36 got 30 bikes
    By now i got 11 in my garage
    Ride since 4
    30-35000 km / year
    And i still learning at every ride

  16. I ride a Yamaha FZ, sporty, but a super sports bike, I pay around $600 for my plate, and $200 per year for total coverage insurance ( fire, theft, collision, vandalism ). Now, if you compare the coverage I get with my registration ( personal injury, compensation for riding gear, any type of therapy you may need if injured, compensation for scars and lump sum payout for disabilities ) for what some one in Ont. gets, it’s a bargain, I know of many people in Ont. who pay $200 – $300 per MONTH for insurance!!!

    • Not a lot different. I ride a 1500 cc custom cruiser style bike and pay 860 a year for full coverage insurance and my plate is 55. In Ontario. It’s really only new riders who get gouged in Ontario.

    • Vincent Sova hi, I’ve seen many posts on “Motorcycle Garage Sale Ontario” FB page in which people are asking about, and mentioning insurance rates quite often, your rate seems to be the exception to the rule from what they are saying, which is a good thing, but many are quoting prices 2 to 3 times greater than what you’re paying. It may have a lot to do with location, as they are talking about a similar style bike to what you ride. May I ask if you have coverage for injury, clothing, therapy, disability with your Insurance policy? Just curious, Have a great weekend!

    • I ride a 2014 Suzuki GSX650FA, four-cylinder sport-tourer with many of the “high risk” features identified by the SAAQ and MTQ. I am 61 (yes, a boomer), have been riding since 1978 and pay $635 a year in insurance and $42 for my plate.

  17. Been riding for 11 years now and reside in Qc. I have traveled and rode a bike in many parts of the world. Nowhere else than Qc is the motorcycle viewed as toy for “richer” folks instead of a regular vehicle for transport or the the motorcyclist viewed as a dam hooligan who deserves to passed, pushed, unseen by the almighty king of the road, the car. And la SAAQ is run by these like minded people. In short we are way behind on the bike culture as a means of transportation deserving the respect and equal to the car. A mentality I experienced in California, Switzerland, France, etc. My two poutines on it ?

    • Sold mine when la SAAQ went f*cking nuts and raised the yearly plate cost to over 1000$/year for sport bikes. I think it went down, but going from a 320$/yearly cost to triple was ridiculous.

      After they decided to also put a premium on our licenses. Since then I cancelled that class and now I would need to take another course to get them back which cost over 500$… Now I can’t even rent a motorcycle in other countries because my province f*cked me even if I have 3 classes or race sessions.. Simply put.. Our Province went f*cking nuts against motorcycle riders…

      • Man, you should NEVER cancel the moto part of your license!! I think it was like $40 more per YEAR!! Penny wise pound foolish on that one!!!

    • In California? Where our tags go up based upon cc and horsepower and lane splitting is explicitly legal?
      Yeah, we have a bit of a car culture, but… Motorcycles are not that bad off. It takes just as long to get a moto license as a car one, too.

  18. In past years I have parked for free in the small “triangle” in front or behind designated car parking spaces on the street in Montreal. It was known to be “unofficially” free. I done this in Montreal many many times in the past four years and have never received a ticket. Have things recently changed?

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